Gupta for Surgeon General

Obama asks CNN journalist, neurosurgeon to be top doc

The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz broke the story today that President-elect Barack Obama has offered the job of surgeon general to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent and a practicing neurosurgeon. Kurtz reported that Gupta has told Obama’s team that he wants the job and that the final vetting process is under way. Kurtz provides the following background on Gupta:

The Michigan-born son of Indian and Pakistani parents, Gupta has always been drawn to health policy. He was a White House fellow in the late 1990s, writing speeches and crafting policy for Hillary Clinton. His appointment would give the administration a prominent official of South Asian descent and a skilled television spokesman.

Gupta, who hosts “House Call” on CNN, has discussed the job offer with his bosses at CBS and CNN to make sure he could be released from his contractual obligations, the sources said.

His role as journalist and physician have sometimes overlapped. During the 2003 Iraq invasion, Gupta was embedded with a Navy unit called Devil Docs and, while covering its mission, performed brain surgery five times, the first of which was on a 2-year-old Iraqi boy.

Gupta’s only hesitation in taking the post is said to involve the financial impact on his pregnant wife and two children if he gives up his lucrative medical and journalistic careers. But he is expected to accept the position within days.

CNN, which Gupta joined in 2001, released a statement saying that, “Since first learning that Dr. Gupta was under consideration for the surgeon general position, CNN has made sure that his on-air reporting has been on health and wellness matters and not on health-care policy or any matters involving the new administration.” An article on CNN’s Web site discussed Gupta’s work for the network, including his coverage of the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

At CBS News’s Political Hotsheet blog, Brian Montopoli talked to an unnamed source close to Gupta who says that Gupta “feels drawn to public service.” In his post, Montopoli also adds a couple interesting medical news clips that Gupta did for

The Associated Press’s Nedra Pickler opined that Gupta is a smart choice for the influential, but non-cabinet level position:

The surgeon general typically isn’t heavily involved in shaping an administration’s policy, but it can be a very effective bully pulpit. Past surgeons general have proved instrumental in battling tobacco and AIDS.

Having a person comfortable on television could perhaps elevate the now relatively obscure position, and be helpful for Obama, who is personally very health conscious.

Obama’s gain would be yet another loss for CNN, however. If Gupta takes the job, the network will be down one more science-savvy reporter, after having cut its entire, non-medical science and technology team last month.

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Curtis Brainard writes on science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.