Wednesday, January 7, 2009

And Now A Word From Our Sponsor

Obama’s Surgeon General pick Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been a veritable fountain of bad advice during his tenure at CNN. But the only time I ever blogged about him was to question his recommendation that financially-strapped viewers cut their prescription pills in half.

At which point an astute reader pointed me to this article outlining Gupta’s financial ties to Merck. Apparently during the time Gupta was on CNN promoting Merck’s HPV vaccine Gardasil and dismissing the dangers of Merck’s Vioxx pills, he was co-hosting an integrated marketing program sponsored by Merck called AccentHealth.

This strikes me as very bad form for a journalist, but of course Gupta is not a journalist, he’s a television personality, and of course he doesn’t know any better. This is the problem with modern broadcast news, which eschews journalists for the so-called “experts” who supposedly know more than any real reporter could.

CNN is the real culprit here for allowing this situation to exist in the first place. This opens the door wide to corporate hegemony, or what the article describes as
the growing tentacles of a corporate agenda that seeks to control every message pertaining to its corporate brands in every venue visited or medium viewed by a consumer.

We are left with questions surrounding Gupta’s judgment and whether his ties to corporations like Merck influenced his news coverage of that company and its products. We’ll never know if Gupta dismissed the risks of heart attack associated with Vioxx out of ignorance or avarice, but we do know Vioxx got yanked off the shelves and Merck settled an avalanche of lawsuits related to the product.

This does not mean to say I am out-and-out against the appointment of Gupta to U.S. Surgeon General. Seems to me that job is mostly about PR and communication, and Gupta has proved himself adept at that. But I do think most of the media snickering over Obama’s pick misses the point. “Judge Judy for the Supreme Court?” Ha ha very funny, Jay Newton-Small. The point is not that Gupta is a television personality who may be appointed to public office--have you nitwits forgotten that Ronald Reagan was a television personality, for crying out loud?

The point is to look at what it means to be a television personality in this day and age. Oftentimes it means being a shill for corporate advertisers. Someone should be looking into this, because I’m not sure we want the U.S. Surgeon General to be on Merck’s payroll.

Just a thought.