I just read Paul Krugman’s blog post on Sanjay Gupta as a possible Surgeon General. It was such sweet relief to realize that I was not alone in holding the man in low esteem ever since that spat with Michael Moore over the facts in the documentary Sicko.

Don’t get me wrong. I do have my issues with Michael Moore as well as with his film. But overall, on the facts, he was right about what ails the US healthcare system. Gupta as a Medical correspondent for CNN was supposed to critique the film and as in most critiques, highlight factual errors, exaggerations, looseness with the truth and overall provide as objective an opinion as is expected of a journalist about the film. He did none of that. His review was such a hatchet job that Moore had to provide point by point rebuttals on his website and even in the “debate” between the two that took place on Larry King Live, Gupta kept on repeating his falsehoods aided by the talking corpse himself who forgot that his job was to moderate. 

After watching that, I wondered what justified Gupta’s review of the movie. Was it personal? It couldn’t be. He was (and is) a university professor, a neurosurgeon, a former special adviser to then First Lady Hillary Clinton. Why would he pick on Michael Moore? Was it ideological? Was he one of those free-market conservatives who just hate “socialized medicine”? Gupta did not seem to have an ideological bend. Then maybe it was a professional issue; Gupta as a Doctor in the US Healthcare system that was being attacked, also felt attacked and wanted to strike back.  Well, not quite either. After all, many other American doctors who work dutifully in the US system recognize its shortcomings and do not get any flack for speaking up about it.

So why was Gupta so opposed to Sicko to the point of fudging facts and journalistically botching a review? I could only draw the same conclusion Krugman has drawn. Gupta was perfectly happy with getting “things  wrong in a socially acceptable way.” In other words, he was aware of the public mood on the issue and he chose to align his critique to that socially acceptable opinion irrespective of the facts. This is the kind of behavior pathological social-ladder climbers learn to perfect early. This is typical of  what the Canadian thinker John Ralston Saul calls a “courtier” or a “Voltaire bastard”; a man who either has no opinions of his own or is perfectly happy to substitute them with anything that can advance his career, create new friends that can advance his carreer or open doors to new careers or new revenues. That is unfortunately also a character flaw in my book.

 Now, Sanjay Gupta may be very qualified to be Surgeon General. I do not know. I am not qualified to make that judgement. What are the required qualifications for that job, anyway? But one thing is certain. A Surgeon General of United States should have a closer relationship with facts than Sanjay Gupta does. He or she should certainly hold opinions backed by empirical evidence and be willing to stand by those opinions regardless of the public mood. That after all is one of the indicators of a good scientist.

Rachel Sklar called Sanjay Gupta  a dick. I will not do such a thing. But if pushed, I will happily quote Sklar.