I know some of you read Government Executive’s FedBlog already. But for those of you who don’t, I’m Alyssa Rosenberg, and I’ve just taken over at FedBlog from my venerable editor Tom Shoop. I’ll be posting excerpts from the big FedBlog posts of the day, along with links to the complete posts. If you guys have suggestions for things you’d like to read more about, please let me know! And I’ll start with today’s post on Sanjay Gupta:
Dr. Gupta, Surgeon General
By Alyssa Rosenberg | Wednesday, January 07, 2009 | 03:15 PM
Ezra Klein is pretty excited about the prospects of CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta as our next Surgeon General. I have no particular quibble with Ezra’s theory that Gupta will be an advocate for health care reform, and that his appointment represents a reconceptualization of the position. Both of those things are probably true. But I think it’s a mistake to minimize “the guy who writes warnings for cigarette labels” part of the job, or to suggest that the 1964 Surgeon General’s report was just one in a line of public health PR initiatives. Rather, tobacco in particular provides an instructive lesson on how the Surgeon General can operate.
Before I explain why, I have to admit to being a bit of a Surgeon General groupie. One of my first real reporting experiences came at a terrific presentation by former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler when I was in high school. Kessler was basically leading a master class on tobacco regulation, assigning various audience members roles to play (your loyal blogger got a minor part as a Philip Morris lobbyist). In attendance was former Surgeon General Julius Richmond, who I buttonholed after the event to ask if I could interview him for my National History Day paper. For a fifteen-year-old high school newspaper editor, it was pretty exciting to come home after school one day, and mid-snack pick up the phone to find a Surgeon General on the other end of the line. But for the project, I also read Richard Kluger’s Ashes to Ashes: America’s Hundred-Year Cigarette War, the Public Health, and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris, which along with Kessler’s A Question of Intent, provide an important lens into another one of the Surgeon General’s roles: building consensus within the medical community.
The story of the 1964 Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health really ought to be made into a movie sometime, if corporate insider flicks are in fact on the way back. It’s an amazing story, and Kluger does a terrific job of capturing it, and demonstrating how hard it was to get the report exactly right. Luther Terry, the surgeon general, was a tobacco picker as a child, and his father’s doctor’s son, the congressman Lister Hill, chaired a health subcommittee when Terry became surgeon general. Terry was slow to get started on evaluating tobacco, and his efforts really only got under way when President Kennedy got asked at a May 23, 1962 press conference what the administration intended to do on smoking and health.
To read the rest, click here…