Stars and power

Barack Obama is thinking of appointing a star reporter, who is also a doctor, as surgeon general of the United States. The choice of the charismatic 39-year-old Sanjay Gupta for the high-profile position has provoked much comment on how personal publicity helps achieve political office but also leads to skepticism. Obama himself was an unknown when he riveted the 2004 Democratic Convention with his speech and established himself as the party’s great hope. He came to prominence through merit. In selecting Gupta, though, was he entranced by the star’s image or did he discern something more serious, something that will help him promote his public health objectives? One could ask the same of Caroline Kennedy, who aims to fill Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat on the strength of her legendary name. Gupta, whose parents emigrated to the United States from India in the 1960s, is an associate professor of neurosurgery at an Atlanta university. But he is also CNN’s chief medical correspondent and writes a column for Time magazine. He has covered, among other things, the aftermath of the September 11 attacks and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. And regardless of how good he is as a doctor, it is more likely that his second specialty made People magazine name him one of the sexiest men alive in 2003. Maybe the combination of doctor and popularizer will make Gupta the perfect face of public health. Many, however, fear that he was selected primarily for his glamour. «I don’t think he has the gravitas or appropriate experience for the role of surgeon general of the United States,» said Dr Val Jones of GetBetterHealth.com in a typical comment. But political life everywhere is full of people who enjoy name recognition, such as the scions of famous families. In the USA an actor even became president. But, as we know, people are tested to the full when they are in positions of power, whether they are stars or not. In taking office, everyone starts from scratch.

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