CNN's Sanjay Gupta treats injured baby in Haiti [Updated]
Among the scores of journalists who have descended upon Haiti in the last two days, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta brought with him a unique skill set. As the associate chief of neurosurgery at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Gupta regularly performs surgeries at Emory University and Grady hospitals. As he headed to Haiti on Wednesday, Gupta tweeted that he did not plan to set aside his role as a doctor, even though he was going into the field as a journalist.
“Many have asked: of course, if needed, I will help people with my neurosurgical skills. Yes, I am a reporter, but a doctor first,” he wrote on Twitter.
He quickly donned that hat. In a four-minute video that was the lead item on CNN.com this afternoon, Gupta examined a 15-day-old baby with a head injury whose mother had died in the quake. After placing the child on a wooden plank serving as a makeshift exam table, Gupta gently probed the baby’s skull for signs of a fracture. He concluded that she didn’t appear to have a fracture, and then he and a producer wrapped the infant’s head in gauze.
This wasn’t the first time Gupta has brought his medical skills to bear on assignment. In 2003, while embedded with the U.S. Navy’s "Devil Docs” medical unit in Iraq, he performed brain surgery five times.
His actions trouble some media ethicists, who said it’s problematic for Gupta to be toggling between the roles of reporter and a doctor.
“There definitely are cases where a journalist who is qualified can and should provide medical assistance when the need is immediate and profound,” said Bob Steele, journalism values scholar at The Poynter Institute and journalism professor at DePauw University. “The problem in Dr. Gupta’s case is that he has done this on a number of occasions in Iraq and now in Haiti. If it’s imperative that he intervene and help medically, then take him out of his journalistic role and do that. But don’t have him covering the same stories in which he’s a participant. It muddles the journalistic reporting. It clouds the lens in terms of the independent observation and reporting.”
Steele also questioned the prominence CNN gave the piece, which got significant play on the network and online. “Frankly, it isn’t much of a story,” Steele said. “You can’t help but look at this and worry there is a marketing element in it.”
CNN defended Gupta's work, saying his first priority is his responsibility as a physician. "As a doctor first, Sanjay has been offering medical support while on the ground in Haiti and will continue to do so," a spokeswoman said. "However, as he has done in Iraq, Pakistan, and post-tsunami Sri Lanka, he is also determined to raise awareness of the medical conditions by reporting on this enormous humanitarian crisis through his unique prism."
The network plans to continue to harness Gupta’s medical expertise for the story. On Saturday morning, he will host a live special about the medical relief efforts in Haiti.
Last year, Gupta was being considered by President Obama to be U.S. surgeon general, but withdrew his name as a candidate, saying he wanted to continue to practice medicine and focus on his family.
[Updated at 2:43 p.m.: In a conversation with Larry King last night, Gupta addressed how he juggles both roles. “It's a thin line sometimes between medicine and media and what I do,” he said. “But, as you know, Larry -- you and I have talked about this -- I'm a doctor first.”]
-- Matea Gold