Saturday, March 25, 2006

Barbara Bogaev's weak interview with Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona

On Weekend America's show today, the hostess Barbara Bogaev completely dropped the ball in an interview to U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona. At one point in the interview, after several long minutes of giggly fawning over Carmona's time as a police officer and Army special forces member, the following subject came up:

Bogaev: Well, I was thinking, from your background, that you would be a pretty flamboyant Surgeon General, you know, that you would follow along the lines of Dr. C. Everett Koop or Dr. Jocelyn Elders, who spoke out, either about sex or smoking or educating the public about AIDS, that you would take that tack, but you haven't, really. You've been much less in the public eye. Why do you think that is?

Carmona: Well, I do speak out, and I guess if you, for instance, if you Google me, you'll find a few hundred thousand hits there, and, it's---.

Bogaev: Oh, believe me, I did. But you don't seem to be going for controversy. Which I might have expected, from a former SWAT guy.

Carmona: I think you have to know when to fight your battles. You have to live to fight every day and another day. And I find I am able to be very effective behind the scenes. Going out and making a big stand on something may be the right thing to do sometimes, but at this point I haven't been challenged with anything like that. My predecessor, and good friend, Chick Koop, dealt with the AIDS thing, and I've spoken to him many times. I said Chick, what drove you at that time? He said, "When I saw people, elected officials, using their bully pulpit and distorting the science for political ideology," he said, "I was forced to stand up." And that was extremely controversial at the time. Now, I'm not looking for that, but if something crossed my threshold that I felt I needed to stand up and be that vocal and outspoken, you bet I would.

Bogaev: So that hasn't happened yet, you're saying.

Carmona: It hasn't.

Bogaev: Your sense of moral outrage hasn't been provoked yet.

Carmona: Well, my sense of moral outrage has been, on some occasions, but I back off and I look, and I say what's the best path. Is a big press conference and a lot of fanfare gonna do anything, or is that gonna die out in a couple of days?

Bogaev: You know, you're serving in an administration, though, that has been accused of being hostile to science, on issues like stem cell research and global warming, and the teaching of evolution. On a whole range of issues.

Carmona: [pause] I've heard the accusations.

Bogaev: Yeah, what do you think of that?

Carmona: I'm not gonna use the word hostile. I've spoken to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, as it relates to a number of scientific, uh, issues. Certainly, as I move through life as Surgeon General, I look at the scientific merit, and that's where I have to stay focused. I do the best I can to stay out of the political fray, which often is less about science and more about political ideology or theology. That's not my job.

Now, if you're a journalist, what's the natural followup question? If you're not even trying very hard, and you're even vaguely aware of the medical controversies facing this nation, perhaps you'd come up with one of the following:

  • Most of the medical research community believes that the current supply of stem cell lines in the United States is insufficient for research purposes. The Bush administration disagrees. Do you feel that it is scientifically supportable to claim that the current supply of stem cell lines is sufficient?
  • Merck has an HPV vaccine with astounding, slam-dunk clinical trial results. Addition of this vaccine to the standard vaccination regime in schools would eventually save thousands of women from cervical cancer every year. Republicans in Congress are blocking adoption of the vaccine. Could you speak to the merits of the vaccine, as a public health policy matter?

Guess what Bogaev asked Surgeon General Carmona?

Bogaev: Well, Dr. Carmona, I know you have to get going. I understand you have to go pick up your kids. So just one last question. Do you ever let your children eat fast foods?

A hearty golf clap for you, Ms. Bogaev.

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