Beating around the Bush

Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona testified yesterday during hearings held by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that the Bush administration repeatedly censored his work on controversial topics and asked him to engage in partisan activities. 

At the same hearing another former Surgeon General, David Satcher, testified that the Clinton administration refused to allow him to publish a report on irresponsible sexual practices at the height of the Lewinsky scandal.  

The New York Times and Associated Press leaped upon Carmona's accusations as yet another example of the Bush administration putting politics ahead of science, ignoring or distorting Satcher's testimony about Clinton and hiding the fact that other presidents have done it, too.  In contrast, ABC, NBC, CBS and The Washington Post all reported some relevant incidents under previous presidents.   

The Times threw out the charges in the lede and then spent more than 1200 words recounting a litany of supposed Bush abuses:  “The administration, Dr. Carmona said, would not allow him to speak or issue reports about stem cells, emergency contraception, sex education, or prison, mental and global health issues. Top officials delayed for years and tried to 'water down' a landmark report on secondhand smoke, he said. Released last year, the report concluded that even brief exposure to cigarette smoke could cause immediate harm.”

The New York Times falsely stated that the Bush administration's political shenanigans with respect to medicine are something new:  “Dr. Carmona is one of a growing list of present and former administration officials to charge that politics often trumped science within what had previously been largely nonpartisan government health and scientific agencies.” 

But previous surgeons general have also been bullied by unscrupulous political animals in the White House. 

David Satcher, who served as Surgeon General under Bill Clinton, testified in the same hearing that the former President censored a report on responsible sexual behavior during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.  Associated Press ignored Satcher's testimony, and The New York Times reported it deceptively.

According to the Times, “Dr. Satcher said that the Clinton administration discouraged him from issuing a report showing that needle-exchange programs were effective in reducing disease. He released the report anyway.” 

But the report dealt with more than just “needle-exchange programs,” calling attention to such consequences of sexual misbehavior as “sexually transmitted disease (STD) and HIV/AIDS infection, unintended pregnancy, abortion, sexual dysfunction, and sexual violence.” The Times omitted the Lewinsky connection and misleadingly implied that Clinton did not block publication of the report.  In fact, Satcher was not permitted to release “The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior” until after Bush took office in 2001.   

Bush may have meddled with scientific reports, but Surgeons General have often fallen prey to White House whiteout.  The New York Times and Associated Press should have told the whole story. 

David Niedrauer is an intern at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.