What Conservatives Get Wrong In Their Smear Campaign Against The Surgeon General Nominee
Research ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON & ELLIE SANDMEYER
Just days after concluding a smear campaign against highly qualified civil rights attorney Debo Adegbile's nomination to the Department of Justice, the right-wing media began working to tar Dr. Vivek Murthy, President Obama's nominee for surgeon general, as a "radical" for suggesting that gun violence is a public health issue.
Surgeon General Nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy Is Awaiting Senate Confirmation
Washington Post: Dr. Vivek Murthy Nomination Passes Out Of Senate Committee. The Washington Post reported that President Obama's surgeon general nominee has been approved by the Senate Committee on Health Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) and is now under consideration in the full Senate. According to the Post, Murthy's nomination faces conservative opposition due to his position on gun violence:
The Senate HELP committee voted recently to support Vivek Murthy's nomination to be surgeon general of the United States. The full Senate is now set for a vote. Murthy's nomination was supported by every HELP Committee Democrat, alongside Republican Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.). Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has placed a hold on Murthy's nomination. But under "nuclear option" rules, Murthy can be confirmed through a simple majority vote.
Paul looks askance at Murthy's activities on behalf of health reform. The senator especially rejects Murthy's views on gun policy. Doctors for America, the health reform advocacy group Murthy co-founded in 2009, sent this public letter to Congress with recommendations on gun policy after the Sandy Hook school massacre. Not surprisingly, the National Rifle Association strongly opposes Murthy and has announced that it will "score" this vote in determining senators' overall NRA ratings. [The Washington Post, 3/6/14]
Dr. Vivek Murthy: "My Concerns With Regard To Issues Like Gun Violence" Relate To "Seeing Patients In Emergency Rooms, Who Have Come In With Acute Injuries." Media coverage of Murthy's nomination proceedings has focused on a statement from his February 4 testimony before the Senate HELP Committee. Though Murthy's prepared statements focused on a wide range of issues, he briefly described his position on the dangers of gun violence:
MURTHY: To start, I do not intend to use the Surgeon General's office as a bully pulpit for gun control. That is not going to be my priority, as we spoke about. My priority and focus is going to be on obesity prevention. There are a number of public health challenges that are facing our nation. My concerns with regard to issues like gun violence have to do with my experience as a physician, seeing patients in emergency rooms, who have come in with acute injuries, but also seeing many patients over the years who are dealing with spinal cord injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and other chronic complications from gun violence. But if given the opportunity to serve as Surgeon General, I'd like to point out a couple of things. One is that I recognize that the role is not to be a legislator or a judge the role is to be a public health educator and to bring the country together around our most pressing healthcare challenges and I believe at this point that obesity is the primary health challenge of our time, and that's where I intend to put my focus. [Senate HELP Committee, 2/4/14]
SMEAR: Murthy Is Unqualified To Be Surgeon General
Fox's Brian Kilmeade: For A Surgeon General Nominee, "You Want To Be Impressed," But "I Just Haven't Seen It Yet." On the March 11 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade said that he just "hasn't seen" anything to convince him that Murphy is qualified for the position of Surgeon General. Co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck added that Murthy won't have enough "trust" to serve as "our nation's doctor":
KILMEADE: Yeah. I just think it's amazing, too, when you look at somebody who will be the Surgeon General you want to be impressed with their resume. He might be a genius in the future medical marvel but I haven't seen it yet. Shouldn't you be more qualified?
HASSELBECK: This is America's doctor. It's about trust. You don't want to feel as though your doctor -- or do you? Do you want a partisan physician? Do you want our nation's doctor to have a -- some would deem it -- a radical agenda when it comes to guns and your health.[Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/11/14]
Kilmeade: Murthy "Hasn't Done Much In His Career Yet." Kilmeade reiterated his objection in a later Fox & Friends segment:
KILMEADE: This guy is supposed to be the surgeon general for the country. He might be a genius but he hasn't done much in his career yet. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/11/14]
FACT: Public Health Experts Have Highlighted Murthy's 'Superb' Qualifications
Politico: Murthy Has A Wide Range Of Experience. In a February 2 article on Murthy's pending nomination, Politico included a list highlighting Murthy's accomplishments in medicine:
Murthy is an attending physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. He's also the founder of TrialNetworks, an Internet portal for clinical-trial operations that counts Merck and Biogen Idec as customers. Earlier, he helped start a rural community health program in Sringeri, India, and an HIV/AIDS youth education program in India and the United States. He went to Harvard for his undergraduate degree and Yale for medical and business degrees. [Politico, 2/2/14]
Executive Director Of The American Public Health Association: "Dr. Vivek Murthy Is Up To The Task And Should Be Confirmed Without Delay." In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, the executive director of the American Public Health Association, Dr. Georges Benjamin, argued that Murthy is "clearly qualified to succeed" in all of the major roles of the U.S. Surgeon General:
As our senators begin to consider the candidacy of Dr. Vivek Murthy to become our nation's 19th surgeon general, they should consider the important role played by our nation's "top doc." The position carries three important duties: to lead the 6,500 men and women of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps; to chair the National Prevention Council; and to effectively communicate the best science around prevention and health to help improve the health of the American people.
Dr. Murthy is clearly qualified to succeed in all three roles.
We know that Dr. Murthy values prevention. As a member of the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health, he is already working to give sound advice that brings together every facet of government -- from education and defense to housing and transportation -- to ensure health is considered across the full spectrum of national programs and policies.
He has demonstrated that he is a mature leader of men and women. As co-founder and president of Doctors for America, he brought together 16,000 physicians and medical students to advocate for quality, affordable health care for all. He has also been a leader in HIV prevention and education as president of Visions Worldwide. And finally, we know that Dr. Murthy has the bright mind to take the latest science and turn it into better health outcomes. He is well trained and as an instructor at Harvard Medical School and a physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital, he's successfully practiced at some of our nation's most prestigious health care institutions. [The Huffington Post, 2/5/14]
Former Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher: Dr. Murthy Meets Necessary Qualifications "Superbly." In a letter to ranking members of the Senate HELP Committee, Dr. David Satcher, who served as surgeon general under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, emphasized Murthy's "impressive track record of accomplishments":
As Surgeon General, Dr. Murthy's impressive track record of accomplishments as an innovative and well-respected thought leader in healthcare will prove invaluable to the American people.
The office of surgeon general requires a strong and thoughtful leader who can navigate political pressures to champion health promotion for the American People, and Dr, Murthy has proven his capabilities in that capacity. We need a Surgeon General who can connect with people across generations, cultures and political persuasions to empower Americans to take responsibility for and improve their health. I feel that Dr. Murthy meets all of these qualifications superbly. [The Satcher Health Leadership Institute, 2/3/14]
Public Health Experts Support Murthy's Nomination For The Position Of Surgeon General. The list of health experts and medical advocates who have come out strongly in support of Murthy's nomination include the American Public Health Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and many others. A press release from the nonprofit Trust for America's Health included a partial list:
- Jeffrey R. Balser, MD, PhD, Vice Chancellor of Health Affairs, Vanderbilt University Medical Center
- Thomas Barker, Foley Hoag LLP, and former Counselor to the Secretary of Health and Human Services
- Cedric Bright, MD, FACS, 112th President of the National Medical Association and Director, Special Programs Office, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine
- Jeffrey P. Copland, MD, MPH, Vice President for Global Health, Emory University, and former Director of the Centers for Control and Prevention
- Scott Corlew, MD, MPH, Chief Medical Officer, Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital
- Andrew Davidoff, MD, Surgeon in Chief, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
- Victor J. Dzau, MD, Chancellor for Health Affairs and President and CEO, Duke University Medical Center and Health System, and President-elect of the Institute of Medicine
- Trevor Fetter, President and CEO, Tenet Healthcare Corporation
- Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, MBA, Director and Health Officer, Los Angeles Department of Public Health
- Samuel R. Nussbaum, MD, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, WellPoint Bhaskar N. Rao, MD, FACS, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
- James Roosevelt, Jr., CEO, Tufts Health Plan
- David Satcher, MD, PhD, 16th Surgeon General of the United States
- Eric H. Schultz, President and CEO, Harvard Pilgrim HealthCare
- Nirav R. Shah, MD, MPH, Commissioner of Health, New York State Department of Health
- Kimberlydawn Wisdom, MD, MS, Senior Vice President, Henry Ford Health System
- American Academy of Family Physicians
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin
- American Cancer Society
- American College of Physicians
- American College of Sports Medicine
- American Diabetes Association
- American Heart Association
- American Hospital Association
- American Medical Women's Association
- American Public Health Association
- Associated Industries of Massachusetts
- Brigham and Women's Hospital
- Federation of American Hospitals
- Health & Disability Advocates
- March of Dimes Foundation
- National Center for Disaster Preparedness
- The New England Council
- New Hampshire Public Health Association
- Partners Healthcare
[Trust For America's Health, 3/3/14]
SMEAR: Murthy Is Obsessed With Guns
Fox Contributor Katie Pavlich: Murthy Is "Rabidly Anti-Gun." On March 10, Fox contributor Katie Pavlich tweeted:
Fox's Peter Johnson, Jr.: Murthy Would Make the Examining Room About Politics. On the March 11 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade attacked Murthy for supposedly focusing too much on guns rather than on medicine. Guest co-host Peter Johnson, Jr. followed by suggesting that Murthy would make the examining room about "about party registration or about gun registration" rather than life extension:
KILMEADE: This is a guy that should be leading us medically, and he's talking about guns. Here is an example about where he stands.
JOHNSON, JR..: I would say the examining room should be about life extension and not about party registration or gun registration. Politics and medicine -- too much of a mix. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/11/14]
FACT: Murthy Emphasized Obesity Prevention As His Top Priority
Murthy Cited Obesity As His Top Priority If His Nomination Is Approved. Murthy's February 6 testimony before the Senate HELP Committee highlighted obesity as his top priority as Surgeon General:
MURTHY: To start, I do not intend to use the Surgeon General's office as a bully pulpit for gun control. That is not going to be my priority, as we spoke about. My priority and focus is going to be on obesity prevention.
I recognize that the role is not to be a legislator or a judge the role is to be a public health educator and to bring the country together around our most pressing healthcare challenges and I believe at this point that obesity is the primary health challenge of our time, and that's where I intend to put my focus. [Senate HELP Committee, 2/4/14]
SMEAR: Calling Gun Violence A Public Health Concern Is A "Hyper-Partisan Position"
Fox News Host Elisabeth Hasselbeck: "Categorizing [Gun Violence] As A Health Issue Certainly Is Ruffling The Feathers Of Those Who Support [The] Second Amendment." During the March 11 edition of Fox & Friends, Hasselbeck claimed Murthy "is ruffling the feathers" of Second Amendment supporters by describing gun violence as a health issue:
[Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/11/14]
Fox News Host Brian Kilmeade Downplayed Gun Violence By Comparing It To Skateboard Injuries. In a different March 11 Fox & Friends segment on Murthy's nomination, Kilmeade reacted to a clip of Murthy describing treating victims of gun violence by saying, "Is he coming out against skateboards? Because I'm sure he sees a lot of children in emergency rooms with head injuries who have fallen off skateboards," prompting Hasselbeck to claim Murthy views gun ownership as a "disease":
MURTHY: My concerns with regards to issues like gun violence have to do with my experience as a physician, seeing patients in emergency rooms who have come in with acute injuries, but also seeing many patients over the years who are dealing with spinal cord injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other chronic complications from gun violence.
[END VIDEO CLIP]
KILMEADE: Is he coming out against skateboards? Because I am sure he sees a lot of children in emergency rooms with head injuries who have fallen off skateboards. So he is focusing on one wound?
HASSELBECK: Well truth be told, this is a case where he is then saying that this is a health crisis, therefore, what guns are a disease? Gun ownership is a disease? Gun use is a disease? It seems to be the case here. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/11/14]
Fox News Host Megyn Kelly Highlights Critics Who Say Equating Gun Violence With Public Health Is "A Hyper-Partisan Position." On the March 10 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File, host Megyn Kelly claimed that Murthy discussing gun violence as a public health crisis "has some questioning whether Dr. Murthy's nomination is turning what has always been the job of America's Doctor into a hyper-partisan position." [Fox News, The Kelly File, 3/10/14]
FACT: Medical Experts Have Deemed Gun Violence A Public Health Crisis
American Medical Association (AMA): "Gun Violence In America Has Reached Epidemic Proportions." The AMA noted that gun violence "has reached epidemic proportions" and supported legislation restricting the availability of assault weapons:
Gun violence in America has reached epidemic proportions and the horrific school shootings in Newtown, CT, has increased the sense of urgency to find workable solutions to reduce the epidemic of gun violence and the culture of violence in America. In a January 8, 2013 letter to the President and Congressional leaders, the AMA along with 51 other national specialty societies and state medical societies urged the nation to strengthen its commitment and resources to improve comprehensive access to mental health services including screening, prevention and treatment. The letter acknowledges that while the vast majority of patients with mental illness are not violent, physicians and other health professionals must be trained to respond to those who have a mental illness that might make them more prone to commit violence. Based on long-time AMA-HOD policy, the letter also calls for renewing and strengthening the assault weapons ban, including banning high-capacity magazines. AMA supports S. 150, the "Assault Weapons Ban of 2013," which was introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). [American Medical Association, accessed 3/11/14]
AMA Letter To Congress Described Medical Profession's Obligation To Combat Gun Violence. Following the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the AMA wrote a letter to Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that explained how the medical community "must do everything we can, not only to treat the victims and their families, but also to reduce the epidemic of gun violence in our nation, much of which is preventable":
A thoughtful debate in Congress on this important national issue is long overdue. As individual physicians, our members see first-hand the devastating consequences of gun violence to victims and their families. As a professional community, we must do everything we can, not only to treat the victims and their families, but also to reduce the epidemic of gun violence in our nation, much of which is preventable. Through our policy-making House of Delegates, over the past three decades the AMA has adopted extensive policy related to preventing firearm violence, including reinstating and strengthening the ban on assault-type weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines. [American Medical Association, 4/12/13]
Institute Of Medicine Of The National Academies: "Public Health Approach" Part Of Gun Violence Prevention. In a June 2013 policy paper that noted "[i]n 2010, more than 105,000 people were injured or killed in the United States as the result of a firearm-related incident" the Institute of Medicine described the relationship between gun violence and public health:
The complexity and frequency of firearm violence, combined with its impact on the health and safety of Americans, suggest that a public health approach should be incorporated into the strategies used to prevent future harm and injuries. The public health approach involves three elements: a focus on prevention, a focus on scientific methodology to identify risk and patterns, and multidisciplinary collaboration to address the problem. This approach has seen success in reducing tobacco use, unintentional poisonings, and motor vehicle fatalities. [Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, June 2013]
Harvard School Of Public Health And Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School Of Public Health Both Devote Research Programs To Firearm Injury Prevention. [Harvard Injury Control Research Center, accessed 3/11/14, Center for Gun Policy and Research, accessed 3/11/14]
Wall Street Journal: Between 2001 And 2011 The Number Of Gunshot Victims Requiring Hospitalization Grew "By Nearly Half." A December 2012 Wall Street Journal article noted that "more people in the U.S. are getting shot, but doctors have gotten better at patching them up. Improved medical care doesn't account for the entire decline in homicides but experts say it is a major factor":
[Wall Street Journal, 12/8/12]
Injury Prevention Researchers: Gun Homicide 19.5 Times More Prevalent In U.S. Compared To Other High-Income Countries. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery found that the United States far outpaced firearm-related deaths compared to "23 populous high-income Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development countries that provided data to the World Health Organization for 2003":
The US homicide rates were 6.9 times higher than rates in the other high-income countries, driven by firearm homicide rates that were 19.5 times higher. For 15-year olds to 24-year olds, firearm homicide rates in the United States were 42.7 times higher than in the other countries. For US males, firearm homicide rates were 22.0 times higher, and for US females, firearm homicide rates were 11.4 times higher. The US firearm suicide rates were 5.8 times higher than in the other countries, though overall suicide rates were 30% lower. The US unintentional firearm deaths were 5.2 times higher than in the other countries. Among these 23 countries, 80% of all firearm deaths occurred in the United States, 86% of women killed by firearms were US women, and 87% of all children aged 0 to 14 killed by firearms were US children. [J Trauma, vol. 70, pgs. 238-243, January 2011]
SMEAR: Murthy Holds "Radical" Views On Gun Ownership And The Second Amendment
Hasselbeck: Murthy Heads "Anti-Gun Physician's Group" Doctors For America And Has A "Radical Agenda" On Guns. During the March 11 edition of Fox & Friends, Hasselbeck claimed Murthy's organization Doctors for America is an "anti-gun physician's group" and said "certainly Americans who value their constitutional rights will have an issue trusting" Murthy. Hasselbeck also asked, "Do you want our nation's doctor to have a -- some would deem it -- a radical agenda when it comes to guns and your health?"
[Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/11/14]
Kelly: Murthy Is "Anti-Gun" And "Not A Big Fan Of The Second Amendment." During the March 10 edition of The Kelly File, Kelly claimed that Murthy is "not a big fan of the Second Amendment," and said he is "so anti-gun that the NRA has decided to score this vote":
[Fox News, The Kelly File, 3/10/14]
Fox Nation Headline: "Obama Nominee For Surgeon General Says Banning Guns Is Part Of Medicine." On March 10, Fox Nation reposted an article from a conservative blog that stated, "President Obama has jumped right back into the fray with another radical nominee, this time for Surgeon General":
[Fox Nation, 3/10/14]
FACT: Murthy And His Doctors For America Group Do Not Hold "Radical" Or "Anti-Gun" Views
Doctors For America Senior Advisor: "Murthy Has Mainly Expressed Standard Gun Policy Positions Held" By Medical Community Members. In a March 6 post in The Washington Post's Wonkblog, Harold Pollack, a senior advisor to Doctors for America, pointed out that the positions taken by Murthy and Doctors for America are common within the medical community:
Murthy has mainly expressed standard gun policy positions held by trauma surgeons, emergency department staff, spinal cord injury specialists and others who treat victims of gun violence. On issue after issue, his views are far more representative of mainstream medical and public health opinion than are [Sen. Rand] Paul's or the NRA's.
If you doubt me, check out this Congressional letter from the American Psychiatric Association after the tragedy at Sandy Hook. Or read this piece from the American Academy of Pediatrics, or this one from the American College of Emergency PhysiciansWeb site. Murthy's nomination is supported by many medical and public health leaders and leading professional societies, not to mention a long list of organizations ranging from the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society to the March of Dimes. [The Washington Post, 3/6/14]
Doctors For America Letter To Congress Did Not Propose Any Policy That Violates The Second Amendment. Under the landmark Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller, the Second Amendment protects the right to keep a handgun in the home for the purpose of self-defense. Of the five policy recommendations in DFA's 2013 letter to Congress, the only one to restrict access to certain types of guns was a proposed assault weapons ban. Courts have found that assault weapons bans are consistent with the Second Amendment. Other policies supported by DFA include expanding background checks on gun sales, preserving the right of doctors to discuss gun safety with patients, increasing funding for research on gun violence, and creating a "Presidential advisory committee" to advise the White House on gun violence. [Doctors For America, 1/14/13]