Gupta vs. Sicko: Are there socially acceptable mistakes?

Among those opposing Obama’s choice of Sanjay Gupta as the next Surgeon General is Adrian Campbell, a Michigan woman who appeared in Michael Moore’s film Sicko. Gupta told his television audience:

In Canada, you can be waiting for a long time. A survey of six industrialized nations found that only Canada was worse than the United States when it came to waiting for a doctor’s appointment for a medical problem.

In the film, Mrs. Campbell takes her daughter to Canada for an ear infection. She feels personally offended by Gupta’s statement. “When Dr. Gupta said that Canada has longer waiting times, I felt like I was being made fun of.”

Michael Moore & Sanjay Gupta on Larry King Live

Michael Moore got some valuable publicity out of this controversy. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer interviewed Moore shortly after Sicko was released. Since the movie was newsworthy, Moore may not have expected an attack. But preceding the interview was a prerecorded “Sicko Reality Check” by Gupta. It was overwhelmingly negative and accused Moore of “fudging the facts.” Moore responded with his characteristic forcefulness. CNN subsequently arranged a debate between Moore and Gupta on Larry King Live. (See Sources below for links to the Blitzer interview and the three segments of the debate.)


In the debate, both Moore and Gupta come off well, for different reasons. In the first segment, they argue about errors and inaccuracies in reporting statistics. As the discussion continues, Moore conveys his passion about the sorry state of healthcare in America, and Gupta agrees with him. The contrasting style and presence of these two men symbolize the two approaches we take to healthcare reform: an emotional reaction based on gut instincts and a cool, rational, intellectual approach. This is not simply a split that divides Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. It troubles any individual who attempts to think deeply about this difficult issue.
I liked Paul Krugman’s take on the Moore-Gupta debate:

What bothered me about the incident was that it was what Digby would call Village behavior: Moore is an outsider, he’s uncouth, so he gets smeared as unreliable even though he actually got it right. It’s sort of a minor-league version of the way people who pointed out in real time that Bush was misleading us into war are to this day considered less “serious” than people who waited until it was fashionable to reach that conclusion. And appointing Gupta now, although it’s a small thing, is just another example of the lack of accountability that always seems to be the rule when you get things wrong in a socially acceptable way.

Personally I found Sicko emotionally manipulative and misleading. Is propaganda OK when it furthers a worthy cause? For balance, I would recommend a much more objective film on the same subject: Frontline’s Sick around the world: Can the U.S. learn anything from the rest of the world about how to run a health care system? The complete documentary is available for viewing on the Internet.

Sources and additional links:

(Hover over book or DVD titles for more info.)

Mother in ‘Sicko’ objects to Gupta nomination, The Michigan Messenger, January 14, 2009
Here is the Gupta Fact Check and Wolf Blitzer interview with Michael Moore, July 9, 2007 (15 minutes)
Larry King Live debate between Michael Moore and Sanjay Gupta, July 10, 2007:
Segment one (nine minutes)
Segment two (seven minutes)
Segment three (five minutes)
Michael Moore, Checkup on the Facts, ‘Sicko’ Truth Squad
Kim Vovnar, Michael Moore Smacks Wolf Blitzer Around on ‘SICKO,’ the War, and Why CNN Sucks, Cinematical, July 10, 2007
Paul Krugman, The trouble with Sanjay Gupta, The New York Times, January 6, 2009
Frontline, Sick around the world: Can the U.S. learn anything from the rest of the world about how to run a health care system?
The Frontline documentary is also available from Amazon:
Frontline: Sick Around the World

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