US Media Critics Still Debating CNN’s Sanjay Gupta Nepal Surgery
First the background:
Kantipur reported on 2 May 2015 that neuro surgeons at Bir Hospital described news reports that CNN’s medical journalist Dr Sanjay Gupta had himself conducted a brain surgery on a girl child and saved her life as false.
The newspaper said that various news outlets, including from India, had claimed that Gupta, who is also a neuro surgeon, had seen a wounded girl child named Selina, saw no other doctor there, and conducted a few hours long surgery himself.
Kantipur reported that Indian media had publicized photos of doctors, including Gupta, in gowns inside the surgery room. CNN itself had broadcast a video on the surgery conducted by Gupta. Dr Rajiv Jha, who is seen as leading the surgery, says that it was his team that conducted the surgery. “He [Gupta] himself did not conduct any surgery; he was there as a second assistant while I was conducting the surgery,” Dr Jha is quoted as telling Kantipur.
Dr Jha, who was conducting surgeries since the early morning, was introduced to Gupta by someone. Sanjay, introducing himself as a CNN journalist and a trauma neuro surgeon, sought permission to be of help in the surgery. “Since we had enough manpower there, it was conveyed to him that we did not need any help,” Kantipur quoted Jha as saying, “Other than being present in one of the surgeries, he has not appeared again at Bir [Hospital].” After repeated requests [by Gupta], a team of neuro surgeons let him as a second assistant. According to Dr Jha, the work of a second assistant involves no surgery. Like a trainee, he or she observes closely the operation as it takes place.”
According to sources at Bir Hospital reached by Kantipur, Dr Ganesh Gurung, the vice-chancellor of the National Academy of Medical Science (NAMS), had objected to the neuro department for letting journalist Sanjay Gupta inside the surgery room. “This is the extreme of a journalist’s mischief,” Dr Gurung told Kantipur, “He is trying to be a hero by shooting a video, mimicking a surgery. I have premonished him. He has already apologized.”
The neuro surgery department chief of Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital also told Kantipur that no journalist had conducted a surgery there.
Yet, media outlets in the US continue to debate the ethical issues raised by Gupta’s medical involvement without even doubting that he conducted the brain surgery in a hospital in Nepal. For example:
CNN Correspondent Performs Surgery While Covering Nepal Earthquake
CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta performed brain surgery on an 8-year-old girl while on assignment covering the 7.8-magnitude earthquake. In fact, CNN filmed the procedure. Missouri School of Journalism professors Amy Simons, Earnest Perry and Mike McKean discuss the ethical issues behind this on the weekly media criticism program, “Views of the News.”
Perry initiated the privacy conversation. He raised the question if clearance was given prior to the filming of the surgery.
“I don’t have a problem with him saying and describing what he did, but I would prefer to see that after he’s done…as opposed to them being inside the operating room.”
Perry added that perhaps CNN will see a ratings bump after showing this video.
The media critics should better check with the hospital sources about the authenticity of the said brain surgery, or at least consider it a key factor in determining the quality of the journalistic product aired on CNN.
To be fair, Gupta himself hints at his nominal, secondary role as an observer in the video, when he says: “literally, I think it is, you know, they just need another set of hands”.
Undoubtedly, though, as the media critics assert, it is a gross ethical lapse on the part of CNN to violate the privacy of the patient by airing the images without any consent. That, certainly, must have given CNN “a bump in its ratings”.
Even more serious, however, is the issue of likely deception and distortion in this story, if Dr Gupta indeed did not have any role in the surgery itself, and if he was there merely as an observer to get a few video shots making false claims.