But Can He Talk About Sex?

Kay Steiger

Where does future Surgeon General Dr. Sanjay Gupta stand on reproductive health? He has spoken out for emergency contraception, but reproductive health issues haven't gotten a starring role on "House Call."

Since the Obama administration
announced that CNN’s Sanjay Gupta, one of People magazine’s
"sexiest
men alive
" in 2003, might be the next surgeon general, reactions have ranged from
indifferent to outraged. Although Gupta is a neurosurgeon and has been
in the public eye for years – he started his "House Call" show on
CNN in 2004 – many have been scrambling to figure out what this man stands for. 

Two separate controversies
have already arisen since Gupta’s name has publicly been floated as
the next surgeon general. First, New York Times columnist
Paul Krugman lambasted Gupta’s critique of Michael Moore’s
2007 film Sicko, saying that Gupta’s accusation that Moore "fudged
the facts" was, well, just plain wrong. Then Rep.
John Conyers (D-MI) wrote a letter to his fellow Democrats urging them
to oppose Gupta as surgeon general. Conyers claimed that
Gupta would face a "credibility problem," given his lack of experience
in the National Health Service Corp and that "it is not in the best interests
of the nation to have someone … who lacks the requisite experience
needed to oversee the federal agency that provides crucial health care
assistance to some of the poorest and most underserved communities in
America." 

Many bloggers have already
written about Gupta’s lack
of administrative experience
,
his opposition
to marijuana reforms
,
and some of his biggest
medical reporting mistakes
.
But little is known about where Gupta stands on reproductive health.
(Rewire attempted to contact Gupta for an interview, but was
told he isn’t available for interviews at this time.) 

The biggest source on Gupta’s public
record, the transcript archives from "House Call," reveals little;
Gupta’s show has largely avoided the issue. In a 2004 special on the worldwide HIV/AIDS epidemic, Gupta discussed "prevention" abstractly without ever mentioning condoms
or even sex. In another
episode
on the
spread of HIV a few months later, he quotes an HIV-positive man, Peter
Staley, saying, "You can’t stop the spread of HIV unless you talk
about sex." But Gupta’s show doesn’t talk about sex. Instead, it
cuts to an interview with former basketball star Magic Johnson. But the show’s ability to deal with HIV/AIDS improves over the years, and in 2007 "House Call" addressed the problems of transactional sex
in African countries that presents challenges to stopping the spread
of HIV. 

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Still, reproductive issues
specifically rarely grace the screen. An entire episode devoted
to "women’s health issues"

covered only the topics of breast cancer, smoking, and heart disease. In
a 2004
special on multiple births
,
he headed up the top of the news program with the news that pregnancies
among girls ages 10-14 were on the decline, which he attributed to "abstinence
programs and birth control," a fairly ambiguous and tentative statement.
Some have suggested that his ties to pharmaceutical companies are too
tight, and that he supported Gardasil while the jury was out on
its safety. 

But when Gupta
was consulted about emergency contraception’s then potential over-the-counter
sale, he confirmed that Plan B was a "high dose birth control pill"
and said that there wasn’t much controversy from the mainstream anti-choice
community because "they think it actually acts before – actually prevents
the insemination part of this and the creation of life," thus quashing
any claims that emergency contraception causes abortion. 

What a Bold Surgeon General Can Do

The public most commonly
knows the surgeon general as the person responsible for putting warnings
on cigarette packages. Yet the surgeon general really serves as
a public health advocate in a broad sense; his or her job is to relate
accurate scientific and medical information to the public to improve
public health. Sticking to that job description, however, might land
a surgeon general in trouble. President Ronald Reagan’s surgeon general,
C. Everett Koop, learned that lesson the hard way.  

Koop discovered that much of the information put forth
by anti-choice groups claiming abortion had negative psychological implications for women wasn’t backed up by science. He then released a statement
that "the available scientific evidence about the psychological
sequelae of abortion simply cannot support either the preconceived notions
of those pro-life or those pro-choice." His position, viewed by
many as an open rebuke to the religious right, cost him the position
of Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George H.W.
Bush. 

Dr. Jocelyn Elders, the surgeon
general under President Bill Clinton and only the second women to ever
hold the position, only served for 18 months. She resigned after a statement
she made before the United Nations about masturbation; she said it is
"part of human sexuality, and perhaps it should be taught." Today
Elders realizes that many of the challenges she faced have remained
the same. (The full transcript is available here.) 

Part of the job of surgeon
general for her, as it would be for Gupta, was  to sell health care
reform to the public. "You have to remember that we were trying to
get through the Clinton health plan at the same time," she said. And in this respect, she thinks Gupta would excel: "I
think Dr. Gupta has been out there working very hard trying to communicate
with the American people. I think he would be an excellent communicator." 

Elders had a very different
public perception when she was appointed than Gupta does. "Everybody
knew when I came to Washington that I was interested in reducing teenage
pregnancy, that I was very into reproductive health," she said. She
doesn’t know where Gupta stands on reproductive health, but "he
has 6,000 public health people who will be working for him who are the
best in the world."  

Still, Elders expects that
many of the reproductive battles ahead will be on the list of battles
she faced: combating thfe spread of HIV/AIDS, advocating for fully funding
Title X to ensure comprehensive family planning, and calling for public funding of abortion for women on Medicaid. "I think we need to get over our ideas
about how condoms will break. We know condoms will break, but the vows
of abstinence break far more frequently than latex condoms," Elders
said. Gupta, if confirmed, might do well to remember that.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Cable News Turned Mostly to Men to Discuss Clinton’s Historic Moment

Ally Boguhn

Even as Hillary Clinton seemed to clinch the Democratic nomination, cable news shows barely had women on to discuss this moment. Also this week, Sen. Marco Rubio announced that his political aspirations didn't end with his presidential run.

This week on the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton becoming the first female presumptive nominee of a major party wasn’t enough to push cable news to bring on women to discuss it, and former presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) changed his mind about running for re-election to the Senate. 

Cable News Turns Largely to Men to Discuss ElectionEven Amid Clinton’s Historic Moment

When Clinton became the first female presumptive nominee of a major party earlier this month, cable news tapped more men than women to discuss the historic moment.

As Gender Avenger Founder Gina Glantz, Women’s Media Center President Julie Burton, and Center for American Women and Politics Director Debbie Walsh explained in a Tuesday column for USA Today:

On the day when headlines and large photos of the former secretary of State celebrated her historic role in American politics, not one woman appeared on Fox News’ The Kelly File. In fact, the only time Hillary Clinton was mentioned was when Megyn Kelly speculated about the cost of her wardrobe, referred to a focus group discussing Clinton’s supposed divisiveness and considered whether President Obama’s endorsement would create a conflict of interest with the investigation of her State Department emails. 

Other cable shows did a bit—just a bit—better. On CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 and the MSNBC, Fox, and CNN morning shows (Morning Joe, Fox & Friends, New Day) about one in three of the voices in their discussions were women. Only The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC hit 50%.

Gender Avenger, an organization that seeks to “build a community that ensures women are represented in the public dialog [sic]” has partnered with the Women’s Media Center and the Center for American Women and Politics to release monthly reports on how many women appear to discuss the 2016 presidential elections on some of cable news’ most-watched television programs. According to its website, the organization “monitors the highest-rated morning and evening shows on three major television news networks: CNN, FOX, and MSNBC. Any guest who is not the host (or substitute host) and is asked to comment substantively on the 2016 presidential election is counted as an analyst.”

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Analyzing data from March 1 to May 31, the groups found that only CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 had roughly equivalent ratios of men and women on to discuss the election. Of the other nightly programs, only 15 percent of guests who joined Fox News’ Kelly File to talk about the presidential election were women; 33 percent of guests on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show to discuss related issues were women.

All morning programs examined had a poor ratio of men-to-women guests who discussed the election: CNN’s New Day had 31 percent women guests, Fox News’ Fox and Friends had 22 percent, and MSNBC’s Morning Joe had 24 percent.

Glantz and her co-authors explained in their column that these findings coincide with past research from the Women’s Media Center, which found that “in 2014, men reported 65 percent of all U. S. political news stories.” 

Former Republican Presidential Candidate Rubio Decides to Run for Senate Re-Election

After losing the 2016 Republican nomination for presidentand spending months of vowing he would be a “private citizen” in JanuaryRubio has decided to run to keep his Senate seat.

Admitting that he had previously expressed frustrations at the limitations of what he could accomplish in the Senate, (remember, he justified skipping Senate votes because of his “frustration” with the process), Rubio cited the importance of Florida’s position in determining which party would hold the Senate as a key factor in his decision. “Control of the Senate may very well come down to the race in Florida,” said Rubio in a press release announcing his decision. “The stakes for our nation could not be higher.”

Rubio went on to point to the 2016 presidential as another component to his decision to run for re-election, reasoning that “no matter who is elected president, there is reason for worry.”

Calling Donald Trump’s rhetoric about women and people of color “not just offensive but unacceptable,” Rubio noted that the prospect of electing the presumptive Republican nominee to the White House was “worrisome.” He also criticized Clinton, claiming that electing her “would be a repeat of the early years of the current administration, when we got Obamacare, the failed stimulus and a record debt.”

Rubio’s late-entrance into the race was not unexpected. Last week, Rep. David Jolly dropped out of the GOP primary race for the seat Rubio was supposed to be vacating, instead deciding to run for re-election to the House. Just before he announced his decision, Jolly appeared on CNN’s New Day, mentioning that “Marco is saying he is getting in [the race],” seemingly referencing rumors Rubio would be running.

The New York Times reported that Rubio has already told “colleagues and advisers that he is considering running for president again, in 2020 or 2024.” Yet Rubio told CNN today that “if my plan was to run for president in 2020, jumping into a race like this with all the political risks associated with it would not be the decision one would make.” He did not, however, explicitly rule out a presidential run.

The Florida senator’s time in the presidential race this season was marked by anti-choice positions so extreme even some Republicans questioned his electability. As Rewire previously reported, “Rubio’s anti-choice views were a key part of his platform throughout his campaign, even leading him to create an advisory board of anti-choice leaders and activists to advise his campaign on how to chip away at abortion rights.”

What Else We’re Reading

Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Friday said he would vote for Clinton to “focus on defeating Republican Donald Trump,” according to CNBC.

A Moody’s Analytics analysis released Monday found that electing Trump to the presidency would hurt the economy “significantly,” leading to a nationwide recession.

“I hate the concept of profiling. But we have to start using common sense,” said Trump on CBS’ Face the Nation Sunday, seemingly suggesting that the United States should indeed begin profiling against Muslims.

Ann Friedman wrote in New York Magazine that the “real lesson of the Obama presidency is not that our sitting president is a failure. It’s that having a president who looks like a feminist is not enough.”

Washington Posts Glenn Kessler looked into a claim made in a recent Clinton campaign ad suggesting that the Democrat had worked across the aisle as first lady on child health programs.

Did Trump’s campaign really pay $35,000 to advertising firm “Draper Sterling” (the last names, of course, of two leading characters from Mad Men)?

Aliza Abarbanel highlighted in Elle magazine the 27.3 million Latinos who will vote this November, and what they think about the election.

Politico offered a look into a campaign finance case that could be “the next Citizens United.”

Commentary Violence

Inciting Hatred and Violence: Unfortunately, This Is Who We Are As a Nation

Jodi Jacobson

As a country, we are more like those we condemn for espousing hatred than most Americans would like to admit.

“This is not who we are.” “This is not America.” These sentiments have become a common refrain in recent years in the response to everything from mass shootings to police abuse of power and police brutality toward protesters, to blatantly racist acts by members of a fraternity. In response to a CIA report describing the extent of torture and brutality used on prisoners in the “war on terror,” President Barack Obama asserted “this is not who we are,” because torture is “contrary to our values.” And in the wake of the mass shootings last year in San Bernardino, California, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch stated that: “Violence like this has no place in this country. This is not what we stand for, this is not what we do.”

But these statements are at best aspirational for a country in which the leaders of at least one major political party regularly exploit intolerance, fear, and “morality” to win campaigns, and in which the leaders of the other too often hide behind platitudes and half-measures intended to placate specific constituencies, but not fundamentally challenge those realities. They are at best aspirational for a country in which the beliefs of Islamic fundamentalists are condemned, but the same views when espoused by conservative Christian fundamentalists are given legal and social approval by both parties, because … religion. They are at best aspirational for a country in which women’s rights to their own bodies are a subject of ongoing debate, medical professionals are villainized and murdered, and rape and sexual assault are often blamed on the victim. These statements are also aspirational in a country in which we imprison people of color of every age, sex, and gender at rates far higher than whites; actively rip families apart by deporting millions of undocumented persons; and pass laws denying people access to basic human needs, like bathrooms, due to their gender identity.

We are not what we say. We are what we do.

Consider the events of the last 24 hours. A U.S.-born citizen (born in New York, living in Florida) opens fire in a large gay nightclub, killing at least 50 people and injuring at least 53 more. The shooter’s father suggested that the rampage was not due to religion but “may” have been incited by his son’s anger at seeing two men kissing. His former wife described him as being violent and unstable. He allegedly made a call to 9-1-1 to declare himself a supporter of ISIS. He used a military-grade assault rifle to carry out what is being called one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.

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In the immediate aftermath, even before details were known, the following happened: First, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has most recently worked strenuously to oppose the rights of transgender students in his state’s schools, tweeted and shared on Facebook the biblical quote from Galatians, 6:7, stating that “a man reaps what he sows.” Translation: The people killed had it coming because they were gay. (His staff later said the tweet was prescheduled. It stayed up for four hours.)

Before any details were shared by the FBI or Florida law enforcement, Rep. Peter King (R-NY), known for scapegoating Muslim Americans and calling for racial and religious profiling, was on CNN claiming that the U.S.-born shooter was “from Afghanistan.”

In short order, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) joined the fray by appearing on CNN. According to the transcript:

“If in fact this terrorist attack is one inspired by radical Islamic ideology, it is quite frankly not surprising that they would target this community in this horrifying way, and I think it’s something we’ll have to talk about some more here, across the country,” he said.

Rubio [also] said it’s not yet clear what the shooter’s motivations were, but that if radical Islamic beliefs were behind the shooting, “common sense tells you he specifically targeted the gay community because of the views that exist in the radical Islamic community with regard to the gay community.”

Rubio would appear to share those views “with regard to the gay community.” He is against same-sex marriage and made that opposition a key issue during his recent run for the GOP presidential nomination. He opposes legislation to make employment discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation illegal, supports “conversion therapy,” and is against the rights of gay persons to adopt children.

What, exactly, is the difference between the hatred spewed by radical Islamists and that by conservative Christian fundamentalists in the United States? How can any less responsibility be laid at the feet of the U.S. politicians and their supporters for violence and terror when they espouse the same forms of hatred and marginalization as those they blame for that terror? Why are we so quick to connect the lone gunman in Orlando with Islam and so unwilling to connect the “lone wolves” like Robert Dear, Angel Dillard, and Scott Roeder with the Christian right, or to hold young white star athletes accountable for the violence they commit against women? Why are we so loath to talk about rational limits on an AK-47 assault rifle, a weapon of war, when mass murders have become routine?

It may not be pretty and it may be hard to acknowledge, but as a country we are more like those we rush to condemn than we are willing to admit. We are a country founded on and fed by a strong historical current of patriarchy, white supremacy, systemic racism, misogyny, discrimination, and scapegoating, all of which in turn feeds hatred, violence, and terror. That is part of who we are as a nation. Pretending that is not the case is like pretending that your severely dysfunctional family is just fine, and that the violence you experience daily within it is just an aberration and not a fact of life.

But it is not an aberration. Christian fundamentalist hatred is not “better” than Islamic fundamentalist hatred. White American misogyny is not “better” than Islamic fundamentalist misogyny. Discrimination and the abrogation of rights of undocumented persons, people of color, LGBTQ people, or any other group by U.S. politicians is not different morally or otherwise than that practiced by “other” fundamentalists against marginalized groups in their own country.

We are what we do.

We like to act the victim, but we are the perpetrators. Until we come to grips with our own realities as a country and take responsibility for the ways in which politicians, the media, and corporate backers of both help bring about, excuse, and otherwise foster discrimination and hatred, we can’t even begin to escape the violence, and we certainly can’t blame anyone else. We must aspire to do better, but that won’t happen unless we take responsibility for our own part in the hatred at the start.

Editor’s note: This piece has been updated to clarify the details around the Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick tweet.