Sunday, July 15, 2007

CNN defends Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Remember the Michael Moore-Sanjay Gupta controversy? Dr. Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, claimed that Moore fudged the facts in SiCKO by saying that Cuba spent only $25 per person per person on health care. Of course, it turned out that Moore did no such thing; he had given the correct figure, $251. Outraged, Moore went on Wolf Blitzer's show and gave CNN a well-deserved tongue-lashing. Then Moore posted a long response on his website (here and here) detailing the problems with Gupta's review of SiCKO. I decided to be a citizen activist (as opposed to my usual habit of getting outraged and forgetting to do something about it), and sent off an email to the CNN Situation Room email address requesting that the network issue an apology to Moore.

Now CNN has posted a point-by-point rebuttal to 11 problems Moore pointed out in Gupta's review. Some of the counter-arguments made by CNN are convincing, mostly the ones where they claim that Gupta was actually agreeing with Moore. Two of them merit further discussion:



CNN: (PAUL KECKLEY-Deloitte Health Care Analyst): "The concept that care is free in France, in Canada, in Cuba -- and it's not. Those citizens pay for health services out of taxes. As a proportion of their household income, it's a significant number ... (GUPTA): It's true that the French pay higher taxes, and so does nearly every country ahead of the United States on that list."

"The Truth" (from Michael Moore's Web site):

"SiCKO" never claims that health care is provided absolutely for free in other countries without tax contributions from citizens. Former (member of the British Parliament) Tony Benn reads from the NHS founding pamphlet, which explicitly states that "this is not a charity. You are paying for it mainly as taxpayers." "SiCKO" also acknowledges that the French are "drowning in taxes." Comparatively, many Americans are drowning in insurance premiums, deductibles, co-pays and medical debt and the resulting threat of bankruptcy -- half of all bankruptcies in the United States are triggered by medical bills (Medical Bills Make up Half of Bankruptcies, February 2005, MSNBC).


On Moore's Web site "Prescription for Change" (, item one is a call that "Every resident of the United States must have free, universal health care for life."

One of Gupta's overall critiques of the film is that Moore leaves viewers with an impression, as he does on his Web site, that universal health care comes without cost. In fact, substantial taxes are required to pay for such programs around the world.

This is the worst argument CNN makes in the rebuttal. SiCKO repeatedly compares the per-capita health care cost in various countries. It certainly does not give the impression-- and neither does Moore's website, as far as I can tell-- that medical care appears without any money being spent, like a magic pony. No adult would believe such a thing, and SiCKO doesn't say that's how it works. The movie does not deny that universal health care is funded with taxes. It does point out that health care is free at the point of use. If you're sick, you go to the doctor and you don't get charged a thing. You don't get bankrupted by your medical bills. Next point:



CNN: "But no matter how much Moore fudged the facts, and he did fudge some facts..."

"The Truth" (from Michael Moore's Web site):

This is libel. There is not a single fact that is "fudged" in the film. No one has proven a single fact in the film wrong. We expect CNN to correct their mistakes on the air and to apologize to their viewers.


Gupta believes picking and comparing numbers from different places and times to suit an argument is not the best approach to a complicated issue like this one. Again, as pointed out earlier, by mixing types of data and time periods in some of Moore's comparisons, Gupta felt that the film effectively fudged points that could have been made just as compellingly by comparing data from the same source and time period.

Previously, CNN pointed out that Moore, at least at one point in the film, compared Cuba's health care costs in 2005 to America's in 2007. He did that because he was using the most recent figures for each country, but still, it's not good statistics. A half-point to CNN here.

Despite having at least one decent defense, CNN and Dr. Sanjay Gupta do not come out looking good. The "universal health care isn't a magic pony" criticism is transparently ridiculous, and they have already admitted that they made a wrong "transcription" of Moore's numbers about health care costs in Cuba. Hopefully they will be more careful next time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's corporate propaganda: