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Ex-Surgeon General Says White House Hushed Him

"Public health is only effective when it is honest," said David Michaels, director of the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy at the George Washington University School of Public Health. "When public health leaders don't tell the truth, they lose credibility, and in the long run, we all pay the price."

Two other former surgeons general, David Satcher and C. Everett Koop, said at the hearing that political interference appears to have grown worse under Bush, although they noted that this administration has not been the only one to take a political approach toward the office.

Satcher, Carmona's predecessor, who served from 1998 to 2002, said that under President Bill Clinton he could not release a report on sexuality and public health, in part because of sensitivities triggered by the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Clinton also forced out Joycelyn Elders as surgeon general in 1994 after her controversial remarks that public schools should consider teaching about masturbation.

Koop, who served as surgeon general under President Ronald Reagan, spoke out on AIDS, despite political pressure not to do so. He said Reagan was pressured to fire him every day -- but he did not.

"If he had not been the kind of person he was, I would not be here today," Koop said.

Staff writer Rick Weiss contributed to this report.

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