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CNN's Gupta Decides Against Surgeon General Position, Cites 'Timing'

Sanjay Gupta to continue his TV, medical careers.
Sanjay Gupta to continue his TV, medical careers. (Diane Bondareff - AP)
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Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, March 6, 2009; Page A02

Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, said last night that he will not leave his television career to become the U.S. surgeon general and urged whoever gets the job to raise its profile as the nation grapples with how to reform health care.

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Gupta, who had been described as the leading candidate for the public-health post, withdrew his name even as President Obama hosted a health-care summit at the White House that Gupta did not attend.

Speaking on "Larry King Live" hours after news of his decision broke, Gupta said he did not want to stop performing brain surgery, leave his television career or spend extended time away from his family.

"It really came down to a sense of timing more than anything else," Gupta told King on the show. "This job that we have collectively takes us away from our children. . . . I just didn't feel like I should do that now."

He said the surgeon general "has to have a little bit of a higher profile. Whoever takes this job has to be out there really advocating the issues of public health. At no time is it probably more important than right now, as we're dealing with health-care reform. These issues really go hand in hand."

The decision means that the often low-profile job will not get the mass-media jolt from the appointment of the television celebrity. Gupta, a journalist and neurosurgeon who continues to practice medicine, has become ubiquitous on CNN, where he hosts a half-hour show called "House Call" and appears on numerous other programs.

Gupta is the latest in a string of dropouts among likely candidates for top posts in Obama's administration. Also Thursday, two people who had been leading candidates for jobs at the Treasury Department withdrew abruptly.

Annette L. Nazareth took her name out of the running to be the deputy under Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. And Caroline Atkinson, the pick for undersecretary for international affairs, also withdrew her name.

After a rapid start, Obama's endeavor to fill out his government has stalled amid intense inquiries into the background of nominees and efforts to meet the president's strict rules against lobbyists.

Sources had confirmed weeks ago that Obama had offered the job to Gupta and that the neurosurgeon had intended to take it and would leave his network job. But no further progress was evident, especially after Obama's first choice for secretary of health and human services, former senator Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), was derailed by tax problems.

An administration official said last night that Gupta "was under serious consideration for the job of surgeon general. He has removed himself from consideration to focus more on his medical career and his family."

Gupta, who was once named one of the "sexiest men alive" by People magazine, was never officially named to the post and continued to report for CNN. Sources said the medical journalist told CNN executives that he wanted to devote more time to his medical practice and to his duties at the network.

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