As CNN’s chief medical correspondent and a practicing physician, Sanjay Gupta is in the unusual position of being able to practice what he preaches. He can chronicle the effects of medical ailments but also help those who are suffering from them.
Now some work Gupta did on behalf of CNN in Nepal is being questioned after a San Franciso-based news service that covers international topics reported that CNN incorrectly identified a patient Gupta operated on while covering the fallout from the recent earthquake in that part of the world.
Global Press Journal discovered that Gupta performed surgery on a 14-year-old girl named Sandhya Chalise, who suffered from blood clots. CNN initially correctly identified Chalise as Gupta’s patient in a report posted on its website, but later substituted the name of an 8-year-old girl named Salina Dahal.
In a statement released Wednesday, CNN said it would attempt to “verify” Gupta’s actual patient, but noted Gupta had “our full and unequivocal support.”
“I don’t like to make mistakes,” Gupta told National Public Radio media correspondent David Folkenflik. “Sometimes you are beholden to other people for information, or you are verifying details in other ways. It gives me pause as a doctor. It gives me pause as a journalist.”
Gupta told NPR he was surprised CNN did not tell readers of the report that it had been updated, or that the original details had been changed.
The episode highlights the potential difficulties for news outlets that have an actual doctor serve as a medical correspondent. These operatives can find themselves being held to a standard they may not be able to meet. Journalists, after all, are not supposed to involve themselves in the affairs of those they cover, and yet a doctor has sworn an oath to treat those in need or distress.
An NBC medical correspondent last year found herself under public scrutiny. Dr. Nancy Synderman, a longtime contributor to “Good Morning America” and “Today,” took a break from NBC in October after she was spotted in New Jersey violating the terms of a self-imposed quarantine, a precaution she and other staffers took after an NBC News freelance cameraman contracted Ebola while Snyderman and a team were covering its outbreak in Liberia.
Snyderman and NBC News parted ways in March after she returned to the network.