How come there’s no Surgeon General? Take a wild guess

     Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy, President Barack Obama's nominee to be the next U.S. Surgeon General, prepares to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, before the  Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

    Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy, President Barack Obama's nominee to be the next U.S. Surgeon General, prepares to testify on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

    Have you ever laughed so hard, in the midst of drinking something, that the liquid exits your nose?

    It happened to me Tuesday morning while I was watching Fox News. Nothing prompts guffaws more effectively than the infauxtainment network, but it’s advisable not to tip a glass while the Foxheads are insulting your intelligence. Such is the hazard of seeing them fume in fact-free fashion about Obama and Ebola.

    On Fox & Friends, host Steve Doocy harrumphed that President Obama wasn’t doing enough to fight Ebola – which is funny enough, given Fox’s standard depiction of Obama as a meddlesome king and Fox’s standard belief that the federal government is a synonym for tyranny. But this was the real punch line, as laughworthy as anything from Ricky Gervais:

    “You would normally think that in something like this, the Surgeon General would be in charge, but right now, at this point oddly, the United States of America does not have a Surgeon General! His nomination is tied up in politics.”

    This is why I love to watch Fox. Even while it insults your intelligence (and pumps disinformation into the brains of its credulous devotees), it does so with such shameless brio. As the vaudevillians of a bygone era used to say, “That’s entertainment!”

    Oddly there is no Surgeon General? Gee, I wonder why.

    The nomination is tied up in politics? Gee, I wonder who tied it up.

    The nominee is Vivek Murthy, who was tapped by Obama to become “America’s doctor” 11 months ago. Murthy, a Yale-educated internist and Harvard Med School teacher, has been endorsed by, among many others, the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians, the New England Journal of Medicine, the American College of Family Physicians, and the American Hospital Association. Nearly 70,000 people (at last check) have signed a petition demanding that the Senate ratify his nomination.

    So what’s the holdup? Main reason: The NRA has decreed that Murthy is unacceptable.

    Murthy, drawing on his experience in hospital emergency rooms, has had the temerity to say that gun violence is a public health issue. (With 30,000 annual gun deaths and 80,000 annual gun woundings, I can’t imagine where he got that notion.) Therefore, the NRA says no to Murthy. And because the NRA says no, a pivotal tally of timorous senators – many of them Democrats – are too terrified to say yes.

    And take a wild guess which media outlet has consistently amplified the NRA’s message.

    Earlier this year, a Fox News host denounced Murthy as “a partisan” who’s “hell bent on treating a constitutional freedom like a disease.” (In reality, the Surgeon General has no jurisdiction over gun laws.) A Fox “legal analyst” said that Murthy was interested in “gun registration.” One of the Foxblondes said that Murthy has “a radical agenda when it comes to guns and your health.” Another Foxblonde huffed that “anti-gun” Murthy is “not a big fan of the Second Amendment,” and warned that “the NRA has decided to ‘score’ this vote.” (Translation: the NRA would retaliate against any senator who votes yes.)

    “Oddly,” Steve Doocy didn’t reference any of that.

    Thing is, Doocy is by no means the worst Fox propagandist; lately, that honor goes to Keith Ablow, a member of Fox’s so-called “Medical A-Team,” who said Tuesday on Fox Radio that Obama doesn’t care whether Ebola spreads from Africa to America because Obama’s “affinities” are African (“his affiliations are with them, not us”). But still, you have to wonder:

    Before insinuating that Obama has “oddly” failed to fill the Surgeon General job in the midst of a public health emergency, did the Fox team check its own video record to determine why the job is still open, why it’s still “tied up in politics,” and who’s responsible for the tie up?

    Or is it just too inconvenient to look in the mirror?

    Perhaps Fox would be wiser to spend time on a real story – like the federal budget austerity that has seriously slowed work on Ebola vaccines. The National Institutes of Health has been researching vaccines for more than a decade – at a time when its budget has shrunk by $5 billion (adjusting for inflation). The NIH director says: “Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this (crisis), that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.” By another measure, total federal spending on Ebola – for emergency preparedness as well as vaccine research – has shrunk by nearly 30 percent since ’06.

    “Oddly,” the cut-government ethos has put us more at risk. Which is why Fox fans probably won’t learn of it.

     

     

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

     

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