Move over Brian Williams, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta is being called out.
On April 27, Gupta and CNN reported that he performed surgery on an 8-year-old girl in Kathmandu who had been badly injured in the quake. He told viewers the girl, Salina Dahal, was in dire circumstances and could die without the surgery. Later, he informed his audiences that Salina was progressing well.
Now, an international news operation based in San Francisco is muscularly challenging those accounts. The Global Press Journal reported late Tuesday night that the 8-year-old girl never underwent surgery. Instead, the journal says Gupta helped perform surgery on a 14-year-old with traumatic head injuries.
Gupta tried to explain how he made the mistake.
"I don't like to make mistakes," Gupta said. "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."
The mistake, Gupta said, was one born of havoc. "We want to be accurate, 100 percent. It was a chaotic situation, no doubt. You had a hospital turn into a massive triage area."
Not good enough, argued Cristi Hegranes, the founder and executive director of the San Francisco-based Global Press Institute and the publisher of The Global Press Journal.
"When foreign correspondents are parachuted into a place where they have no social, historical, cultural or political context, the coverage is automatically compromised," says Hegranes, herself a former stringer in Nepal. "Accuracy is not the top priority."
CNN appears to have initially gotten the story right and then, at Gupta's behest, reversed its reporting to offer mistaken information instead.
In a piece posted at 10:14 am ET, CNN producer Tim Hume reported from Kathmandu that Gupta had aided the craniotomy of Sandyha Chalise, whom he identified as a 15-year-old girl (her actual age appears to be 14). At 2:30 p.m. that day, according to CNN spokeswoman Neel Khairzada, the network sent out an updated alert. The new story referred to Salina Dahal, the 8-year-old.
Salina did seek care that day, brought in by her grandfather. Her face and bandaged head are featured prominently in CNN's footage from the hospital and shown in brief segments on television touting Gupta's role.
Gupta told me it was his call to change the identity of the patient in Hume's story. He said he believed the inclusion of Sandyha was the mistaken version.
"I wanted to get the story right," Gupta said. "I didn't think the story was right. I had every reason to believe based on the [CAT] scans, based on what the doctors were telling me, based on the story they had told me, that the patient we had just operated on was an 8-year-old girl."
8 year old, 14 year old...either way it seems to be another black eye on CNN.
A black eye, in this case, the Doctor can't fix.