On Sunday's Reliable Sources on CNN, Dr. Gail Saltz blasted Fox News contributor Dr. Keith Ablow for his jab at Michelle Obama's weight: "To be criticizing people, kind of, willy-nilly is – I don't think meets the Hippocratic Oath." She played up how Dr. Ablow previously hinted that Vice President Biden might have dementia, and claimed that the psychiatrist violated "American psychiatric guidelines, which is not to diagnose someone that you have never met." [MP3 audio available here; video below]
Host Brian Stelter wondered if there's "this urge to be entertaining; to be provocative; to be outrageous." Dr. Saltz asserted that she tries "very hard every day to resist that," and that "any professional wants to express their opinion that has nothing to do with medicine, they have to carefully take off their doctor hat, and make it clear that they're doing so." The CNN guest should take her own advice, as she diagnosed conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh as a "bully" in October 2009:
CAROL COSTELLO: Psychiatrist Gail Saltz says Limbaugh's style appeals to those who feel they have no voice.
DR. GAIL SALTZ, PSYCHIATRIST: He's essentially kind of operating like the bully, and if you're on the playground, do you want to be the bully's- you know, under the bully's wing and go along with him and get, therefore, some power by proxy, too, or do you want to be like left out alone on the playground where- you know, who knows who’s going to take you out?
COSTELLO: Saltz says conservative talkers are more popular than liberal talkers because they attract the kind of person who likes strong, aggressive messages.
Stelter led into the segment with Dr. Saltz with his own critique of Dr. Ablow:
BRIAN STELTER: I'm a media reporter, so I watch Fox News every day, and I learn a lot about conservative politics from Fox. But may I strongly suggest that you not take its medical advice? Fox has what it calls a 'medical A-team,' and one of the members is Dr. Keith Ablow. He's a psychiatrist, and he was on the Fox show 'Outnumbered' earlier this week – part of a group that was complaining about Michelle Obama's campaign to make school lunches healthier. Ablow took it a step further. Ablow challenged her credibility by suggesting she weighs too much....
Speaking as a guy who was overweight growing up and who lost 90 pounds a few years ago, I think we need all the help we can get to reduce obesity in this country. So I really wish talking heads would not controversialize something as simple as nutrition advice. But let's hone in on Ablow right here. This is far from the first time he has said something outrageous. In 2012, he implied that Vice President Joe Biden might have dementia, and also suggested that year that Newt Gingrich's three marriages meant he might be a strong president.
The CNN host then turned his guest and asked, "What responsibility do you think TV doctors have when it comes to talking about the health of others?" Dr. Saltz answered with her Hippocratic Oath claim about Dr. Ablow:
DR. GAIL SALTZ, PSYCHIATRIST: I would argue a huge responsibility – that when you carry the label of M.D. – and actually, a psychiatrist is an M.D. – they're an M.D. of the brain – of the mind – for mental illness – you're putting forth the idea that you are going to act with integrity; you are going to go by, frankly, American psychiatric guidelines, which is not to diagnose someone that you have ever met – not to label someone with dementia with no evidence of such; and not to – and basically to follow the Hippocratic Oath, which is first, do no harm.
So to be criticizing people, kind of, willy-nilly is – I don't think meets the Hippocratic Oath, and it undermines the way the public sees mental health professionals – which is what concerns me the most, because – you know, especially what's gone on this week with Robin Williams, and the concern that people don't get treatment because of stigma; because of discomfort; because wondering if they can go in and trust a mental health professional. It's really important that anyone who presents themselves as such in the media really follows those guidelines, and people feel that they can trust them – not that they will be criticized.
Stelter followed up with his "urge to be entertaining; to be provocative; to be outrageous" question. The psychiatrist replied with her claim of objectivity. The CNN host ended the segment by asking, "Is it fair to say that you can have a physician who's a little bit overweight, or have a psychiatrist who has his or her own mental health problems, and still be effectively treated by that person – in other words, that person can still give great advice?"
Dr. Saltz inserted a compliment of Michelle Obama's apparent physique into her answer:
SALTZ: So – absolutely. The bottom line is, that many – actually, mental health professionals are drawn to the field because they have struggles with mental health problems themselves. And, obviously, as long as they're not ill – as long as they've been treated – they not only can be wonderful clinicians...but they can have a particular empathy....
I mean, I also would say, honestly, I have no idea what that's about. We've talked about Michelle Obama's fantastic arms and biceps for years now, and how incredibly fit and attractive she is. So, I don't even know what that's about. But it is important to know that many people who have struggled with weight are some of the best, actually, nutritionalists (sic) and fitness people out there.