Via Larry George, this news and picture from Media Bistro:

Besser_7.30ABC News announced it has hired Dr. Richard Besser as Senior Health and Medical Editor and at the same time has promoted 30-year ABC News health veteran Dr. Tim Johnson to Chief Medical Editor.

Dr. Besser came to ABC’s attention during coverage of the swine flu outbreak. He was the public face of the CDC’s response to H1N1. “He is an incredibly talented physician, and I look forward to him joining our team,” said Dr. Johnson in a press release. Dr. Besser currently serves as director of the Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response at the CDC. He’ll join ABC in September.


1) Congratulations to Besser!

2) This is probably a win for EphBlog since it will provide a useful handle for discussing health news.

3) Recall my previous analysis about how media-savvy Besser is.

First, this story could only have come from Besser himself. How else would reporter Gardiner Harris know what CDC officials were “unhappy” about almost 20 years ago? Second, the story makes Besser out to be the hero, bravely ignoring bureaucratic concerns about “cost” to get to the bottom of a critical medical mystery. No amount of money is too much to spend on the investigation of (not the treatment for!) an outbreak that results in no fatalities. A less sympathetic reporter would have spun this as CDC officials pissed that Besser was taking so long on an investigation so that he could spend time with his new girlfriend.

Not that there is anything wrong with that!

4) Anyone have good DC gossip about how/why Besser was passed over for the top job at CDC? I wondered in April:

Not sure why President Obama named Besser acting head rather than giving him the job permanently. Is there something about his politics that makes him unacceptable to Democrats? Is the CDC job usually awarded to a dilettante, sort of like Ambassador to France?

Obama named New York City Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden as Director of the CDC in May.

UPDATE: The Washington Post story mentions that:

Acting CDC Director Richard E. Besser, who has steered the Atlanta-based agency through the current global swine flu outbreak, will return to his role as head of the CDC’s emergency response unit. Two sources with knowledge of the process said Frieden was on a shortlist of prospects long before Besser made a name for himself by his handling of the swine flu crisis.

Hmmm. Sounds like someone is getting spun, but I can’t tell the direction. What sources would provide this info to reporters Debbi Wilgoren and Michael D. Shear, and why would they provide it? My guess: Friedan was always the top choice of some insiders (who?) and they wanted to stop any discussion along the lines of “Why not Besser?” They try to do this by pretending/mentioning that Friedan already had the job locked up, more or less, months ago. The reporters want to protect/sweeten the sources so they don’t ask/report the obvious follow-ups: Was Besser on the short list? Was he ever considered? Why not?

The article ends with:

Some had expected Obama to name Besser as permanent head of the CDC. In his role as acting director, he has gotten high marks for his effective briefings at the height of the swine flu scare. In an e-mail to colleagues yesterday, Besser praised his successor.

“Dr. Frieden is a consummate innovator. He’s had dramatic success in New York City,” Besser wrote. “I know CDC will be in great hands with Dr. Frieden.”

Who are these mysterious “Some?” They sound pretty sensible to me!

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