Is Obama's Pick for Surgeon General Too Fat?

This is a RUSH transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," July 23, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": By the way, ladies and gentlemen, President Obama has now nominated a candidate for the office of surgeon general. Her name is Regina Benjamin. And did you see the announcement? Here. We have it right here. Take a look.

VOICEOVER: President Obama is being criticized by those who say his pick for surgeon general is overweight. The president is ignoring the controversy, however, and instead focusing his energies on getting congressional approval for his new drug czar, Amy Winehouse. Who needs a refill?


MONICA CROWLEY, GUEST HOST: In the "Back of the Book" segment tonight: President Obama has nominated Dr. Regina Benjamin to be the next surgeon general, but some critics think her weight might be setting a bad example for a nation where obesity is becoming an epidemic. With us now is Meme Roth, the president of the National Action Against Obesity. So, Meme, the new surgeon general, Dr. Benjamin, looks like she enjoys some M&Ms now and again. What's wrong with that?

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MEME ROTH, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL ACTION AGAINST OBESITY: I think as long as you're mostly eating healthfully and exercising daily, you can get away with an occasional indulgence. This was a real blunder on the part of the Obama administration. She clearly didn't meet the requisite of eating, you know, mindful eating and daily exercise. It should have precluded her from ever being, you know, in this really embarrassing situation.

CROWLEY: Well, as I recall — as I recall, some past surgeon generals haven't exactly looked like Kate Moss, right? We've had Jocelyn Elders, who had some heft on her, and C. Everett Koop wasn't exactly Speedo worthy. So do you think that we're holding her up to a higher standard?

ROTH: As far as I know no one's asked her to win, like, a Miss Bikini contest. I don't think — it's not about race. I don't think it's about sexism, and I don't think it's about the past. I think it's about now. And right now we're faced with such a challenge in the twin public health crises of obesity and diabetes. We also have hundreds of billions of dollars spent on unnecessary medical procedures. So lifestyle choices play a great deal in that, and we need a role model who both understands the principles and practices those principles of promoting prevention and good health and exercising daily. She's failed to do that, and she has no track record of doing it professionally either.

CROWLEY: Now, I agree with you obesity is a huge problem, directly related to diabetes and so on, but how about this argument. How about she is exactly the kind of spokesperson we need that — we need for that message, because she can come out to Americans and say, "Look, I'm right there with you guys. I've battled Ben & Jerry every night, too. I feel — I hear the siren call of the Frito, and we're going to do this together."

ROTH: I think we already have an Oprah Winfrey satisfying that requirement. This is not a role of entitlement. This is an honor. This is the position of our nation's top doctor, and with that comes obligations. And part of that is living a lifestyle — not a get skinny kind of diet. We don't want her to do that. We wanted her already to be someone who understood the principles of healthy lifestyle choices and daily exercise. And she simply failed to do it. And she has no track record of reducing obesity and diabetes anywhere in her community or the state of Alabama, which is the second fattest state in the nation.

CROWLEY: And I remember when Oprah went down to the border of Mississippi and basically yelled at the whole state for being overweight. But how do we know that the surgeon general won't take this on as an issue and say, "It's my personal battle, too, and we're going to do it together"?

ROTH: Well, I don't think we all want to go on a diet with our surgeon general. I think what we want is a role model who's already in place. And, you know, look, this is all about driving down not just the financial costs of sickness; this is about driving down the cost of human suffering. And that's what we have when people are sick that don't need to be sick. We shouldn't talk all about making sure people have health care. We should be making sure people have health. And African-American women are our nation's largest category of obesity, so we really would want to see a role model in place who already is living a healthful lifestyle, not someone who needs to start.

CROWLEY: All right. Meme Roth. Well, the president is a skinny-mini, so he might be a better spokesperson for that. Meme Roth, thank you very much.

ROTH: Thank you, Monica.

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