ABC News Hires CDC Doc; Ups Dr. Tim Johnson to Chief Medical Editor

By Chris Ariens 

ABC 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.

Dr. Johnson, a former Seminarian, turned to medicine in 1965. He joined ABC in 1975 at the launch of Good Morning America.


Dr. Timothy Johnson Named ABC News’ Chief Medical Editor

Dr. Richard Besser Joins ABC News as Senior Health and Medical Editor

ABC News President David Westin today named Dr. Timothy Johnson Chief Medical Editor for ABC News. Mr. Westin also announced that Dr. Richard Besser, currently of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where he led the agency’s response to the H1N1 influenza outbreak earlier this year, will be joining the Network as Senior Health and Medical Editor. Dr. Johnson will continue providing on-air medical analysis for all ABC News’ broadcasts and platforms, and Dr. Besser will begin contributing to those broadcasts and platforms in September.

“Over 30 years, Dr. Tim has established himself as the leading on-air authority for all things related to health and medicine. Most recently, he has brought his profound understanding of our health care system to coverage of the ongoing efforts of reform. Dr. Besser’s distinguished background in public health, emergency preparedness, and epidemiology will enhance the leadership of ABC News in reporting and explaining medical issues to our audiences,” said Mr. Westin.

“Dr. Besser proved his mettle as a highly effective communicator of health issues earlier this year when he served as the public face of the CDC’s response to the H1N1 outbreak. He is an incredibly talented physician, and I look forward to him joining our team,” said Dr. Johnson.

Dr. Besser joins ABC News’ on-air medical team, led by Dr. Johnson, which also includes widely respected ABC News Correspondent John McKenzie and “Good Morning America” Medical Contributor Dr. Marie Savard, M.D. McKenzie has covered an extensive range of medical stories for ABC News, including reports on new, cutting-edge medical technologies. Dr. Savard is a trusted voice on women’s health, wellness and patient empowerment.

Dr. Richard Besser, M.D. currently serves as director of the Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In that role, he is responsible for all of the CDC’s public health emergency preparedness and emergency response activities. He also served as Acting Director for the CDC and Acting Administrator for the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry from January to June 2009, during which time he led the CDC’s response to the H1N1 influenza outbreak.

Dr. Besser began his career at the CDC in 1991 in the Epidemic Intelligence Service working on the epidemiology of food borne diseases. Following this, in 1993, he served for five years on the faculty of the University of California, San Diego as the pediatric residency director. While in San Diego he worked for the county health department on the control of pediatric tuberculosis. He returned to CDC in 1998, where he served in various capacities, including as epidemiology section chief in the Respiratory Diseases Branch; acting chief of the Meningitis and Special Pathogens Branch in the National Center for Infectious Disease; and as the medical director of “Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work,” the CDC′s national campaign to promote appropriate antibiotic use in the community.

He has authored and coauthored hundreds of presentations, abstracts, chapters, editorials, and publications. He has received many awards for his work in public health and volunteer service including the Surgeon General’s Medallion for his leadership during the H1N1 response.

Dr. Besser received his Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Williams College and his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He completed a residency and chief residency in pediatrics at John Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. He met his wife Jeanne, a food writer, while on his first outbreak investigation in 1991. They have two sons, Alex, 14, and Jack, 11.

As one of the nation’s leading medical communicators of health care information, Dr. Timothy Johnson, M.D., has provided commentary on medical topics for “Good Morning America” since the program’s debut in 1975. In addition to his work for “GMA,” he also regularly contributes to “World News with Charles Gibson,” “Nightline” and “20/20.”

Dr. Johnson has recently helped spearhead several division-wide reporting efforts on a range of key issues, including practical ways to fix the American health care system and the fight against cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. His medical reporting has won several awards, including an Emmy Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and two Emmy Awards from the organization’s Boston/New England Chapter. He has also received a Gabriel Award, the Lewis Thomas Award for Communications from the American College of Physicians, and the Howard W. Blakeslee Award given by the American Heart Association.

Dr. Johnson is the founding editor of the Harvard Medical School Health Letter and co-editor of the “Harvard Medical School Health Letter Book.” He is also co-editor of the book “Your Good Health,” co-author of “Let’s Talk” and author of “Dr. Timothy Johnson’s On-Call Guide to Men’s Heath” and “Finding God in the Questions: A Personal Journey.”

Originally headed for the ministry, Dr. Johnson graduated from North Park Seminary in 1963, then decided two years later to enter medicine. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Augustana College, he graduated summa cum laude from Albany Medical College and holds a master’s degree in public health from Harvard University. He has had appointments at both Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Johnson is married and is the father of two children and the grandfather of three children.