Dr. Mehmet Oz isn’t a journalist. But his response to 10 doctors who have lobbied Columbia University to drop him from its staff didn’t come close to passing any test of basic fairness.
If Oz wanted to deflate the image that he is now more of a TV personality than a physician, the timing of the presentation – which took up the first half of his program Thursday – was also suspect. Specifically, this news-making hour was scheduled to coincide with the start of the May rating sweeps, which – even in the fading world of daytime TV – still means something to stations that carry his program, and thus felt conspicuously designed to focus attention on the show.
Labeled a “Dr. Oz Exclusive,” the hour opened with an extended taped piece that sought to impugn the motives of those who had signed the letter. Oz suggested that the central issue was his support of labeling genetically modified foods, and that the doctors involved were in the pockets of that industry, benefiting from “personal financial gain” by publicly criticizing him.
For those new to this controversy, it’s worth noting that Oz’s endorsement of miraculous weight-loss aids previously led to him being invited to testify before Congress regarding “quack treatments.” Yet he stressed the latest criticism was wholly unrelated to that matter, and that he has ceased touting such products.
In the letter sent to Columbia, the doctors cited Oz’s “disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine, as well as baseless and relentless opposition to the genetic engineering of food crops.”
Oz suggested the timing of those assertions had to do with legislation that would relax labeling on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, enlisting a representative from the Environmental Working Group to buttress his point.
“Who should you believe? You be the judge,” said the reporter who prepared the opening segment.
Yet to “judge,” in the most common use of the term, would require the presentation of evidence on both sides. Notably, there was no indication any effort had been made to provide Oz’s critics with an opportunity to respond or rebut his claims. And while nobody would confuse “The Dr. Oz Show” with “60 Minutes,” the one-sided nature of the argument at the very least should have left viewers wondering exactly where the truth lies.
Not that this dust-up promises to damage Dr. Oz among his fans and regular viewers, although it does seem likely to raise questions about his brand among those casually acquainted with his program. Even so, he cast this as a free speech issue, stating that he would not be silenced in his commitment to provide information to consumers. Oz also blamed the media — some of which has been highly critical — for not being more skeptical in its reporting on the letter.
Clearly, this story isn’t over, but based on the “shoot the messenger” approach and tone of Thursday’s episode, “The Dr. Oz Show” won’t be the place where the issue is resolved. Then again, Oz’s original champion, Oprah Winfrey, was periodically drawn into controversies over products, causes and authors she endorsed, and all she has to show for it is a huge bank account – and her OWN network.