Dr. Oz Accuses Critics of Trying to Silence Him

April 24, 2015

Superstar TV personality Dr. Oz, after nearly a year of being criticized for promoting unproven “miracle” products and medical misinformation on his popular daytime TV show, has fired back at his critics.

The medical advice that Dr. Oz dispenses on his show has been questioned by, among others, Sen. Claire McCaskill, the authors of a “British Medical Journal” study that found that fewer than one-third of the claim made on “The Dr. Oz Show” have a valid basis in scientific findings, and most recently by 10 medical colleagues at Columbia University who asked in an open letter that the institution distance itself from him to preserve its reputation.

The doctors wrote to Columbia requesting Oz’s dismissal from school’s surgery department because “Dr. Oz has repeatedly shown disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine.” This, apparently, was the last straw.

Framing the issue as a freedom of speech matter, Oz took to the airwaves today (and to “Time” magazine earlier this week) to accuse his critics of having conflicts of interest and in trying to “silence” and bully him.

Oz Under Fire

The credibility of both Dr. Oz and the company marketing a coffee bean extract that he had touted as “magic weight-loss cure” took a hit in October 2014 when coauthors of the only study that supported the claims repeated by Oz retracted their study. In January the manufacturer was fined $9 million for making deceptive and unsubstantiated claims about the “magic beans.”

Despite the show’s eponymous title, Dr. Oz insisted in an interview with NBC News that “The Dr. Oz Show” is “not a medical show,” and thus should not necessarily be viewed as a source for accurate, reliable medical information. The topic of the show, Oz claimed, is “the good life.” In his “Time” article Oz began by stating that “I started my show to give TV audiences advice on how to find a good life, not to practice medicine on air.”

The claim that critics of alternative medicine and therapies have ulterior motives is a common charge, and one that Dr. Oz embraced. Oz spent much of his “Time” article criticizing his critics, suggesting that they are motivated by ties to big tobacco and food and agribusiness companies. (Perhaps wisely, Dr. Oz attributed no similarly shady motivations behind the Capitol Hill hearings called last June by Sen. Claire McCaskill who publicly criticized his show.)

In hearings last summer McCaskill noted a tone of victimhood and persecution in statements made by Dr. Oz, telling him, “I know you feel that you’re a victim, but sometimes conduct invites being a victim.”

Regardless of the real or imagined motivations of his critics, Oz’s complaint of being “silenced” is a curious one. None of his critics have tried to silence him or suggest that he should not have a public venue to discuss his opinions. Dr. Oz has one of the highest-profile platforms on broadcast television, reaching an audience of about 2 million viewers each weekday. This is not a First Amendment or a free speech issue; no one is preventing Dr. Oz from speaking on whatever subject he likes. The complaint is that Oz is promoting and endorsing products and therapies which have little or no basis in medicine or scientific evidence.

Oz briefly admitted that several criticisms of him were valid, but portrayed himself as a pioneer in trying to explore alternative medicines and vowed to continue his mission while being more careful about what he endorses. “I believe unconventional approaches appear to work in some people’s lives. They are often based on long-standing traditions from different cultures that visualize the healing process in very different ways from our Western traditions,” he wrote.

Whether Dr. Oz claims that his show is, strictly speaking, “a medical show” or not, it seems likely that many of his viewers interpret it that way.