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Can We Shoot the TV Doctors Into Space Already?

Dr. Oz and his fellow quacks were already a messy problem — now they're downright terrifying

Throughout this pandemic, I’ve had a recurring experience. It’s that moment “when everything finally sinks in” — only it keeps happening. It’s to the point where each alarming headline has me like, Wow, I am alive and conscious for a historic collapse of society. Today’s redundant illumination comes not from actual news, but rather cable’s No. 1 hit propaganda channel. It’s a clip of Sean Hannity saying, “Dr. Oz, help us,” which is terrifying in itself, and Dr. Oz replying that “we need our mojo back,” then suggesting that schools be reopened first, as it “may only cost us two to three percent, in terms of total mortality,” per what he read in a medical journal. 

There are some 76 million kids enrolled in school in the U.S.; two to three percent mortality within this group is anywhere from a million and a half deaths to well over two million dead children. (Never mind the teachers, administrators and staff who would die alongside them.) It seems insane that any person, even if a board-certified surgeon and a professor at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, be allowed to argue these are acceptable losses on a live, highly rated TV program, without any kind of pushback — but such is Hannity, his show and his employer, Fox News. Only then you remember, despite Dr. Mehmet Oz’s allegiance to Trump and engagement with the Murdoch media empire, this quackery is bigger and more apolitical in scope: He’s famous because Oprah started inviting him on her show as a guest in 2004, calling him “America’s Doctor,” in part of her long, damaging affiliation with junk science. The Dr. Oz Show airs on ABC, which is owned by the Walt Disney Company.   

The problem is that a TV doctor isn’t seen as a pundit with an agenda — instead, he’s an infallible expert with an objective point-of-view. That’s why scammers have successfully used Dr. Oz’s brand to market their bogus diet products, it’s how “Dr.” Phil (who isn’t a doctor) became a well-paid spokesman for a diabetes drug and it’s the reason anyone trusted Dr. Drew when he spent weeks downplaying the threat of COVID-19 as it began to sweep the country.

If you stop to question these wack-ass dudes for half a minute, you can’t escape an obvious conclusion: Their priority is viewership, not the health of that audience. How can you keep folks watching if you just agree with the other boring experts? How can you fill an hour every single weekday without new, exciting trends and advances? Neither is possible, so you become a contrarian voice (Dr. Oz loves alternative medicine, for example) and open the door to hucksters of pseudoscience.

The incentive is to entertain while appearing to inform, to promote utter bullshit while noting a perfunctory skepticism in fine print — just to cover your ass. A talking head like CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta is less susceptible to pure hoaxes than some of these other clowns, yet his job calls for oversimplification and broad generalization; he’s also relied on dubious sources and hyped drugs and tech for Big Pharma while minimizing risky side effects. His true alliance is with the medical industry, just as Drs. Drew and Oz have cozied up to the right-wing disinformation machine and Dr. Phil enmeshed himself in the pop-celebrity complex by recklessly exploiting Britney Spears’ 2008 mental health crisis. These men treat their fame as an escape from the actual duties of ministering to patients, and they quickly shed any of the associated ethics.

So yeah, when Dr. Oz wonders if burying a couple million kids is how America gets its “mojo” back — I mean really, did he rewatch Austin Powers over the weekend? — it’s not as shocking as it sounds. This is just the mindless blather of a hack who has to fill airtime, to be a face tattooed on your screen, and has no obligation to make any fucking sense.

When you’re a TV doctor, the truth conforms to you. Whatever you say is common sense, thanks to those letters in front of your name, and despite those in your field who have to faithfully debunk your every irresponsible claim. Were there justice in this world, they’d be stripped of credentials and forced to spend the rest of their lives as the human test subjects for gas-station boner pills.

Short of that, we’re stuck with the consequences of their snake oil. This whole sector of mass media is given to gangrenous rot, incurable and deadly. And it’s long past time to amputate.