.Behind the Curtain

Let’s all ignore the TV doctors

Last week, Oprah Winfrey endorsed John Fetterman in his Pennsylvania Senate race against Dr. Mehmet Oz, the TV quack physician whose fame for which she is largely responsible.

It was a remarkable moment, but it wasn’t a total repudiation of Oz: Oprah will likely never fully own up to the harms she has caused by elevating him, “Dr. Phil” (who isn’t a medical doctor), anti-vaccine nut Jenny McCarthy and many other, lesser-known cranks with “theories” by hosting them over the years on her former daytime talk show.

At this writing, it’s not yet known who won the Pennsylvania race, or whether the Democrats will be able to retain control of the House, Senate or both. What is known, however, is that Oz will go on quacking, whether in the Senate chamber or on TV, where he peddles lots of jive health supplements to the gullible.

It will be interesting, though, to see where he ends up on the subject of cannabis. At the moment, he’s against it, but he has flip-flopped on the subject like a tuna on a trawler. Whatever stance he takes after his Senate campaign is over, it will not be in service of the interests of his TV “patients,” or of American citizens, but solely in service of Dr. Mehmet Oz.

This is the case for all TV doctors, whether they oppose weed (as Oz currently does, along with Dr. Phil and Dr. Drew) or favor it as a legit wellness product and medical palliative, as does Dr. Sanjay Gupta, by far the least objectionable, but still problematic, advertising-sponsored, entertainment-industry physician. 

There’s nothing necessarily wrong, conceptually, with doctors appearing on TV, or even making a career out of it. But America’s shallow celebrity culture tends to make even the best of them concentrate more on what will bring them money and attention than what will serve people’s health needs.

At this particular moment, Oz is slightly behind in the race and mindlessly hewing to every crazy right-wing talking point. On Sunday, Fetterman, who has delighted in trolling Oz on social media for all of his gaffes and loony statements, shared a video from May of Oz engaging in some “old school Reefer Madness talking points,” as Fetterman put it. And that’s the best description for what Oz said.

“There are not enough Pennsylvanians to work in Pennsylvania,” the New Jersey resident told Newsmax host Greg Kelly, evoking the old myth that pot makes people lazy, “so giving them pot so they stay home is not, I don’t think, an ideal move.” 

In August, Oz tweeted a particularly perverse and lowbrow (even for him) campaign video declaring that Fetterman has “screws loose,” whereupon Fetterman’s head is depicted as opening up to let fly some screws and… a smoking bong.

This contrasts sharply with Oz’s stance from just two years before, when he declared in an interview that weed is “one of the most underused tools in America” and that “we ought to completely change our policy on marijuana. It absolutely works.”

While characters like Dr. Drew and Dr. Phil might not be quite as buffoonish as Oz, they share his tendency to blurt whatever they think will get them the most money and attention. In his Newsmax interview, Oz also said that he didn’t want the government to “breed addiction to marijuana” by legalizing it. 

Dr. Drew (who once called the COVID pandemic a “press-induced panic,” though he later apologized) also publicly worries about pot’s “addictive” properties. Dr. Phil, too, has spread plenty of panic and outright lies about weed. 

Addressing in particular the effect of pot on young people, Dr. Phil once said that “when you smoke marijuana, it’s like opening your computer up and pouring water inside; a lot of things short out and it connects where it’s not supposed to and really creates problems.” Well, that’s just science.

All of these guys are snake-oil salespersons. The weed industry is itself rife with snake-oil scams, particularly in the CBD business, where charlatans are making all kinds of crazy claims for their products, thus doing everything they can to besmirch the reputation of a component of the pot plant that has a lot of very real (or potential) curative properties.

When the federal government finally legalizes weed, watch for the TV airwaves to be flooded with quacks like this—quite possibly Oz himself—selling cannabis products based on pure bullshit.

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