Dr. Oz’s evolution as America’s foremost promoter of quackery continues apace

I’ve often written of “black holes of stupid” that threaten to rupture the fabric of the space-time continuum, so dense and full of stupid are they. Such black holes tend to come from places like the wretched hive of scum and antivaccine quackery known as Age of Autism, the wretched hive of scum and conspiracy quackery known as NaturalNews.com, and various other sites loaded with pseudoscience throughout the web. I’ve often also joked about some post or other from such people “frying my irony meter.” Usually such comments are deserved when particularly clueless quacks write something that is so astounding in its projection and lack of self-awareness that it either amuses or enrages me. (Often, such posts do both simultaneously.) Over the years, I’ve tried (and lately mostly failed) to think of new ways to express this same thought in an amusing fashion, embellishing it with various bits of flourish in which the irony meters are reduced to bubbling pools of plastic, rubber, and wire, often sparking pitifully.

Yesterday, I saw two pieces that had the power to fry every irony meter on the planet, as two quacks collided. I’m referring to this post by one of our favorite all-purpose conspiracy theorists and quacks over at NaturalNews.com, Mike Adams, entitled Dr. Oz exposes dietary supplement scam artists fraudulently using his name to dupe customers, which references this segment on The Dr. Oz Show from Tuesday entitled Dr. Oz Goes Face to Face with Scam Artists. Both are utterly hilarious in their own way. Both form black holes of irony—in the case of Mike Adams, it’s a black hole of stupid as well—that threaten to rupture the fabric of the space-time continuum. In fact, I was thoroughly entertained by both, albeit not for the reasons, perhaps, that either Dr. Oz or Mike Adams would hope for. Juxtaposing them also makes a very cogent point, namely that Dr. Mehmet Oz, through his promotion of what can only be described as the rankest quackery over the years on his TV show, is either so self-unaware that he has no idea that he is turning into Mike Adams, or he is so cynical that he doesn’t care. Let’s see what I mean. I’ll let Adams start:

If you look around the web, you’ll see the face of Dr. Oz on the sales pages of numerous dietary supplement products. Commercial emails routinely tout products with the claim that “Dr. Oz recommends this,” even as clicking on a link often takes you to a dubious website that signs you up for a deceptive auto-ship program for a counterfeit product. (Seriously, some supplements sold today by con artists don’t even contain the ingredients they claim.)

The problem with these promotions is that they are fraudulently using Dr. Oz’s name. Dr. Oz doesn’t sell any dietary supplements, you see, and he doesn’t endorse specific brands or products.

After sending numerous cease and desist letters to the scammers to no avail, Dr. Oz jumped on an airplane with his camera crew and drove to the scammers’ place of business to confront them on camera! Click here to watch the exciting segment yourself, which almost reminds me of an episode of COPS.

More like the Keystone Cops or the Three Stooges as cops. And this is how Oz introduced his segment:

I’m absolutely fed up with scammers using my name and likeness to sell my audience questionable products! On today’s show, I go head-to-head with one of the biggest offenders to take my name back. We’re going to shut down these scam artists for good!

Now, I’ve always laughed at the umbrage Dr. Oz takes whenever anyone touts “as recommended by Dr. Oz,” because he does recommend a lot of products on his show, particularly supplements. Personally, I think it serves him right, but I understand that trademark law allows Oz to control the use of his image. However, while it’s true that a lot of these supplement companies will make it sound as though Dr. Oz recommended their specific product, there are cases when he actually did recommend their specific product and it’s not at all untruthful to say so. Also, what if Dr. Oz says that green coffee is a great weight loss product and you sell green coffee bean extract? It’s truthful to say in your advertising that Dr. Oz has recommended green coffee bean extract. Dr. Oz, in fact, still recommends green coffee bean extract, even to the point of having run an unethical “mini” clinical trial on it and touted a tiny clinical trial by a green coffee bean extract manufacturer. From my perspective, as long as you don’t say that Dr. Oz recommended your particular brand, include an appropriate disclaimer, and don’t use his image, there should be nothing wrong with saying that Dr. Oz recommends green coffee, because he has, in fact, recommended green coffee on his show, just as he’s recommended homeopathy, acupuncture, psychic mediums (with only minimal disclaimer), and boatloads of other quackery. But, thanks to our screwed up laws, it isn’t, which allows Dr. Oz to whine, “They claim to be associated with me,” even though most of the ads I’ve seen make no such claim but just quote Oz.

Of course, the real reason Dr. Oz is so concerned is that he doesn’t want his brand sullied by any association with dubious supplement manufacturers, and who can blame him? He doesn’t get a cut when companies like that use his image, and I can’t blame even Dr. Oz for not wanting his name associated with such shady characters. It’s bad for his brand. If half of what he says is true, it is actually rather impressive that he has a team of people working for him whose sole job, or so it seems, is to go after companies who use his name without his permission. According to Oz, his name is most commonly invoked by manufacturers of a supplement called Garcinia gambogia extract. The extract comes from a tropical fruit grown in India and Southeast Asia, and the putative active ingredient has even been identified: hydroxycitric acid (HCA), which is claimed to “block fat” and suppress the appetite. HCA inhibits a key enzyme, citrate lyase, that the body needs to make fat from carbohydrates, among other effects, and allegedly suppresses appetite, decreases belly fat, decreases LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol), and increases HDL (the “good” cholesterol). As Scott Gavura explained, however, although Garcinia extract probably does produce some weight loss in the short term, the effect is small and not statistically significant when only the most rigorous randomized clinical trials are considered, making its clinical relevance questionable at best.

A search for Garcinia Gambogia and Dr. Oz brings up many, many hits. Apparently, if the articles have a grain of truth in them, Oz referred to the extract as the “holy grail of weight loss” and he’s definitely called it the “newest, fastest fat buster,” both of which sound like a pretty ringing endorsements to me. In a story in Slate.com, Oz’s promotion of Garcinia was described thusly:

As people were getting ready for the holiday season and its accompanying waist expansion late last year, Dr. Mehmet Oz let viewers of his TV show in on a timely little secret. “Everybody wants to know what’s the newest, fastest fat buster,” said the board-certified cardiothoracic surgeon and one of People magazine’s sexiest men alive. “How can I burn fat without spending every waking moment exercising and dieting?”

He then told his audience about a “breakthrough,” “magic,” “holy grail,” even “revolutionary” new fat buster. “I want you to write it down,” America’s doctor urged his audience with a serious and trustworthy stare. After carefully wrapping his lips around the exotic words “Garcinia cambogia,” he added, sternly: “It may be the simple solution you’ve been looking for to bust your body fat for good.”

Naturally, all this promotion came back to bite Dr. Oz on the proverbial posterior, and now he’s shocked—shocked, I say!—that anyone would want to infer his endorsement from his promotion of products like Garcinia gambogia or green coffee bean extract on his show. So, really, as I watched the Dr. Oz segment begin, rather than outrage what I felt was a profound sense of schadenfreude, both for Dr. Oz, who has no one to blame but himself that unscrupulous supplement scammers want to use his name to sell their products, and the unscrupulous supplement scammers themselves, who have Dr. Oz and his crew chasing after them like the crew of 60 Minutes, or, more accurately, like Geraldo Rivera chasing after Al Capone’s vault.

The particular company that, Dr. Oz opines, is the worst offender when it comes to using his name to sell Garcinia supplements is Miracle Garcinia Cambogia. Dr. Oz claims he hired a “team” of private investigators, who spent weeks tracking down the actual company behind Miracle Garcinia Cambogia, namely Tarr, Inc., and the owner of the company, Nathan Martinez, as well as Oscar Maria, who runs the company responsible for a lot of Tarr’s marketing, and two brothers, Richard and Ryan Fowler. I will admit that it is clear from Dr. Oz’s segment that these guys make a lot of money. One of them drives a Rolls Royce, another a very expensive-looking sports coupe, and there’s a brand new motorboat on a trailer in a parking lot of one of Tarr’s facilities. This falls past the event horizon of the irony black hole, as far as I’m concerned. As much money as these guys make, as rich as they appear to be, it’s nothing compared to how rich Dr. Oz has become off of what the Empire of Oz makes selling—yes—Dr. Oz, who promotes homeopathy, supplements, highly dubious health claims, and even psychic mediums and faith healers. (Perhaps Oz is angry that Tarr’s use of his name might distract from his preferred quack, Joe Mercola.) Seemingly, there’s no quackery that Dr. Oz won’t embrace. That’s what makes the part where Dr. Oz stands next to what he describes as a “brand new six figure speedboat” belonging to Oscar Maria (which, apparently was being washed before Oz’s crew showed up and caused the employees washing it to flee) and, with his best camera-ready face of outrage, proclaims, “I wonder how many Garcinia cambogia bottles were sold to unsuspecting Americans to buy this boat.”

I had to stop the video for a moment at that point. I truly thought I was going to blow an aneurysm, as the black hole of irony did a number on me not unlike what the black hole did to people at the end of an an old 1990s video.

Alright, I’m OK again. Next up, Dr. Oz chases after employees of Tarr and asks if they feel badly at all and, after they drive away, says that they’re “scurrying away like rats.”

Oh, hell, I can’t take it anymore! And that’s just the first five minute segment of Oz’s story. While I’m waiting for my neurons to recover yet again, I’ll amuse myself briefly by noting how much umbrage Oz took when Oscar Maria called him “Mr. Oz.” It’s a tactic that amuses me when it’s turned on me, because it’s so flamingly obviously designed to get under my skin by showing me disrespect. That’s why I had a hard time not busting out laughing at how annoyed “Mr. Oz” looked when the tactic was used on him.

One thing that stands out is that Dr. Oz claims at the end of segment two that Tarr, Inc. has stopped selling Miracle Garcinia Cambogia and taken his name and image off the website. So I went to the website, and, sure enough, it says that they are “currently out of inventory and not accepting orders at this time.” Everything else is still there, other than Oz’s picture, which makes me wonder if Tarr, Inc. plans on starting up sales again when the time is right.

Of course, the funniest thing is how, at the end of the second segment, Dr. Oz asks his lead investigator how we can avoid being “duped” by a product that sounds too good to be true. There’s even a fake website featured to illustrate all the points, such as the ubiquitous “As featured on” tagline, and, of course, fake testimonials. At the very end of the segment, Oz asks his audience to sign a petition on his website demanding that the FTC crack down on these companies using his image and endorsement without his permission. In fact, he asks people to contact their states’ attorneys general and demand action. Seriously. Then, after this “call to action,” the next segment on his website is entitled The Revolutionary Diet to Heal Your Body.

Arrrrgggh!

Oddly enough, the owner of Tarr, Nathan Martinez, supplement scammer that he is, recognized a scam from Oz when he saw it:

“We’ve always liked Dr. Oz, but he definitely made a very bad impression when he showed up unannounced at the offices a few weeks ago. We would have been happy to sit down and talk with Dr. Oz in a civilized and professional way. But he showed up at our offices without warning, then walked through our offices with a camera crew, and tried to create some good entertainment and good ratings. It’s hard to have effective communication when someone is thrusting a camera in your face and also later edits out what they don’t like. After he came to our offices, we also offered to meet with him and be interviewed on the air, but his show’s producers ignored our request.

“Dr. Oz definitely has the right to be upset about companies that use his image and likeness to suggest that he endorses their products. We understand that, but we didn’t do that. On our website, we did link to a public video clip where Dr. Oz talks about Garcinia Cambogia extract. We thought it was helpful for people to hear what Dr. Oz thinks about the ingredients in our product. But we made very clear on the website that Dr. Oz was not endorsing our product or affiliated with our company. That said, we are sorry that he was upset. And, before he came to office, we’d already removed the public video clip from our website.

Martinez knows a kindred spirit when he sees one. That’s exactly what it was about: Entertaining television. More importantly, it was about protecting the Oz brand. Indeed, much in the same way that Mike Adams “tests” his competitors’ supplements for “heavy metals” in his incompetently run “laboratory” in order to smear his competitors’ products as being loaded with “toxic chemicals”—while, of course, his supplements are pure as a mountain stream—Dr. Oz even hired an analytical chemist to test a bunch of Garcinia extract products and found that Tarr, Inc.’s product was “the worst” of the lot, with less “active ingredient” than any other. Of course, given that there are no standards in the supplement industry, there’s no way of knowing whether Tarr, Inc.’s products were in any way inferior. At worst, they were just more dilute than other products. But that claim was enough for Dr. Oz to attack Tarr, Inc.—which, let’s be frank, almost certainly deserved it—as selling an “inferior” product that Oz would never endorse (or at least never endorse if he doesn’t get his cut).

Yes, Dr. Oz’s evolution towards becoming Mike Adams is continuing apace.