When Donald Trump met Dr. Oz: A huckster bromance

When I first heard that Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for President, was scheduled to appear on The Dr. Oz Show, my first thought was, basically, “Of course he is. What took him so long?” After all, it’s a crank pairing made in heaven. Given that, I considered it my skeptical blogging duty at least to watch the show, even if I never actually blogged about it. So I dutifully set my DVR to record it, and, after I got home from work, did my evening bike ride and ate dinner, I settled down in front of the television to see if this appearance would be as bad as I predicted in my mind.

I’m not sure if it was as bad as I had feared, but it certainly was bizarre. Surprisingly (to me), it was also actually mostly boring. Worse, although at the beginning of the first segment Oz cautioned Trump not to attack Hillary Clinton because he wanted the show to be about Trump, Oz also basically gave Trump a segment in which his daughter Ivanka appeared to shamelessly pimp Trump’s recently announced childcare initiative. The selling was so blatant that Ivanka Trump’s segment might as well have been a Donald Trump campaign infomercial. It was so bad that it left me with the question: Why is it that, while everyone seems to detest Trumps sons almost as much as him, they give Ivanka Trump a pass? In any case, I can’t help but wonder if the segment with Ivanka Trump promoting his latest campaign promise was the price that Trump demanded in return for agreeing to appear on Oz’s show. I bet it was. The segment was just that blatant.

Be that as it may, I do agree with Julia Belluz. Trump’s appearance on Dr. Oz’s show was very odd and very surreal. Surprisingly, it was also rather dull. Of course, perhaps I should explain why I think Trump and Oz were basically made for each other. Trump, as you know, was always flamboyant and good at attracting media attention, a skill he honed to its current level of sharpness in reality TV as the star of The Apprentice. It’s as show that I admit to having watched and actually liked, at least the first two or three seasons. After that, I rapidly lost interest, and have never watched its spinoff Celebrity Apprentice. Trump also never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t like. The one that I’ve criticized him the most for is, of course, his belief that vaccines cause autism, a belief he’s been very consistent about at least since 2007.

Enter Dr. Oz.

Dr. Oz is a near-perfect match. Back in the 1990s, Dr. Oz was a rising star in the world of academic surgery, a young cardiothoracic surgeon who published a lot and in good journals. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Oz discovered reiki. Soon, he was becoming famous as the surgeon who let reiki masters into the operating room to ply their woo on the patients as he operated on their hearts. Eventually, he caught Oprah Winfrey’s attention, and it wasn’t long before he was doing segments on her show, becoming “America’s Doctor” (a name that he trademarked). Back then, he hadn’t dived ad deepling into pure woo, mostly giving sensible if somewhat trendy advice on diet and exercise. Then he got his own show, and from there it was all downhill, as I’ve documented many times, to the point of labeling him America’s Quack, which he is. Examples to support my characterization abound, featuring Mike Adams on his show, having antivaccine icon Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. on his show to promote his last book, running an unethical and bogus “clinical trial” of the weight loss supplement green coffee bean extract, and promoting homeopathy. That’s not even counting the times he had “Long Island Medium” Teresa Caputo on his show (plus John Edward, too!), and promoted a faith healer. Along the way, he also credulously featured anti-GMO fear mongering and basically every form of bogus weight loss supplements you can think of. He was even hauled before a Senate committee on the marketing of ineffective weight loss supplements and ended up being on the receiving end of a tongue lashing by Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO).

None of this seems to matter. Like Trump, Oz is all about the money. Like Trump, he’s also become very skillful at sliming his enemies, as he did in 2014 when a group of doctors, some of whom were associated with the American Council on Science And Health (ACSH) wrote a letter to Oz’s dean at Columbia University basically demanding that he be fired because of his activities on his TV show. It was an astonishingly clueless and incompetent play, and Oz struck back, effectively turning the tables and labeling his critics as being in the thrall of big pharma.

Yes, Oz is a lot like Trump, and I haven’t even discussed everything I’ve written about him. Before last season, Oz, sensing that the pressure was on, promised to clean up his act and stop promoting pseudoscience. He must have done so, at least to some degree, because I haven’t done a post about him in exactly one year. Or maybe I lost interest. Then came Trump.

The video for Trump’s appearance is not yet up on Dr. Oz’s website. I’ll add links when it is. In the meantime, you can refer to a transcript of the interview. The first segment is pretty dull, with Oz conducting a “review of systems” on Trump (which in Oz’s hands was really a combination of a review of systems, a family history, and a medical history). We learn that Trump has hay fever, that his PSA is good, and that he’s on a statin. We also learn that both his parents lived long lives (into their 90s). Also, apparently Trump considers his gesticulations while speaking to crowds to be a form of exercise.

It was the second segment where the real stunt occurs. As Belluz describes it:

The key moment came when “America’s doctor” asked Trump: “If your health is as strong as it seems … why not share your medical records?”

The 70-year-old Republican presidential candidate looked at the audience and said, “Well, I have really no problem doing it. I have it right here. Should I do it? I don’t care. Should I do it?”

Trump then pulled two papers out of his breast pocket and handed them to Oz. At this point, we, the audience, are meant to believe that these are real medical documents, and that Oz is shocked the presidential frontrunner is revealing the state of his personal health.

It was a moment every bit as staged as anything on “reality” television and allowed Trump to play to the crowd. Oz, professional TV personality that he now is, played along, acting surprised and looking serious as he examined the two pieces of paper:

Oz calls the two papers “comprehensive” — we’re meant to see this gesture as one of transparency, and to think the TV doctor is the trustworthy filter through which medical information can be relayed to the public. But, of course, The Dr. Oz Show has a history of deviating from reality and medical science.

What follows is even more surreal: Oz conducts a made-for-TV physical of Trump. No actual exams, no hands laid on the patient, no verification of the patient’s data.

One of these papers was a letter, and one was a report. We learn that Donald Trump is a bit overweight, being 6’3” and weighing 236 lbs.; that his routine lab values are normal; that his cholesterol levels are fine; and other assorted bits of medical history. In response, Oz dutifully asked him softball questions, like asking him, if his health is so good, why not release the records?

Basically, Dr. Oz became Donald Trump’s health spin doctor that day, laying it on pretty thick, even by Dr. Oz’s standards, proclaiming:

Blood sugar, 99. And C-reactive protein also low. Your liver function, your thyroid functional is all normal. You had a colonoscopy performed July 10, 2013, which was normal with no polyps. (Oddly enough, a look at Trump’s Twitter feed shows that he was Tweeting all day that day.) Calcium score and your heart, 2013, also was low at 98. Oh my goodness. EKG chest x-ray on April 14 was normal. A normal echocardiogram was done two years ago. And your testosterone’s 441, which is actually — it’s good. It’s good.

You’re only on the statin drug you mentioned. If a patient of mine had these records, I’d be really happy. And I’d send them on their way.

Trump returned the love, saying:

I would tell you – You know, my wife is a big fan of your show, and I would absolutely say because I view this as in a way going to see my doctor. Just a little bit public. That’s all.

Gag me with a spoon. (Sorry. I felt as though I went through a time warp to 30 years ago.)

Throughout the rest of the interview, Oz basically gave Trump every opportunity to brag about his health, the longevity of his parents and, by extension and implication, how he expects to live a long time too. Trump informed Oz that he feels as good now as he did when he was 30. And, despite Oz’s request that Trump refrain from attacks on Hillary Clinton, Oz said nothing when Trump said, “I think when you’re running for president of the United States, or maybe any other country, in all fairness, but when you’re running for president, I think you have an obligation to be healthy. I just don’t think you can do the work if you’re not healthy. I don’t think you can represent the country properly if you’re not a healthy person.” Elsewhere, in response to a question on health issues, Trump brought up immigration, basically blaming them for the opioid addiction crisis.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t some inadvertent hilarity during the interview. (We are talking about Donald Trump, after all.) For example:

OZ: So what type of temperament is required for the person who becomes president of the United States?

TRUMP: Unbelievable strong and smart temperament, and I think it’s my grandest asset. I think temperament is my single greatest asset.

OZ: Why do so many people question your temperament?

TRUMP: They don’t question – it’s Madison Avenue. Madison Avenue went to Hillary Clinton and they said — and when I say Madison Avenue, I’m talking about the advertising people, the people that make up the ads. And they said, let’s see, and they put 15 things on a board. ‘Oh, temperament. Let’s go after temperament.’ The people that know me — I win. I know how to win. You can’t win unless you have a great temperament. I know people that can’t win. I know people that are very talented at sports, and they never win.

Yes, you read that right. Trump has the greatest temperament ever, and it’s all Hillary’s fault that there have been “questions” about his health. Never mind that Trump allies have been sowing conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton’s health for several months now. Just yesterday, I saw the most hilarious one yet over on TruthKings by a guy claiming to be a medical school professor—yeah, right, I bet she’s an adjunct instructor or something—entitled “Hillary Clinton has 1 Year to Live,” says Medical School Professor. The claim? That Clinton has severe subcortical vascular dementia and is likely to die in a year. I showed the article to a neurologist friend of mine, and the response was that it was “brain dead stupid.” Let’s just put it this way. Just like the case with Parkinson’s disease, if Clinton truly had advanced subcortical vascular dementia, she couldn’t hide it.

Basically, Dr. Oz is every bit as much of a carnival barker as Donald Trump is, and in this instance he helped Trump not only brag about his own health but to insinuate that Clinton is not healthy enough to be President while also allowing Ivanka Trump to air what was basically a campaign commercial for Trump’s childcare proposal. The two were clearly made for each other. It was placebo transparancy, making a mockery of transparency norms. No wonder they have such a beautiful bromance brewing.

Oz said that Clinton was also invited to be on his show and that the Clinton campaign is “considering” the offer. Call me skeptical, but somehow I don’t think it would be a good idea on her part to appear. If she does, though, she should demand the same deal Trump got, complete with a full segment in which she can sell whatever proposal she wants to using whomever she wants to bring in to do it. Fair’s fair, after all.