How Dr. Oz Boosted an Osteopath Who Became a Top Spreader of Covid Misinformation

News, How Dr. Oz Boosted an Osteopath Who Became a Top Spreader of Covid Misinformation: detailed suggestions and opinions about How Dr. Oz Boosted an Osteopath Who Became a Top Spreader of Covid Misinformation.

The FDA has warned Joseph Mercola over his medical claims. The GOP Senate candidate promoted him.

In February 2021, as the new vaccines that would tame the Covid pandemic were being released to the general public, an article sourced to an osteopath in Cape Coral, Florida, claimed that the vaccines were “a medical fraud” and did not counter the disease. The shots, it said, “alter your genetic coding, turning you into a viral protein factory that has no off-switch.”

The man pushing these false statements was Joseph Mercola, a pioneer of the anti-vaccination movement, who had a history of Covid denialism, having asserted that there was no pandemic and that Covid was a “scam.” As he pushed falsehoods about the vaccines, the FDA sent him a warning letter for promoting unapproved and unproven treatments for Covid—such as a vitamin C, vitamin D, and other products—in possible violation of federal law. In a report released in March 2021, the Center for Countering Digital Hate assigned Mercola the top spot on its “Disinformation Dozen” list of  people “responsible for the bulk of anti-vaxx content shared or posted on Facebook and Twitter.” A few months later, the New York Times cited the center’s report and dubbed Mercola the “most influential spreader of coronavirus misinformation online,” noting he had posted over 600 articles on Facebook “that cast doubt on Covid-19 vaccines” and had reached “a far larger audience than other vaccine skeptics,” with his claims echoing across Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. (In an email to Mother Jones, Mercola maintained the “Disinformation Dozen” paper was a “fake report” tied “directly into dark money politics” and was “debunked by Facebook, was not a peer reviewed primary reference, and was not validated in any way.”)

Yet a few years earlier, Dr. Mehmet Oz, now the Republican candidate for US Senate in Pennsylvania, had validated Mercola and boosted his audience, helping this anti-vaxx crusader expand his ability to disseminate false and possibly dangerous information. 

In 2009, after Oz had appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show dozens of times, Winfrey set him up with a syndicated television show of his own on which he covered assorted health issues. It was a success. But four years later, in a lengthy profile of Oz, New Yorker reporter Michael Specter noted that Oz had “consistently” booked “guests with dubious authority” to challenge conventional medicine. That included Mercola, who had quit practicing as a doctor to run a highly profitable business selling alternative health products and dietary supplements. The FDA had warned Mercola for making false claims about products that supposedly combat cancer and heart disease. And he had a rather spotty record in other ways. He had claimed avian influenza was a hoax, contended that vaccines are dangerous and cause AIDS, and promoted an Italian doctor who said cancer is a fungus that can be treated with baking soda. (In 2018, this doctor was sentenced to five and a half years in prison on a manslaughter charge for treating a brain cancer patient with this supposed remedy.) Yet Oz vouched for Mercola, hailing him as a “pioneer in holistic treatments” and a person “your doctor doesn’t want you to listen to,” a man who “is challenging everything you think you know about traditional medicine and prescription drugs.” 

In an odd comment to Specter, Oz said, “If I don’t have Mercola on my show, I have thrown away the biggest opportunity I have been given.” 

Oz has long come under fire for championing unproven therapies and products—in other words, quack nostrums—on his show. During a 2014 appearance before a Senate committee, then-Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) lambasted him for hawking “miracle” and “magic” weight-loss cures: “You know it’s not true. So why, when you have this amazing megaphone, do you cheapen your show like that?” That same year, a British medical journal released a report saying that  “no evidence could be found” for about a third of the medical recommendations Oz had presented on his show.

Oz has recently gone beyond coyly flirting with pseudoscience by directly promoting Joseph Mercola—a notorious internet doctor who himself promotes all sorts of pseudoscience and fear-mongering on his website. In an interview on his show, Dr. Oz praises Mercola while refraining from directly mentioning any of the more controversial positions that he takes… [T]he information on Mercola’s website is not science-based. Mercola frequently engages in rank fear-mongering—promoting every preliminary study that may suggest a possible connection as if it were a proven health risk.

I have been most critical of Mercola for his anti-vaccine stance. He recently joined with anti-vaccine activist Rosemary Fischer to attack the flu vaccine. Last year he was warning his readers away from the H1N1 vaccine citing fears that it would cause an epidemic of Guillaine-Barre Syndrome (GBS). This epidemic never appeared—despite active monitoring, there were no excess cases of GBS due to the H1N1 vaccine. Mercola never bothered to correct his prior fear-mongering. He just went on to the next one—warning his readers about a connection between vaccines and narcolepsy. However this fear did not hold up to replication either….In short, in my opinion Mercola is a dangerous medical crank.

In questioning Oz’s boosting of quackery, his critics have pointed to his embrace of Mercola, who in 2017 filed an affidavit saying he was worth over $100 million. In 2011, Steven Novella, the founder of Science-Based Medicine, a website and blog that takes a dim view of alternative medicine and seeks to expose medical scams, lashed out at Oz for his relationship with Mercola:

Story continues