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Dr. Oz Responds To Criticism On His Show


Dr. Mehmet Oz responded to his critics today on television. Ten doctors have urged Columbia University to fire Dr. Oz. He's vice chair of Columbia's surgery department. His critics say much of the advice on his TV show has been found to be unsupported by scientific evidence, and in some cases, contradicted by it. They also accuse him of - and, these are their words - a lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain. Columbia has stood by his freedom of expression and today Dr. Oz did the same.


MEHMET OZ: Freedom of speech is the most fundamental right we have as Americans. And these 10 doctors are trying to silence that right. So I vow to you right here, right now, we will not be silenced. We will not give in.

SIEGEL: Dr. Oz also went after his accusers - or, he had television reporter Ellie Leamy go after them.


ELLIE LEAMY: Ten doctors all with one agenda. But what you don't know - several of these doctors who signed the letter asking Columbia University to fire Dr. Oz have big ties to big industry.

SIEGEL: One doctor, she said, did prison time for Medicaid fraud. Another opposed GMO labeling of foods when that issue was on the California ballot. Well, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik watched the program and he joins us now.

And David, how would you describe Dr. Oz's rebuttal to that letter calling for his dismissal by Columbia?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, as a performance it was pretty masterful. He took a few moments there - he's a soft-spoken, almost dulcet-voiced guy. He's kind of mesmerizing, as we just heard. And he offered his spirited defense of what he does and he wrapped himself in the First Amendment, saying, as we heard, he won't be silenced, but also in the notion that he's almost a Virgil, taking viewers and possible patients by the hand and exploring with them the possibilities of medicine, science and in some ways, spiritual healing as well. He then quickly turned to that seemingly-investigative piece that almost looked like, you know, it was news action seven, a local channel's expose of some sort, ripping-the-cover-off thing. And she did, you know, point out these ties that some of the signatories have with organizations that themselves are either sponsored by industry or have skeptical takes towards anti-corporate approaches.

SIEGEL: As for the demand in that letter from the 10 doctors that Columbia fire him, he really didn't address the question of his academic position.

FOLKENFLIK: No, not at all. There wasn't a word spoken about that. It's as though he's saying this is one realm, his television medical office if you will, and that Columbia University, where he's an extremely respected cardiothoracic surgeon, is a completely different realm. And the university has said, you know, this is academic freedom. Freedom of speech, academic freedom, is paramount. At the same time not just these 10 doctors, but other medical professionals, other medical journalists, have said you know, a number of the claims, in fact, a high proportion of the claims explored on his show are not backed by any credible medical research, and that many of the people he presents on the shows as experts are themselves of suspect credentials or suspect standing.

SIEGEL: So in terms of the narrative here, his critics say here's a guy passing-on dubious advice and getting rich in the process. He says, countering that - how would you describe the narrative he proposed?

FOLKENFLIK: He's saying he's an honest broker, that the distance between the doctor and the medical community and the patient have become too vast, and that people are in some ways scared of seeking care. He's a guy who can provide common sense advice as well as exposing people to, perhaps, new approaches. That said, I think a lot of people look at him and say, you know, he's mixing in common-sense advice with a lot of stuff of dubious provenance. You used the word narrative. I think that's a keyword because he's creating a compelling narrative for why he should be trusted as he is at Columbia. And yet on television, he's really serving much more as a performer and the substance he's offering is much more in doubt.

SIEGEL: NPR's David Folkenflik.

David, thank you.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.