Pennsylvania doesn’t need Dr. Oz

Dr. Oz at a U.S. Senate hearing in 2014. (Youtube screenshot)

On Nov. 28, Dr. Mehmet Oz, the celebrity physician made famous by Oprah, a couple of TV series, and several bestselling medical self-help books, announced he is running for Senate in Pennsylvania. Oz, a Trump Republican, joins a field of Republicans and Democrats vying for the seat that will be left vacant by retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey.

The 2022 race is critically important to a Senate split 50/50, with Vice President Harris casting tie-breaking votes and giving the Democrats control — for now. But historically, the party in the White House loses seats in the midterms, making the Senate race all the more crucial, as Pennsylvania is a key swing state. 

Oz becomes the most famous name in that race, having hosted “The Dr. Oz Show” since 2009. He has a huge internet reach, with 3.8 million followers on Twitter.

In an ad he posted on Twitter Nov. 30, Oz said, “I’m running for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania because America needs a Conservative Republican to cure what’s wrong with Washington. I’m a world-class surgeon, fighter, and health care advocate stepping forward to cure our country’s ills. Watch my announcement video now!”

The announcement video is compelling as it is slick. Oz details how he is the son of immigrants who came to America to seek a better life, how he has saved lives as a surgeon who pioneered several procedures and developed several life-altering medical devices. 

Intercut with Oz talking from the stage of his long-running TV show are clips of him in surgery and with people whose lives he has changed on his show — including babies.

But that ad is deceptive and that deception is indicative of the problems inherent in the Oz candidacy and why Pennsylvanians should be fighting back against it and him.  

Oz knows how to frame himself. He’s a master of presentation. At 61 and 6’1″ he is an imposing and telegenic figure. Unlike many politicians, Oz is a natural on camera with an ease with people born of decades as a surgeon.

And he is not without Pennsylvania connections, having obtained MD and MBA degrees from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and Penn’s Wharton School, respectively. On Twitter, Oz lists his home in the Philadelphia suburb of Huntingdon Valley, but the Inquirer reported Dec. 2 that “The celebrity known as ‘Dr. Oz’ says he moved to Pennsylvania last year, but more than 20 social media posts in the last three months show him in his North Jersey mansion.”

Oz changed his voter registration to his in-laws’ Pennsylvania home prior to the November 2020 election, from his New Jersey home where he and his wife have lived since 1985.

Oz does have an impressive resume. A professor at the Department of Surgery at Columbia University since 2001, Oz also directs the Integrative Medicine Center at Columbia University, which he cofounded as the Cardiac Complementary Care Center in 1994. But in addition to this gravitas, Oz has become known more recently as a proponent of questionable medical theories, practices and ideas, including — and most disturbingly — about COVID-19. 

In April 2015, a group of ten physicians called for Columbia University to part ways with Oz, who was the vice chair of the Department of Surgery. More than 1,300 doctors signed a letter sent to the university.

A friend of Donald Trump’s who many believed helped normalize Trump’s lies about his health, Oz appeared regularly on Fox News shows during the early days of the pandemic. His appearances with Trump and his claims about the virus intensified criticism of Oz. 

Throughout the early months of the pandemic, Oz promoted hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug also used in the treatment of Lupus, as a cure for COVID-19. He appeared on Fox News touting this “cure” which has been debunked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Trump claimed to be taking hydroxychloroquine in May 2020 and pushed the drug in his press briefings on the virus. But as was revealed last week, Trump was very sick with COVID in October 2020 and nearly died, as revealed in his former acting Chief of Staff Mark Meadows’ new memoir, “The Chief’s Chief.”

Oz is already running ads here in the Philadelphia market, the first of which debuted on Dec. 7. But what Oz doesn’t say in his ads, unsurprisingly, is that he has finessed his origin story and omitted a lot of facts of his recent biography.

While Oz says his parents came here for a better life, in fact his parents are both from wealthy Turkish families. Oz’s father, Dr. Mustafa Oz, was, like Oz himself, a noted cardiothoracic surgeon who was chief of thoracic surgery at the Medical Center of Delaware.

Oz is Muslim — something he doesn’t mention in his ads — no doubt knowing the Islamophobia of his base. He was raised Muslim and while his mother’s family is secular, his father’s family practiced more traditional Islam. As a child, Oz spent summers in Turkey and spent two years in the Turkish army after college.

If elected, he would be the first Muslim to serve in the U.S. Senate.

But it’s not these elisions that are at issue. Rather it’s why Oz says he is running. Oz says that lockdowns and mandates to control the pandemic are wrong and that schools should never have been closed. He says it on his show, on Fox News and in his ads. 

Oz once said that losing a small percentage of kids to COVID was a small price to pay for keeping schools open. That comment drew such outrage he was forced to issue a retraction. But how did a father of four and grandfather make such a statement — or even think it?

Oz has been criticized in the past for presenting conversion therapy as an acceptable treatment, positioning a representative of the discredited National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) as an “expert.”

And once pro-choice, Oz has now changed his position on abortion as well. The Daily Beast reported on Dec. 7 that “Oz claims to have seen up close what happens when women are forced to get unsafe abortions. But now that’s he’s running for Senate, he’s fine with overturning Roe v. Wade.”

It’s early days in the Senate race, and things won’t heat up until January. But it’s not too early to know that Dr. Oz is bad medicine for Pennsylvanians.

Newsletter Sign-up
Previous articleTake care of those you love this holiday
Next articleHoroscopes: Dec. 10 – 16, 2021
Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.