Donald Trump’s appearance on The Dr. Oz Show, hosted by cardiologist and occasional medical huckster Dr. Mehmet Oz, was the soft drama of daytime television mixed with the self-serious spectacle of presidential politics.
The appearance itself was teased, both by the show and the candidate’s campaign, with the kind of suspenseful cutaway clips you might expect from a preview of a local news scare piece about the sexting habits of teenagers.
Would Trump release his medical records? No, he wouldn’t. But wait, maybe he would.
And he did. Kind of.
In one of the most surreal and obviously scripted moments of the appearance, the Republican nominee asked the audience if he should share his medical records, or whatever he brought of his medical records, on air.
“If your health is as strong as it seems, why not share your medical records?” Oz asked in a tone that recalled Matt Lauer’s questions to Trump earlier this month about what he felt in his personal life of real estate and reality television prepared him to lead the world’s second largest military.
“Well I really have no problem in doing it. I have it right here,” Trump told Oz while staring at nothing in particular. Then he turned his gaze to the audience. “I mean, should I do it? I don’t care?”
The audience applauded. Trump shrugged and handed Oz two printed pages. It was breathtaking and perfect, the meeting of two scammers who, whatever success they may have had in their respective careers, now require for their professional survival an American public that remains fearful and hungry for whatever it is they’re selling.
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Over the course of his television career, Oz has used his show as a platform for banal discussions of “wellness” culture (turmeric, baby) and some service-minded demystifying of common medical tests and health indicators.
But he has also promoted “magic” products like green coffee beans for weight loss and red palm oil to prevent Alzheimer’s. (“You may think that magic is make-believe,” Oz once told his audience. “But this little bean has scientists saying they have found a magic weight-loss cure for every body type.)
These endorsements of products that are medically untested or just straightforwardly bullshit can blur the line between where Dr. Oz, a medical director at one of New York’s top hospitals, ends and Dr. Oz, an Oprah protégé who once testified before Congress for his endorsement of phony products, begins.
“Mehmet was always unique, but now he has morphed into a mega-brand. When he tells people the number of sexual encounters they need each year to improve their lives in a specific way, or how to lose weight in three days—this is simply lunacy,” Dr. Eric Topol, one of the leading cardiologists in the United States and the director of the Translational Science Institute, told The New Yorker in a profile of Oz.
“The problem is that he is eloquent and talented, and some of what he says clearly provides a service we need. But how are consumers to know what is real and what is magic? Because Mehmet offers both as if they were one.” (In the same piece, Topol called Oz’s show, which airs in more than 100 countries and reaches an average of four million people every day, “medutainment.”)
And so Oz, ethically dubious and charismatic as hell, was something of a perfect fit to interview Trump about his medical history and then give the candidate, along with his daughter Ivanka, an unchallenged platform to reflect positively on his own stamina, make whatever claims about public health that came to mind, and promote his general platform.
Trump wanted to lose some weight. (“It’s tough because of the way I live. But if I could drop 15 or 20 pounds that’d be good.”) Substance dependence in the United States is actually an immigration problem, he said. (“We have to stop it at the border. It is coming in mostly from the southern border.”) The Affordable Care Act needed to be replaced with something. (“We have to come up, and we can come up, with many different plans… healthcare plans that are so good.”)
Oz nodded, face serious, throughout. The audience applauded politely at almost everything Trump said. That may have been the price of entry, or maybe Trump’s particular schtick, a familiar a stream of lies, self-aggrandizements, and at times incomprehensible ramblings, really did go over well.