On Thursday, the presidential candidate and reality-TV star Donald Trump is slated to appear on The Dr. Oz Show. The program, which has seen ratings decline of late, announced that Trump and the show’s host, Mehmet Oz, will engage in an hour-long, one-on-one interview.
According to the program’s publicists, “We’re asking him the questions you want answered regarding your well-being, security, money, and more.” They promise “a no-holds-barred conversation you’ll be talking about.”
But on Tuesday, Oz took a more perverse journalistic tack in an interview: “The metaphor for me is it’s the doctor’s office, the studio. So I’m not going to ask him questions he doesn’t want to have answered …”
It is a studio, though. And many would say that Oz is not a journalist, but an entertainer taking part in the increasingly common practice of having politicians as guests on their ostensibly non-journalistic shows. Just for fun. But if Oz’s intent is to foster accountability among people in power and seeking power, then he is operating as a journalist. If his intent is to give Trump a platform for campaigning, then what he is doing is propaganda for a dangerous man, and that would dwarf the infractions committed by Oz in the past (which include being chastised by the Federal Trade Commission for shilling dietary supplements as miracle cures and—people are saying—trading his integrity and credibility for TV ratings and wealth).
Trump has been criticized for much the opposite, passing off high TV ratings and wealth as evidence of integrity and credibility. Both men are constantly afforded opportunities to redeem themselves, but for Oz, this is a unique chance. The U.S. is faced with the possibility of being ruled by a man whose own biographer says “wants to be Putin, a despot and dictator.”
For all the times that Oz has chosen to use his enormous platform in ways that do little to advance scientific literacy, social justice, or public health, he has an opportunity to redeem himself. Here is one way he might.
Oz: Welcome to the show, Donald.
Trump: Honestly, Mehmet, it’s a pleasure. Huge fan. I think what you’re doing here is just so great. It’s really great.
Oz: It is. Hey, let’s get down to business. You want to “repeal and replace” Obamacare with something that you say will be “absolutely fantastic.” Can you give us a little sneak preview of what that might look like?
Trump: Honestly, Obamacare is a disaster. We’re going to repeal it. We’re going to throw it in the garbage—
Oz: I’m clear on that, yes. And I think what the American people are wondering is, how would you do that, and then what would you do with the 22 million Americans who would instantly be uninsured?
Trump: Honestly, it’s absolutely a piece of cake. Let me tell you. Obamacare is total trash.
Oz: [Addressing audience] This guy is a tough cookie! [Laughter] You got me, Donald. I absolutely concede that Obamacare hasn’t driven down health-care costs in this country. We still spend a fifth of our GDP, more than $10,000 per person per year, and what do we have to show for it? Some of the poorer health outcomes of any developed country. But if you repeal it, what then? You’ve said you’re going to “replace it with something terrific?”
Trump: We’re going to make sure that the American people have something so totally excellent, they won’t even believe it. It’ll be like, like meeting God and having him say, “You know what? You are the best.”
Oz: Meeting God, as in?
Trump: Obviously no, not in the sense of dying. No one is going to die in this country. Not when I’m president. As long as you belong here.
Oz: But—and I’m going to press you on this, Donald—how do you do it?
Trump: Honestly, we’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare—
Oz: You’re angering me, Donald! [laughter]
Trump: We’re gonna stomp all over it like a piece of garbage. It’s been naughty, Mehmet. Honestly, it’s a naughty piece of garbage.
Well for one thing, as it says on my website, I have a plan called “Healthcare Reform to Make America Great Again.” It’s 1089 words, and they’re all great. For one thing, let me tell you, it says we’re going to allow individuals to use health savings accounts.
Oz: People have been able to do that since 2003… Let me help you out, okay. Because I think you’ve posed a reasonable idea or two. And one is transparency of health-care costs. If I’m going to get a heart surgery [points to heart] or an MRI scan [points to brain], I should at least know how much that costs. A gauze pad in a hospital shouldn’t cost $308. Right now, those numbers can be insanely inflated and people have no idea. That sort of transparency is something everyone wants, including President Obama. So you’re on the same page there. But it has been politically very difficult to make happen. Along the same lines, you propose letting Americans buy medications from other countries, namely Canada. By increasing competition, you think people could save a lot of money.
Trump: Yeah, and let me tell you, we’re going to do that, and it’s going to be amazing.
Oz: That’s what President Obama wanted to do with the Affordable Care Act, as you know. But again, that didn’t make it into the bill because the U.S. pharmaceutical industry was too powerful. [Flexes arms in jokey strong-guy impression.] Those companies stand to lose a lot of money if they lose their monopolies on American consumers.
Trump: Well another thing we want to do, let me tell you, is allow Medicare to negotiate with the pharmaceutical industry.
Oz: Right, yes. Medicare is the country’s biggest purchaser of pharmaceuticals. If it could leverage its size to negotiate more reasonable drug prices, that could cut a lot of costs. But again, Obama wanted that. He promised it in 2008. It proved politically impossible because of industry lobbying.
Trump: Honestly, Mehmet, I’m going to make it happen.
Oz: I wish I had time to ask you how. But I need to get to the other issue, the other part of this health care “tree,” [air quotes] if you will, which is not health care costs, but health care access. You said in 1999 that you “believe in universal health care.” Last week you said of your opponent, “Hillary Clinton wants to have completely government-run health care, which would be a disaster for the liberties and freedoms of all America. ... That’s what Obama wanted. He didn’t quite get there, but he got this, and you see how bad this has been.”
So you want the things Obama couldn’t get into Obamacare, but you hate Obamacare, is that right? Do I have that right? Maybe I need my glasses.
[Audience makes that “ohhhhhh” sound that people make when someone has just insulted someone else.]
Trump: Look around you, do you see it working?
Oz: I see it as a start. You said in a Republican primary debate that “we have to take care of the people who can’t take care of themselves.” And that a single-payer system works well in Canada and “incredibly well” in Scotland. Of course, Scotland has socialized medicine—the government owns the health care system— as opposed to Canada’s single-payer system, where the government serves as a unified insurance company. The latter is the one that works well for so many counties. Yet you don’t want that. And you propose to repeal Obamacare which—if it can be said to have been indisputably successful in one domain, it was in expanding health-care coverage to millions of people.
Trump: Well I—
Oz: Kill his mic for a second, Jerry. You know, when the Affordable Care Act finally passed, after years of negotiation, you remember that Obama wasn’t fully satisfied either. We have the most expensive health-care system in the world, and yet we have these unimpressive health outcomes. Obama knew that we needed to do something radical—that our economy and prosperity as a country depended on it. Ultimately the Affordable Care Act passed, he said, “This is not radical reform, but it is major reform. … This is what change looks like.” He meant that change is slow and incremental, and by getting people access to health insurance, and beginning to call attention to health-care costs, the Affordable Care Act was laying a groundwork. Its fundamental flaw is that it brought more people into an untenably expensive system—but keeping health-care sector profits high was the only way, politically, that the pharmaceutical industry, the insurance industry, and the medical-device industry lobbyists would let the bill pass. No one has said it’s perfect, but if you start by taking away people’s insurance—and you don’t move to a single-payer system—then it just seems like that would be disastrous at this point. And yet an entire political party seems obsessed with doing just that, ripping up this framework, and then doing little else. So all these uninsured people would show up in emergency rooms.
Even if you could get drug prices down by a large margin, say 20 or 30 percent, those costs would still bankrupt a lot of Americans. Convince me that you have a cogent plan for how to get affordable health care to Americans, because I think you’re just spouting whatever random talking points you think people want to hear. I think you see real problems like the level of care we provide our veterans through the VA system, and instead of proposing a practical solution, you say that veterans should be able to choose any private doctor or hospital and promise that the federal government would “pay the bill.” How will you cover the cost of such an expansion?
Trump: Honestly, Mehmet, I’d like to talk about my own personal health for a moment. Because, Lyin’ Hillary, she—
Oz: Okay, let’s talk about your health! Do you work your core?
Trump: Honestly, I do—
Oz: Show me.
Trump: Show you! How? [Forcing laughter] I don’t know if you have any weights around here that are heavy enough.
Oz: Get on the floor.
Trump: Excuse me?
Oz: Either you can hold a plank for two minutes or you’re a liar.
Trump: Well, actually, I could hold it for two hours I’m sure, but we’re here to talk about—
Oz: You can talk while you plank. Get on the floor.
Trump: We won’t be doing—
Oz: I said get on the floor.
[Trump stands indignantly to exit stage.]
[Oz’s handlers and Oprah block his exit, then force him into plank position]
Oz: I’m going to shave your head while you’re down there.
Trump: Get off my back.
Oz: If you can get me off your back, you get to keep your hair.
Trump: I’m planking, Mehmet. I’m planking.
Oz: I know. That’s what I told you to do. If you hadn’t lied about working your core, this wouldn’t be an issue. We’d be sitting in those chairs right now making jokes. But instead I’m taking your hair.
Trump: I have to say, Mehmet, I don’t know why you’re doing this.
Oz: Because you represent a threat to the health of Americans. And I am America’s Doctor®. I literally have a copyright on that.