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Fact-checking ‘Wizard of Lies’ attack on Mehmet Oz over ‘miracle’ claims, immigration, his residency

Fact-checking ‘Wizard of Lies’ attack on Mehmet Oz over ‘miracle’ claims, immigration, his residency

A 2-minute video ad that attacks Mehmet Oz features scenes from “The Wizard of Oz” and superimposes clips of him speaking as though he is the wizard in the classic 1939 movie that starred Judy Garland.

Oz, a physician and former TV show host, is the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania.  His Nov. 8 matchup against Democrat John Fetterman, the state’s lieutenant governor, is rated by campaign watchers as “tilts Republican” and a toss-up.

The ad is from MeidasTouch, a super PAC that says its primary goals are “protecting American democracy, defeating Trumpism and holding Republicans accountable.” It has spent more than $2.16 million during the 2021-22 election cycle, according to the nonprofit OpenSecrets.

We’ll review three attacks in the ad, which calls Oz “the wizard of lies.” 

We sent emails to the email address listed on MeidasTouch’s website and to the addresses listed on the group’s Federal Election Commission statement of organization, but received no replies.

Claim: Oz touted ‘miracle’ products

This is essentially on target. Oz has long faced criticism for promoting questionable medical products on his TV show and has acknowledged regretting that he promoted certain weight loss products.

The video makes this claim in a portion of the ad that opens with the headline, “Remember the con.” It includes clips of Oz making statements such as, “I’ve got the number one miracle in a bottle to burn your fat” and touting a “miracle pill.” 

Also shown is then-Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., at a Senate subcommittee hearing on the advertising of weight loss products asking Oz: “Do you believe that there’s a miracle pill out there?” Oz replies: “There’s not a pill that’s going to help you long term lose weight and live your best life without diet and exercise.” 

Oz has been the target of criticism from senators, a British medical journal, Columbia University colleagues and a class action lawsuit over his promotion of products on his TV show.

In the subcommittee hearing, held in 2014, Republican and Democratic senators scolded Oz for touting products as miracle cures. He said at the hearing, “I actually do personally believe in the items I talk about on the show. I recognize that oftentimes they don’t have the scientific muster to pass as fact.”

Brittany Yanick, Oz’s campaign spokesperson, told PolitiFact that Oz agreed to testify about weight loss supplement companies’ “falsely using his name to sell their products.”

In a 2015 column in Time magazine, Oz, however, wrote, “my voyage into the land of weight loss supplements left me in a very unsavory place. I wish I could take back enthusiastic words I used to support these products years ago.”

BMJ, the British medical journal, released a 2014 report that said about half of the claims made on Oz’s show were not supported by evidence. A spokesperson for Oz’s show said at the time that the show “has always endeavored to challenge the so-called conventional wisdom, reveal multiple points of view and question the status quo.”

Yanick highlighted criticism that study received from Dr. Steven Woolf, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor and a former BMJ editor. Woolf wrote in 2014 that the study “suffers from glaring methodological errors that would be problematic for any study.” 

In 2015, 10 doctors sought to get Oz fired from Columbia University’s medical faculty, alleging he had shown “an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.” Oz said in a statement at the time: “I bring the public information that will help them on their path to be their best selves. We provide multiple points of view, including mine which is offered without conflict of interest.”

Oz’s Time magazine column criticized the backgrounds of some of the 10 doctors and said: “My exploration of alternative medicine has never been intended to take the place of conventional medicine, but rather as additive.”

In 2018, Oz agreed to a $5.25 million settlement in a false advertising class action lawsuit accusing him of overstating the benefits of dietary supplements that promised weight loss. He did not admit liability, but agreed not to reair the three episodes that promoted the supplements. But a judge rejected the settlement after the plaintiffs expanded the proposed class to include more consumers, Law360.com reported, and in 2020, he dismissed the lawsuit. 

Claim: Oz paid ‘largest fine in history for employing undocumented workers’

This is misleading, as we found in reviewing a similar claim earlier in the campaign. 

The claim is made in a section of the ad headlined, “Remember the grifter,” in which a clip plays from “The Young Turks,” an online liberal talk show. A host says on June 13, 2022, that Oz “actually had to pay the largest fine in American history for employing undocumented workers” — $95 million.

What actually happened: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2017 announced that Asplundh Tree Experts Co. of Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, had agreed to pay $95 million for hiring immigrants who could not legally work in the United States. It was the largest civil settlement agreement of its time.

Oz has ownership in, but no role in running, the company, which was co-founded by the maternal grandfather of Oz’s wife and remains controlled by family members. Oz and his wife own stock in the company worth at least $11.5 million, according to a financial disclosure report Oz filed April 6 with the Senate in connection with his campaign.

Claim: Oz is a longtime NJ resident, running for Senate in PA

This claim is accurate.  

Oz moved to Pennsylvania from New Jersey not long before launching his campaign and still has a home in New Jersey.

The ad focuses on his place of residence in a section of the ad that carries the headline: “Remember the fraud.” It claims that Oz has for years lived in New Jersey and that his social media shows him at his New Jersey home, even as he’s running for a Senate seat in Pennsylvania.

Oz has said he moved to Pennsylvania in late 2020 after living in New Jersey for more than 30 years. 

More than 20 social media posts in the three months before Oz launched his campaign in November 2021 appeared to show him at his New Jersey home, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Oz continues to be criticized by Fetterman for his New Jersey ties. Fetterman on July 7 accused Oz of recording a campaign video from Oz’s New Jersey home. Yanick did not reply to our question about whether it was Oz’s home.

Yanick said Oz lives and votes in Pennsylvania and has a medical license from the state. The state gave him a permanent license on April 16, 2021.

RELATED: Fact-checking ads in the 2022 election campaigns

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Source: PolitiFact.

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