From time to time, as co-founder of the admired and unaccredited National Apology Society along with my partner-in-arms Nell Minow, I scour the landscape for apologies by well-known public figures, or on issues that reach some public prominence, to determine if their mea culpa was a good one or disingenuous.
The other day, Dr. Oz appeared on Fox and Friends and failed in his effort to sort of, kind of apologize for touting green coffee extract supplements and "miracle" cures for weight loss.
This all came up initially after he had devoted a 2012 program to green coffee extracts and among things said,
"You may think magic is make believe, but this little bean has scientists saying they found a magic weight loss cure for every body type. This miracle pill can burn fat fast for anyone who wants to lose weight. This is very exciting and it's breaking news."
The "study" that was the basis of the claims has long-since been retracted as unverifiable, and the show's video has been removed from the Dr. Oz website, as has his own supposedly independent experiment meant to back up the now-discredited study.
In turn, this unfortunately led to several shady "weight-loss" schemes taking advantage of the opening to tout Dr. Oz's "miracle" cure praise. And then for Dr. Oz being called in to explain himself before a Senate committee, where then-chairman Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said, "I get that you do a lot of good on your show," McCaskill told Oz, "but I don't get why you need to say this stuff because you know it's not true." And added, "The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products you called 'miracles. When you call a product a miracle, and it's something you can buy, and it's something that gives people false hope, I don't understand why you need to go there."
This is just background to the "apology." I don't especially watch Dr. Oz, but when I've seen segments he's done, they've generally come across as reasonable and good medical practice. But green coffee "miracle" cures wasn't one of them.
Which brings us to his appearance on Fox and Friends. So, let's look at some of the comments he made when seeming to apologize.
“I wish I’d never used the laudatory terms I used for weight loss supplements," he said. "That was the big mistake I think we all acknowledge." I'm not quite sure who the "we" all is meant to refer to, but this isn't about "we" whoever they are, but about Dr. Oz himself specifically making the claims publicly under his name. "We" appears to be an attempt to diffuse the criticism.
"I stopped doing that a long time ago," he added, "over a year ago.” The TV broadcast was in 2012. In other words, the disparaged broadcast aired three years ago, and it took Dr. Oz two years to stop praising it .
From my perspective, if your attempt to address a problem takes longer to occur than from when the incident itself took place, that's not "a long time ago." That's more like "recently." Further, to be clear, he's not saying that he publicly apologized at the time, just that they scrubbed the website of the praise in hopes that it would go away.
Finally, he also added, “I never wanted my messages to be hijacked by marketers on the web that are stealing my name and likeness and trying to sell you products.” In an apology for your mistakes, it's generally not a good idea to try and present yourself as the victim. You're apologizing because you are hoping to make clear that you did something wrong -- not that you want others to feel sorry for you because you are owed an apology. Worse, by responding like this, it risks coming across like you're just upset that someone used your words without paying you first for the rights to do so. That you're not sorry you said them, just that others did compensate you for saying them.
No doubt Dr. Oz and his staff were embarrassed. And for a scientific expert, it's difficult to acknowledge that. But if you do really want to apologize for it -- as I suspect Dr. Oz does, because when I've come across his show, he strikes me as reasonably thoughtful and informative -- then you apologize. If you don't, though, then it comes across like you really aren't all that sorry.
Alas, things aren't always wonderful in the world of Oz.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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