Dr. Mehmet Oz often appears on his popular show to promote new health products and devices. Most viewers are likely under the impression that he's doing this because he's closely considered their merits and decided the products are widely beneficial.
But newly leaked emails suggest that business considerations — not health or science — can be a driving factor in which products Oz decides to promote.
Last week, WikiLeaks released a series of emails sent between Dr. Oz, his staff, and executives at Sony (one of his show's producers). They shed some light on how Dr. Oz's daily talk show works behind the scenes.
Dr. Oz talks about promoting the products of Sony, one of his show's producers
In a January 2014 email, for instance, Dr. Oz reaches out to Michael Lynton, the CEO of Sony Entertainment, about his interest in wearable fitness and health tracking devices.
"I have been carefully following the wearable device market and am pretty close to consummating a longer term relationship, but just saw the piece below quoting Kaz Hirai [the president and CEO of Sony] and realized that Sony is moving into the space as well," Oz writes in an email. "We should leverage the Sony-driven success of our TV show into other arenas where Sony thrives, like health hardware."
The email suggests Dr. Oz is planning to use his platform on the show to help expand Sony's fitness and health tracking devices market. Oz doesn't mention health considerations. He mostly seems excited about the business synergy with Sony, one of the producers of his show.
It's worth recalling that Oz has built a massive international audience as a man of medicine, even trademarking the moniker "America's Doctor." But the Sony correspondence suggests that behind the scenes, Oz is often concerned with more than just the health of his viewers — there's also the financial health of one of the show's producers to consider.
Emails show both Sony and Oz's staff are worried about Oz's growing critics
There were also a number of revealing emails about Oz's testimony before a Senate commerce subcommittee hearing last June, during which Sen. Claire McCaskill admonished Oz for promoting bogus health claims.
One email suggested Sony was concerned the hearing might compromise future business prospects around Oz.
In this correspondence, Keith Weaver, executive vice president for worldwide government affairs at Sony, writes: "Dr. Oz has not entered into a paid sponsorship arrangement to date, but would like to explore doing so in the future. We have apprised the appropriate parties of the risks associated with the future plans, as well as specific criticisms of Dr. Oz's role in the national conversation about health that could emerge in the hearing or in subsequent coverage."
Other documents revealed that representatives of the Dr. Oz Show met with McCaskill's office before Oz's appearance at the hearing. Those staffers weighed whether Oz should make the appearance. According to one email, it was Oz who pushed to appear despite concerns at another of the show's producers, Harpo, about the potential negative public relations fallout.
"It's also worth noting for the record that Harpo's counsel is not in favor of Oz participating, especially when he's not legally obligated to do so," wrote Denise Beaudoin, the legal and business affairs counsel to The Dr. Oz Show, in an email. "They do not see the value of getting involved unless compelled by subpoena because there's always the potential for downside (no matter how slight)."
Other WikiLeaks emails showed that Oz's PR team was worried about any publicity that could make the TV star look like a charlatan at a time when he was already under fire.
As Sheraton Kalouria, chief marketing officer at Sony Pictures Television, wrote in an email, "We feel we should not give the media who looks at Oz like [a] snake oil salesman right now any fodder to further this perception."
In a phone conversation on Sunday night, Oz declined to answer Vox's questions about the specifics of the emails.