Dr. Oz Defends Show Amid Criticisms, Calls for Firing from Columbia

Celebrity surgeon Dr.  Mehmet Oz is defending himself after 10 doctors accused him of promoting "quack treatments" on his TV show and called on Columbia University to fire him from his position as vice chairman of the medical school's surgery department

Speaking with Matt Lauer on NBC's "Today" show, Oz said he's "very proud" of the show and says the topics discussed in the program are meant to be taken as broad, general advice rather than an in-depth medical lecture. 

"People don't want to be hounded about information that's irrelevant to their lives or is perceived as irrelevant," he said. "It's about celebrating life and getting them where they live." 

Oz added that he thinks the show, about to air its 1,000th episode, will weather the latest bout of controversy.

"Without question, the show will survive it," Oz said. "I want to keep doing the show for as long as I can because I think we played an important role in making America a better place."

Oz's interview with Lauer comes a day after he devoted the first half of his syndicated show on Thursday to his response to what he called "a brazen letter from 10 mysterious doctors" sent to Columbia University, where Oz serves as vice chairman of the surgery department and performs heart surgery at Columbia's affiliated hospital. The letter accused him of an "egregious lack of integrity" and urged the university to remove him from its faculty.

A Columbia spokesman defended Oz by saying the school is "committed to the principle of academic freedom."

But the letter set off a new round of criticism of Oz, who in the past has been slammed for promoting questionable cure-alls and last June appeared before the Senate's consumer protection panel, where he was scolded for claims he had made on his show about weight-loss aids -- claims he says he has since stopped making.

Thursday, eight of Oz's colleagues at Columbia wrote an op-ed in USA Today saying that while the on-air personality is a good doctor, his recommendations on the show can mislead the public. The group recommended that Oz put a disclaimer on the advice before the show starts.

"Many of us are spending a significant amount of our clinical time debunking Ozisms regarding metabolism game changers. Irrespective of the underlying motives, this unsubstantiated medicine sullies the reputation of Columbia University and undermines the trust that is essential to physician-patient relationships," the doctors wrote.

Launched in 2009 by Oprah Winfrey, "The Dr. Oz Show" has repeatedly been criticized for mixing rigorous and dubious science. But Oz, who sees his show as a forum for discussing a range of health practices to better inform his audience, wondered aloud what accounted for the timing of last week's letter.

His conclusion: His own continuing opposition to any legislation that would strip government agencies of their ability to label genetically modified foods in the marketplace.

Oz reiterated his conviction that consumers have the right to know whether food at their stores originates from genetically modified organisms. Those on the other side of the issue include food producers and agricultural companies who say GMOs are safe and that labeling them would increase prices while unnecessarily frightening consumers.

He noted that the letter's lead author was Dr. Henry Miller, a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution think tank at Stanford University who specializes in biotech and has campaigned against such labeling.

Oz characterized the letter as a smear intended to silence him and vowed, "We will not be silenced."

"My interest was and is solely to protect the academic respectability of a prominent medical institution," Miller said in a statement in response to Thursday's program.

Dubbed "America's doctor" by Winfrey, Oz has built a brand empire that also includes a magazine and best-selling books. But, whatever the reason, viewership for his TV show has eroded in the past few years. For this season through March, the audience has averaged 1.97 million viewers -- roughly half the 3.80 million viewers who were tuning in during the 2011-12 season.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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