Last month the Federal Trade Commission sued Pure Green Coffee for using footage from “The Dr. Oz Show” to sell a weight lost supplement on their websites. 

The sites featured footage from The Dr. Oz Show, supposed consumer endorsements, and purported clinical proof that dieters could lose weight rapidly without changing their diet or exercise regimens. The defendants also ran paid banner and text ads that appeared on search engines and contained phony weight loss claims.

The defendants set up websites to look like legitimate news sites or blogs.  

The fake news sites featured mastheads of fictitious news organizations such as Women’s Health Journal and Healthy Living Reviewed, as well as logos they appropriated from actual news organizations, like CNN and MSNBC.

This week Dr. Oz went before the Senate subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance to examine protecting consumers from false and deceptive advertising of weight-loss products. Dr. Oz admitted there is no medical evidence verifying the efficacy of many supplements he promotes, including green coffee beans. 

‘Not only did these defendants trick consumers with their phony weight loss claims, they also compounded the deception by advertising on pretend news sites, making it impossible for people to know whether they were seeing news or an ad,’ said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

Now let’s do some parallel construction here folks (I learned this from watching a lot of TV).

In 2003 retired generals went on TV using bogus claims plus false and deceptive information to sell a war. Many worked for military contractors, which would make money in a war selling weapons and other goods and services. Their relationships with their contractors were not made public at the time.

The generals’ information, as well as other deceptive information from the White House went onto the “fake news” sites like Fox News. Actual news organizations, like the New York Times, CNN and MSNBC also used this information. Years later participants admitted there was no evidence verifying weapons of mass destruction.

The actual story of how the war was sold to us is worse.  In his Pulitzer Prize winning story, Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand David Barston describes how it was done, who did it and how the media cooperated. 

False info spread:

In turn, members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access.

Unlike Dr. Oz, who didn’t profit from the companies using his image, for many of the military analysts financial gain and conflicts of interests were clear.

The group was heavily represented by men involved in the business of helping companies win military contracts. Several held senior positions with contractors that gave them direct responsibility for winning new Pentagon business.

Now everyone is pointing to Paul Wolfowitz or Bill Kristol getting another bite at the war apple. I wonder if the media is going to look at all these military analysts they had on at the time. Will some of them be back? Will they look at their business interests this time? Will they mention the business interests they had at the time of the war?

The Bush/Cheney/Rumsfield White House people understood just how powerful military analysts were to the sale. Torie Clarke, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs and a former public relations executive, oversaw the Pentagon’s dealings with the analysts. She believed in our current spin-saturated news culture opinion is swayed most by voices perceived as authoritative and utterly independent.

That is why the retired generals didn’t talk about their business relationships and the networks either didn’t ask or blamed the analysts:

Some network officials, meanwhile, acknowledged only a limited understanding of their analysts’ interactions with the administration. They said that while they were sensitive to potential conflicts of interest, they did not hold their analysts to the same ethical standards as their news employees regarding outside financial interests. The onus is on their analysts to disclose conflicts, they said.

So perhaps this time we can contact some of these networks and see if their analysts have disclosed to them their conflicts. Maybe we can remind people what they didn’t do last time.

I know that advertising is different from editorial, and I don’t think the FTC regulates in this area. But imagine that there was a Federal Truth Commission with a Bureau of Citizen Protection in it. The findings quote for the lawsuit could be something like this.

 ’Not only did these defendants trick citizens with their phony weapons of mass destruction claims, they also compounded the deception by failing to disclose their business relationships, making it impossible for people to know whether they were an independent analyst or a highly compensated spokesperson.’ said the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Citizen Protection.

How much money do you suppose we could claw back? The current cost to Citizens of the United States is now calculated to be 3.1 trillion dollars.  Interest payments could total about $1 trillion dollars by 2023, or $7 trillion by 2053.  But at least people won’t be buying ineffective weight loss cures like green coffee beans.

Image of Dr. Oz footage used by Pure Green Coffee from FTC website, public domain