When Sean Parnell ended his troubled Republican U.S. Senate campaign shortly before Thanksgiving, the Pennsylvania GOP was left in a tough spot. The party's top contender for an open seat was forced from the race, and there was no obvious replacement waiting in the wings.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, a physician and television personality, saw an opportunity to fill the vacuum and launched a political career, despite not actually living in the Keystone State. While leading Pennsylvania Republicans were "baffled" by the idea, voters often like doctors and celebrities, and Oz checks both boxes.
Time will tell, of course, whether Pennsylvanians are impressed, but as The New York Times reported over the weekend, one of Oz's most important strengths as a candidate — his ostensible credibility as one of the nation's most recognized physicians — is also a potential vulnerability. The newspaper specifically referenced the Republican's history of "dispensing dubious medical advice" and making "sweeping claims based on thin evidence."
Over the years, Dr. Oz, 61, has faced a bipartisan scolding before a Senate committee over claims he made about weight-loss pills, as well as the opposition of some of his physician peers, including a group of 10 doctors who sought his firing from Columbia University's medical faculty in 2015, arguing that he had "repeatedly shown disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine."
Unfortunately, the list doesn't end there. The Times' article added:
He has warned parents that apple juice contained unsafe levels of arsenic, advice that the Food and Drug Administration called "irresponsible and misleading." In 2013, he warned women that carrying cellphones in their bras could cause breast cancer, a claim without scientific merit. In 2014, the British Medical Journal analyzed 80 recommendations on Dr. Oz's show, and concluded that fewer than half were supported by evidence.
My MSNBC colleague Hayes Brown recently noted that there's "a long tradition of doctors turned senators who don't display the best medical practices," adding, "[F]or all his questionable practices, Oz may not be the worst doctor to ever sit in the Capitol — although he's probably up there."
For his part, the doctor-turned-host-turned-candidate has questioned his critics' motives and denied any wrongdoing. As for his suspect medical claims, Oz has acknowledged his use of "colorful language."