Journalists have delighted in tearing into Dr. Mehmet Oz this week, after a Senate hearing shamed the daytime television personality for propagating untested products as miracle cures on his show. (Over at Vox a video of John Oliver chastizing Oz has hung in the site’s top-read list for almost a week.) But those chastizing Oz seem to be overlooking the brand new outlet Hearst handed the shamed doctor to market his brand: Dr. Oz The Good Life, a magazine that quietly launched last month, just before the hoopla.
After releasing a test issue in February and then replacing initial Editor in Chief Alison Brower, formerly of The Hollywood Reporter, the official first issue debuted with Jill Herzig, who formerly helmed Redbook, at the top of the masthead. (His wife, Lisa Oz, a self-proclaimed anti-vaxxer, takes the role of editor at large.) Hearst ordered full run of the The Good Life, distributing 800,000 issues of the May/June book last month between newsstands and subscribers. (A full 10 issues are slated for 2015.) But the magazine currently lacks a Web presence, though a placeholder site stands at doctorozmag.com. Dr. Oz introduced the magazine with a post in his show’s blog. That means fans who want to read “Yikes! Your Summer Gyno Health Worries Solved” will have to purchase a hard copy.
The Good Life is clearly conceived as a woman’s magazine, albeit one with a familiar man topping its almost entirely female masthead. He is splayed on its cover, a la Oprah’s O Magazine, and he graces most of its pages.
“Dr. Oz’s spirit and message clearly resonate with American women, and the time is right to explore how that translates into a print and digital magazine,” said Hearst magazine president David Carey in a statement announcing plans for The Good Life. For the most part, Oz steps aside for the most gender-specific articles, quoting female experts about those “Summer Gyno Health Worries.” But in the tradition of O, also published by Hearst, Dr. Oz’s moniker is a prominent one. “Basically, the good life means you’re hearing your own voice as you make your life sing,” writes Oz in his editor’s note, which is surrounded by photos displaying the doctor actively engaged in his very good life: playing outside with his children, holding his first granddaughter, upward dogging in his driveway.
And much of the magazine features or is penned by the familiar cast of characters featured on Dr. Oz’s show, including his personal trainer, Donovan Green. An “Ask Dr. Oz Anything” advice column takes up a spread in the front of book, and he closes each issue with “Dr. Oz’s Rx.” (This issue’s prescription: “Be Less Perfect.”) He is also featured heavily in most articles, popping in for a quote or providing the frame. In “Eating with Dr. Oz on a road trip,” Oz recommends readers pack kiwis for a stable snack and stop at pick-your-own-produce farms in lieu of rest stops. “How Healthy Is Your Kitchen” offers “Oz-approved strategies” for keeping food germ-free, next to a half-page photo of Oz leaning, centerfold style, against a mammoth stainless-steel fridge—two housewife lust objects, side by side.
Much of the appeal of Dr. Oz’s show comes from his charismatic personality—his enthusiasm, his on-air experiments, his gift for grand reveals. In contrast, the magazine is tame, emphasizing the usual staid healthy living advice. The Good Life encourages readers to eat more greens, offering recipes for kale pizza and stir-fried chicken and greens. There is a six-page guide to developing a walking regimen. The advice is practical, simple, and clearly designed for the important target audience that Oz claims to reach through his show: readers who aren’t training for marathons, but want, and need, to do something.
And aside from proselytizing broccoli, greek yogurt, and spinach, The Good Life’s editorial content is free of any miracle medical cures, though not free of the occasional iffy descriptor. In “Eat Fat to Get Slim,” Karen Ansel, a dietician, prescribes a diet low in saturated fats and high in monounsaturated fats and polysaturated fats—she calls them “skinny fats”—which have been shown to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. But Oz characteristically ups the ante when he pops in for a quote: “When you eat good fats, your body loosens that grip [on fat],” says Oz in the piece, “It’s like your fat is eating itself.” (Huh?) Ansel continues along these lines: “Science shows that [skinny fats] may increase levels of a hormone that helps your body burn fat,” without citing exactly what science she’s talking about. This scientific glossing and hedging aligns with the complaints raised during Oz’s Senate hearing and in Michael Specter’s unflattering profile The New Yorker last year.
Oz mostly offers good advice, with the added authority of his medical degree. Which means when he markets a basic diet or an untested alternative treatment as a fat-burning miracle, it’s even more difficult for his audience of fitness newbies to assess the difference between good advice and hyperbole.
The magazine’s ads are more troubling; like the editorial content, ads skew towards ‘healthy living’ products, like GNC Total Lean—shakes that purport to help people shed pounds “even when there’s no time to lose”—and tablets of chromium picolinate, which supposedly provide “metabolism support.” While his show’s site encourages viewers to turn in misleading avertisements that suggest Oz’s endorsement by using his name, several of the ads in the magazine throw his name around, without making clear if he’s behind the products. (And why wouldn’t they, with a name that can launch 1,000 neti pots.) Select Nutrition, a company selling supplements, green tea, and sunscreen, directs readers to a special purchasing page: “www.selectnutrition.com/DrOz2.” And “AskMD,” an app version of WebMD, is described in an advertisement as “Dr. Oz’s favorite new app.” As it turns out, both Oz and Hearst are invested in the platform, which a communications official called “way more than a symptom checker” in a Hearst press release. “How do we put Dr. Oz’s exam room in the pocket of everyone in the country, and eventually, the world?” the release continues. It’s a frightening idea that a reader might associate an app as equivalent to a visit to a physical exam room (the ad itself advises readers to use it in consultation with their doctor).
Nonetheless, none of these relationships are clarified in the ad, a particular concern in the land of magazines, where editorial treatment is often given to advertisers without disclosure, as opposed to television, where ‘pay for play’ is banned, overseen by the FCC. In response to questions about The Good Life’s editorial policy, a spokesperson sent a statement: “The magazine brand advocates a healthy lifestyle, recommending a well-balanced diet and regular exercise, and we feature products and strategies that support that.” (Editor Jill Herzig did not return an email.)
After Dr. Oz’s Senate testimony last week, much of the vitriol initially launched at Oz finally settled on the Federal Trade Commission for failing to introduce product regulation to weed out the snake oil from the pack. (“Dr. Oz is just a symptom of the problem,” said John Oliver in his takedown.) It’s a similar problem in magazines: It’s unethical but not illegal for The Good Life to make lofty claims about diets or to run confusing advertisements. But by failing to draw clear lines between what is hyperbole and what is good advice (and what is an endorsed product and what is simply an ad) the magazine sets an unnerving precedent. Hopefully future issues will proceed with more caution and include a website where the comments section can allow readers to endorse the good and debunk the overplayed. After all, snake oil doesn’t sell unless someone charismatic is hawking it.Alexis Sobel Fitts is a senior writer at CJR. Follow her on Twitter at @fittsofalexis. Tags: Dr. Oz, health, Hearst, magazine covers, women's magazines