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Dr. Oz Attempts To Resuscitate Campaign With Attacks On A Stroke Survivor

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Mehmet Oz is an Ivy League-educated cardiac surgeon who became a household name by doling out (often questionable) medical advice to tens of millions of viewers on national television. John Fetterman, Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, is a man who just had a stroke.

In one other life, Oz can have been the doctor to perform life-saving surgery on Fetterman and guide him through his recovery, which has involved improving his speech and auditory functions.

But on this life, the celebrity doctor and his campaign have as a substitute used Fetterman’s health setback as the premise for clunky attacks on Fetterman’s fitness for office and his lack of time on the campaign trail as he recovers — issues which have animated the ultimate weeks of a critical U.S. Senate contest in a must-win state for Republicans.

“It’s so difficult for physicians to grasp how one other physician could make those sorts of comments or behave in that way,” said Val Arkoosh, a former obstetric anesthesiologist who ran within the Democratic primary for Senate in Pennsylvania. “It violates our oath, it violates our ethics. And it’s just hard for me to grasp and imagine that he took the identical oath that I did once we graduated from medical school.”

Each campaign has escalated the race around Fetterman’s health in the ultimate weeks of the race to different effects. Oz, a Republican and once-venerated surgical specialist at Columbia University, has mocked his Democratic opponent for his near-fatal stroke — although Oz has recently tried to distance himself from his campaign staffers, telling a radio host he personally has “compassion” for Fetterman. Fetterman has used Oz’s attacks to color him as an out-of-touch bully while dodging a few of the more serious questions surrounding his health and his reluctance to debate Oz.

“He should just acknowledge that, as a health care provider, you might be going around making fun of any person that had a stroke,” Fetterman said Wednesday during his first national TV interview since his stroke in May.

Democrat Lt. Gov. returned to the campaign trail in Erie, Pennsylvania, on Aug. 12 after suffering a large stroke.

Nate Smallwood/Getty Images

Fetterman’s remarks continued a bitter stretch for the 2 campaigns. Oz called Fetterman a “coward” for declining to take part in a televised debate and called on his campaign to fireplace two “convicted murderers” — brothers who maintain they were wrongly imprisoned and who received clemency last 12 months — a requirement Fetterman said was “sad and desperate.” Fetterman has seized on every Oz gaffe, including a bizarre video about inflation filmed in a supermarket produce aisle and Oz’s evasiveness in regards to the variety of homes he owns.

Fetterman’s own health issues help underscore Oz’s record as physician who was once called in front of Congress to defend claims made about weight reduction drugs on his TV show — and who also performed complicated surgeries and held a college role at a top university hospital.

Following the launch this month of “Real Doctors Against Oz,” Fetterman’s campaign released a letter signed by 100 physicians calling out Oz for “promoting unproven, ill-advised, and at times potentially dangerous treatments” in response to Oz’s well-documented affinity for miracle cures and supplements. Within the early days of the pandemic, Oz wrote to the Trump White House advocating for a study of hydroxychloroquine for treating COVID and talked in regards to the drug on the campaign trail after trials had shown it was ineffective against the virus.

Benjamin Abella, a Philadelphia-based emergency medical physician who signed the letter, said he was troubled by Oz shaming an individual for a medical condition, something that goes against every tenet of their career.

“His lack of decorum, his playing fast and loose with evidence and medicine and using his medical degree and credentials as an ATM for private gain is disturbing. It’s sad. It denigrates the career,” Abella told HuffPost.

“The undeniable fact that he would proceed to mock him and he’s been mocking him all summer, it’s really unconscionable. I might say for any human being, any of us could have a stroke.”

– Val Arkoosh, former obstetric anesthesiologist who ran within the Democratic primary for Senate

Arkoosh, who leads the group of anti-Oz doctors, called the attacks on Fetterman “nasty” and “unwarranted.”

“This shouldn’t be the sort of issue that you simply make right into a campaign issue,” said Arkoosh, who can be an elected official in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. “The undeniable fact that he would proceed to mock him and he’s been mocking him all summer, it’s really unconscionable. I might say for any human being, any of us could have a stroke.”

It wasn’t that way back that Oz was hawking sometimes bizarre and unproven medical cures for aging and weight reduction because the quirky but empathetic host of the “Dr. Oz Show.” But that persona has contorted as Oz morphed into Donald Trump’s pick to succeed GOP Sen. Pat Toomey.

Employing the GOP’s earlier attacks on Joe Biden — who limited his presence at big events in the course of the pandemic and still managed to win Pennsylvania — Oz has called Fetterman a “basement bum” for taking day without work to recuperate from his massive stroke.

When Fetterman announced his decision to not debate Oz next week resulting from his ongoing recovery, Oz’s campaign responded with a mocking news release offering the “concessions” of loo breaks and “to pay for any additional medical personnel” for Fetterman, who speaks somewhat slowly and haltingly since his stroke.

Oz missed the chance to border perhaps essentially the most concerning revelation from Fetterman declining to debate Oz — the admission that Fetterman’s auditory limitations would make a debate format difficult. (Recovery from a stroke can take time, and Fetterman has said he’s been given prognosis.)

As an alternative, Fetterman took control of the narrative, happening TV to accuse Oz of being mean and aligning himself with the multitude of Americans in less-than-perfect health.

“Whenever you go searching, [you] realize that there’s Pennsylvanians all across the state which have serious health crises in their very own life,” Fetterman told MSNBC host Stephanie Ruhle. “And I don’t think anybody would want a health care provider of their lives making fun of them or laughing at their circumstances. But I just occur to have a health care provider in my life to do exactly that.”

Fetterman’s very online campaign has run with the abundant material given to it by Oz’s camp, including a viral video where Oz, looking like he’s latest to each grocery shopping and food on the whole, searches for the ingredients to make a “crudités” plate. (Oz’s best sin therein: choosing broccoli and salsa).

Republican Mehmet Oz is hammering his opponent John Fetterman for declining to debate as he recovers from a stroke.Republican Mehmet Oz is hammering his opponent John Fetterman for declining to debate as he recovers from a stroke.

Matt Freed /Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via Associated Press

Oz’s campaign responded to criticism of the video as out of touch and just plain weird with a good cringier statement to Insider: “If John Fetterman had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then possibly he wouldn’t have had a significant stroke and wouldn’t be within the position of getting to lie about it always,” said Rachel Tripp, a senior communications adviser, to collective shudders from either side.

Fetterman’s campaign responded in typical Fetterman campaign fashion by sending three people dressed as broccoli stalks to an Oz campaign event and posting the clip online.

Oz has tried to place a long way between himself and his campaign staff, giving him a veil of plausible deniability when a staffer fires off something nasty about Fetterman’s health that might sound much more vicious coming from an actual doctor.

“I actually have compassion. I understand. I’ll work with you. Tell me what I can do to make it easier or safer for you,” Oz told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt Thursday when discussing Fetterman’s refusal to debate at once. “The campaigns are hitting one another hard on these topics, and his campaign and my campaign staff are, you understand, going at one another. They’ll play those vital political angles. But I’m just trying as a health care provider to fulfill John Fetterman at a spot where the audience, the voter, can hear what we stand for.”

Christopher Nicholas, a veteran Republican strategist in Pennsylvania, said the Oz campaign’s execution of its debate attack was “clumsy,” but that Fetterman has been “ultra-scripted” and “very cautious” since returning to campaigning.

“It’s almost like they’ve got him under glass,” Nicholas said.

“I do think the health issue is an issue for Fetterman,” he added. “Because he’s not on the campaign, he doesn’t look good, he won’t do debates.”

Nicholas described the Oz campaign as launching a “frontal attack that wasn’t very well thought-out. I feel they feel under pressure because they’ve been embarrassed a bit with the entire food market stunt and with a few of the things Oz has said. They were trying to alter the narrative abruptly without serious about it. The gist of the argument was still powerful.”

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