The Frontline News Report on Supplements Stinks: Part 1
Well, here we go again.
In case you missed it, Frontline teamed up with the New York Times to deliver a scathing one-hour news segment called “Supplements and Safety.” The spot aired on PBS on January 19th. And since then, I’ve been bombarded with concerned questions from patients and readers who, understandably, want some answers.
Do I have answers? You better believe it. I have a whole lot to say about this latest propaganda piece. But I’m already chiming in a little late on this, so let’s get one thing straight first.
This “investigative report” is really no more than a transparent and biased attack on the supplement industry. One that leans on the same stale talking points I’ve been shooting down for the better part of a decade now.
Frontline… or firing squad?
Before I get to the meat and potatoes, let’s begin with a look at a couple of the main sources behind this report—starting with Dr. Paul Offit.
Does the name sound familiar? It should. Dr. Offit is one of the loudest voices in the modern crusade against natural medicine. In fact, he devoted an entire book to debunking the field—“Do You Believe In Magic?”—which was published in 2013.
That title should tell you all you really need to know about Offit’s contributions to this national conversation. But here are a few more tidbits…
He’s an attending physician at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia—which, as this report notes in great detail, instituted a hard line policy against the use of outside supplements several years ago. He’s also a fierce vaccination proponent who openly dismisses opposing views as “quackery.”
Dr. Offit has a right to his own interpretation of the facts, of course. And the New York Times has a right to publish it as often as they wish. (Which, it’s worth noting, is a lot. NYT has featured Offit as an op-ed contributor quite a few times.)
After all, he makes some fair points. I’ll be the first to admit that not all supplements are safe or effective. And yes, some of them can be downright dangerous. (Don’t worry—I’ll be coming back to that.)
Nevertheless, this is a doctor who has “picked a side” and is committed to defending it. Offit came to this table with an antagonistic agenda. To suggest that he’s ever given the supplement industry a fair shake is at best patently misleading.
At worst, it’s a straight up lie. And the deep bias decorating Frontline’s soapbox doesn’t stop at Offit, either.
Attorney General of consumer anxiety
We also hear from New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. You might remember him as the guy who orchestrated the expose that rocked the supplement industry this time last year. You know, the one that suggested that a whopping 80 percent of supplements are mislabeled.
You might also remember my take on that story, in which I called this “scandal” out for what it is: TOTAL BS.
But in case you missed it, here’s the takeaway: The whole thing was fishy as all get-out. Schneiderman’s office delivered a snap judgment without a fair trial. And his results would have been hard to swallow even if they weren’t based on the questionable testing methods of an unqualified lead scientist. (Which they were.)
And yet, Frontline decided he was the perfect guy to chime in on the state of the supplement industry. No mention of the widespread skepticism toward his conclusions—even though one of these skeptics, Dr. Pieter Cohen, made an appearance in the segment.
This isn’t balanced reporting. It’s textbook fear-mongering.
So is it any surprise that the average viewer would walk away with a deep distrust of what really is a fundamentally safe industry? No, it’s not. In fact, it’s obvious that inciting this reaction was the whole point of the segment.
That would be reason enough to brush off the whole hour as a bunch of hot air. But as it so happens, there’s more to pick apart here. And I mean a lot more.
So stay tuned. Because I’ll have a few counterpoints of my own to offer. And then you can decide for yourself whether a thoughtfully chosen arsenal of dietary supplements is worth keeping in your medicine cabinet.