A Celebrity Journal fiasco

Quack-loving Suzanne Somers, WSJ "expert" on health care

What could go wrong when your august publication asks Chrissy from “Three’s Company”—a notorious peddler of quack medical advice—to offer “expert” advice on what the new health care law will mean for retirees?

Just about everything.

I’ve skewered The Wall Street Journal a couple of times for its “The Experts” special reports that feature noted specialists like Pat Sajak, Morgan Fairchild, and Suzanne Somers answering questions about long-term care insurance and retirement planning. That has showed seriously bad editorial judgment.

But even with the section’s track record, I can’t believe it printed this Somers column in response to the WSJ’s question about “What will the Affordable Care Act mean for retirees?”

Summers’s Somers’s answer: “The Affordable Care Act Is a Socialist Ponzi Scheme,” which alone has a couple of fact errors in it (it’s not socialist and it’s not a Ponzi scheme). But there’s much more. Here’s the doozy of a correction:

An earlier version of this post contained a quotation attributed to Lenin (“Socialized medicine is the keystone to the arch of the socialist state”) that has been widely disputed. And it included a quotation attributed to Churchill (“Control your citizens’ health care and you control your citizens”) that the Journal has been unable to confirm.

Also, the cover of a Maclean’s magazine issue in 2008 showed a picture of a dog on an examining table with the headline “Your Dog Can Get Better Health Care Than You.” An earlier version of this post incorrectly said the photo showed and headline referred to a horse.

Actually, it’s much worse than the correction lets on. The conservative Churchill helped create the National Health Service—a true socialized medical system. Here’s an actual Churchill quote, not a made-up one:

The discoveries of healing science must be the inheritance of all. That is clear. Disease must be attacked, whether it occurs in the poorest or the richest man or woman simply on the ground that it is the enemy; and it must be attacked just in the same way as the fire brigade will give its full assistance to the humblest cottage as readily as to the most important mansion. Our policy is to create a national health service in order to ensure that everybody in the country, irrespective of means, age, sex, or occupation, shall have equal opportunities to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available.

Somers argues anecdotally against Canada’s health-care system, which isn’t at all what Obamacare implements:

My sister-in-law had to wait two months to get a General Practitioner. During this period she spent her days in bed vomiting continuously, unable to get any food or drink down because she couldn’t get an appointment with the doctor. When she finally did, the doctor said, “Oh you don’t need me, you need a specialist.” That took another two weeks until she got a pill that corrected the problem.

I’m going to guess the WSJ fact-checked this as rigorously as it did the rest of her column. But even if it were true, it’s just one anecdote. I’ve known plenty of Americans who have put off getting medical care because they didn’t have insurance.

And the data—you know, that stuff—says something quite different. Fifty-seven percent of Canadians are satisfied with the affordability health-care system, according to Gallup, compared to just 25 percent of Americans. And 52 percent of Canadians are satisfied with the quality of their health care, compared to 48 percent of Americans.

Americans pay $8,500 per person for health care, according to the OECD. Canadians pay $4,000 less.

Of course, if opinions had to be based on pesky things like facts, there would be no Wall Street Journal editorial page.

But for the WSJ’s news side, facts are the whole point. Let’s be very clear: The Wall Street Journal, of all places, shouldn’t be going anywhere near a dangerous crackpot like Suzanne Somers on the topic of health care.

Here are a few of her qualifications:

— She played Chrissy on “Three’s Company”

Promotes alternative therapies over chemotherapy to treat cancer. Money quote:

“They took this beautiful man and basically put poison in his body,” opined Somers to me about (Patrick) Swayze’s chemotherapy… “Why couldn’t they have built him up nutritionally and gotten rid of the toxins?… I hate to be controversial, but I have to speak out.”

— Wrote a book about bioidentical hormone replacement therapy pushing the “scientifically unproven and dangerous” advice of an actress with a bachelor’s in anthropology.

Hawks “nanotechnology energy patches” that she says she wears every day with “incredible results - to manage pain, improve sleep, increase energy, suppress appetite, and for overall detoxification.”

Hawks something called Suzanne Somers’s Facemaster System, which “uses Advanced ‘Wave’ Technology” to “lift and tone” your face.

And much more.

Somers is not someone whom The Wall Street Journal should be touting as an “expert,” unless it’s on grade-A stupidity and/or charlatanism (check out its own commenters on this).

What an embarrassment.

Further reading:

The Celebrity Journal. Stars are turning up in the once-august paper for little or no reason.

Personal finance experts of the day. Some baffling editorial judgment in The Wall Street Journal.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,