Media

Return of a huckster
At least two Reno television stations have been broadcasting a half-hour “infomercial” produced by a figure whose previous health care claims were barred from the air by the Federal Trade Commission.

Kevin Trudeau previously produced programs that claimed his dietary supplement “Coral Calcium Supreme,” made from the fossilized shells of sea creatures, cured or treated cancer, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, high blood pressure and other serious diseases. The infomercials sparked outrage among consumer protection agencies and health care professionals.

In April 2003, the National Council Against Health Fraud reported, “Robert Barefoot and Kevin Trudeau are airing a new TV infomercial claiming that coral calcium can cure cancer and many other diseases. The infomercial, now the most frequently televised infomercial for a health-related product, makes cancer-cure claims even more blatant than those of Barefoot’s previous one. During the past three months, the number of links found by searching Google for ‘coral calcium’ has risen from about 80,000 to more than 110,000. Dr. Stephen Barrett calls the current video the most outrageous infomercial he has ever seen.”

On Jan. 22, 2004, the FTC settled its charges against Trudeau and Barefoot with the two agreeing to stop making the claims in their infomercials.

So Trudeau wrote a book containing many of those claims and now is running infomercials—which recently ran on KOLO and KTVN, among other stations—selling the book. This avoids violating the FTC settlement, since Trudeau is selling books, not supplements, but the program still contains sweeping claims about how curable many serious diseases are.

An “interviewer” named Pat Mathews on a news-like set asks Trudeau questions on a “program” called A Closer Look. While Trudeau doesn’t make the same claims he did in his earlier programs, he comes close. He also uses many terms like “could” or “may.” His principal argument is that many natural cures have been suppressed by the drug companies, which want to continue selling their drugs.

“There are all-natural cures [for] diabetes, migraine, cancer, heart disease, acid reflux, attention deficit disorder, depression, stress, phobias, fibromyalgia, pain of all sorts, arthritis—the list goes on, lupus, multiple sclerosis. … There are cures for muscular dystrophy.

“Why [are] our children today—little girls having breasts at 10 years old and starting their menstrual cycle so early? Why are little boys having puberty so early? Well, could it be the growth hormone that’s being put into [food]?”

On Sept. 7, in an effort to shut down what the FTC calls an “infomercial empire,” Trudeau was banned by the FTC from running any infomercials. At the same time, he was forced to pay $500,000 in cash and transfer title to a residence in Ojai, Calif., and a luxury vehicle to the FTC to satisfy a $2 million judgment against him (see www.ftc/trudeaucoral.htm).

The sanctions in the FTC orders are against Trudeau, not television stations. Thus, the burden is on Trudeau not to run the infomercials, not on the stations to police his activities or not run his programs.

The current Trudeau program, which until this week was running in Reno, appears to fall into an exception in the order for the sale of “informational publications.”

“As far as we can tell, he’s in compliance with the order,” says FTC staffer Daniel Kaufman. “But if he started selling another pill, then he’d be in a lot of trouble. … There are unique issues when people are selling information under the First Amendment, so that is an area where we do tread cautiously. … These are still outrageous claims, but, you know, you can write a book claiming the Holocaust never happened, and that’s protected speech.”

KOLO General Manager Matt James says the station never dealt with Trudeau’s company. He says infomercials are “bicycled” on a rotating basis through the station by a California sales agency. But after viewing the FTC order and watching the infomercial, James said he was dropping the Trudeau program.

“We’re not here to censor anybody’s speech, but by the same token this guy has a track record that makes him somewhat less than credible. And so I think we’ll just opt not to take any of their infomercials that deal with his products.”

The situation is similar at KTVN, where general manager Lawson Fox says that after an internal review, he has discontinued broadcasts of the programs.