Speaking to a Fox news pundit, Oz Mehmet, the popular medical doctor and TV personality known simply as “Dr. Oz,” recently created a firestorm of bad press for himself with comments about reopening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During his comments on the program, Mehmet called reopening schools a “very appetizing opportunity” even in the midst of the outbreak. He added that, “You know, any life is a life lost, but to get every child back into school where they are being safely educated, being fed, and making the most out of their lives with the theoretical risk on the backside might be a trade-off some folks would consider… I just saw a nice piece in the Lancet arguing that the opening of schools may only cost us 2 to 3 percent in terms of total mortality…”
The backlash to those comments was fierce and immediate, with many calling the comments “insensitive”. The response on social media, especially on Twitter where viewers could comment directly to Mehmet, was vociferous and decidedly unsympathetic to his position.
As a result, Dr. Oz backpedaled, saying he did not mean to suggest trading lives for getting kids back in school. He said, instead, that he’s spent his career fighting to save lives by minimizing risk, and that he’s “constantly being asked” how people can “get back to their normal lives.” In explaining this, Mehmet added: “To do that, one of the important steps will be figuring out how to get our children safely back to school… We know for many kids, school is a place of security, nutrition, and learning that is missing right now… These are issues that we are all wrestling with and I’ll continue to look for solutions to beat this virus…”
In making these comments, Mehmet offered both an apology and a refocusing, both of which were needed to redirect the reaction to his initial statements on the pundit’s program.
First, he acknowledged that he’s being asked to answer questions about what we need to do to “get back to normal,” something that nearly everyone can identify with. Beginning with this idea helps people lean in and connect, because they relate to the question. Beyond that, Mehmet offered a specific idea to focus on: How do we get kids safely back into school.
He further underscored that school, for many children, is not just about learning, it’s about care and food and safety. These are issues that are common and understood, offering more connection points to his way of thinking. So, while he did not necessarily address his specific comments, he did explain the context of his thinking in a way that many people can understand and identify with. This aspect of his response is an example of effective communication.