Liars have always fascinated me. Not fibbers, so much, because almost everyone with social skills lies a little, which is something we’re all probably thankful for. After all, do you really want to know how everyone you say hi to is doing? But big liars: the type of people who make up resumes, families, and shuck stuff to millions that they know, full well, is totally made up are captivating. Clicking on the story of Kevin Trudeau–who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for lying on TV–interrupted me from analyzing our next workout program. Like many Americans, I got hooked on schlock, which got me thinking about why.
While I didn’t know him by name, I’ve been forced to answer questions about the nonsense he’s been making up for years. His fans are passionate, often vitriolic, and offer arguments that generally make very little sense. An author and TV pitchman, I guess he’s been very famous in the infomercial world for a couple of decades. Looking at his Wiki page, he’s been to jail on and off, and been in trouble more or less non-stop throughout his career. Yet he’s also a prolific author who’s been on the NY Times best seller list, mainly for health and nutrition books. I’d like to say you can’t make this stuff up but, apparently, you can.
Anyone can write a book. Anyone can make an infomercial. Anyone with a good publicist can get on TV. And, I guess, if you lie big, and it reaches enough people, some of them will believe you. They’ll even become fans who’ll go to court and fight for you.
The courtroom was packed with Trudeau supporters. One, Ed Foreman, 80, a motivational speaker from Dallas who had been a congressman for Texas and New Mexico, tried twice to make a statement in Trudeau’s support during the hearing.
Part of my job is to chronicle scientific substantiation for products we sell on TV. It actually takes a fair amount of work. While the US is far easier than any other country (we sell in many countries), they still require a modicum of proof that your products work. In fact, we are regulated to the point where we sometimes cannot use actual test group success stories because they’ve exceeded maximum claims for body composition change allowed by the FTC. So seemingly there are guidelines. And yet,
Two years later, Trudeau published a second medical book titled More Natural Cures Revealed: Previously Censored Brand Name Products That Cure Disease (ISBN 0-9755995-4-2). According to Trudeau, the book identifies brand name products that will cure myriad illnesses. Trudeau’s books claim that animals in the wild rarely develop degenerative conditions likecancer or Alzheimer’s disease, and that many diseases are caused not by viruses or bacteria, but rather by an imbalance in vital energy. Science writer Christopher Wanjek critiqued and rejected many of these claims in his July 25, 2006 LiveScience.com health column. While some experts criticized the book, it received average reviews on a number of online book stores and review sites.
Trudeau went on to publish The Weight-Loss Cure “They” Don’t Want You to Know About and Debt Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About. His writing has been commercially successful. In September 2005, Natural Cures was listed in the New York Times as the number-one-selling nonfiction book in the United States for 25 weeks. It has sold more than five million copies.
People are swayed by simple solutions; by “secrets” and “little known facts.” We love government conspiracies, where “they” are involved in to keep “us” in the dark. I get a lot of market research. I see stats showing how easy it is to push people buttons to cause a reaction. But why, I’m always asking myself, is it easier to sway people that they should drink urine or eat less than a quarter of the calories recommended by the USDA (some of Trudeau’s solutions) than to do something rationale, like exercise or eat a few vegetables? As a society have we really become this desperate? Or are we so tied up in shock value that we’re looking to believe whatever seems the least believable?
I guess the simple facts of life aren’t very sexy. For the most part, you get out of it what you put into it. Yes, it’s not always linear, or fair. But if you have reasonable moral compass, and aren’t afraid to roll up your sleeves and get to work, things have a tendency to work out okay. Which, when I think about it, is probably why our products get reviews like, “Of course it works. You’re eating healthy and working out an hour a day(sic)!”
But, like most of us, I enjoy some sensationalism. Not only did I dig into a few articles on this guy, I’m now writing about it. Liars are interesting people. I wonder how they live with themselves or, as the saying goes, sleep at night. But even more fascinating is how the public buys into them, over and over again. It’s like Bizarro world. When it comes right down to it, don’t we have enough sense to say, “c’mon, this can’t be true”? Or do we just not want to?