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Sunday, April 5, 2009

What Kevin Trudeau doesn't want you to know

You've probably seen master huckster Kevin Trudeau on TV, pushing his book "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You to Know About." Some of the most worthless garbage ever!

The author of the bestselling "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You to Know About" claims to be a consumer advocate in the Ralph Nader mold. But the infomercial king just wants your cash.

Many a late-night channel surfer has been numbed to sleep by endless infomercials hawking ab machines, penis enlargers, psychic readings and baldness cures. But how about a 30-minute faux talk show featuring a slick "expert author" who promises natural cures for cancer, diabetes and chronic fatigue syndrome and who claims that the FDA, drug companies and food industry have withheld such cures from the public in order to keep making bigger and bigger profits?

Step right up folks, and tune in to the paranoid world of master huckster Kevin Trudeau, whose book "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You to Know About" has climbed to the top spot on the New York Times bestseller list for advice titles. The Federal Trade Commission virtually banned Trudeau from the airwaves in an attempt to "shut down an infomercial empire that has misled American consumers for years." But by shifting his business model from selling supposed cure-all products to peddling books, which are protected by the First Amendment, Trudeau has been able to slip past federal regulators and continue to sell snake oil to the masses -- first through his infomercial and now via mainstream book retailers like Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

Reno R. Rollé, an executive consultant who handles U.S. retail and international distribution for "Natural Cures," says the book has sold nearly 3 million copies since the infomercial debuted in September 2004, and he sees no end in sight to its success. "No one knows where this thing is going to max out. We're just printing as many books as we can," Rollé says. "We're poised to make history here. What we're doing could revolutionize the book publishing industry."

Even before hitting the bestseller list, Trudeau, who is in his early 40s, had built a billion-dollar empire as a prolific infomercialteer, selling various health and self-improvement products under the cover of night. This despite a two-year stint in federal prison in the early '90s after pleading guilty to credit card fraud, and a 1996 tangle with the Illinois attorney general, who accused him of running a pyramid scheme while working for a health-products company called Nutrition for Life. Trudeau and a co-defendant settled that case, paying $185,000 to Illinois and seven other states; during that time, the U.S. Postal Service and Securities and Exchange Commission also investigated his business dealings.

A close look at Trudeau's later run-in with the FTC, in 1998, during which he and seven cohorts were accused of making "false or unsubstantiated" claims in advertisements on radio and television infomercials, sheds much needed light on his character and says a lot about how seriously (or not) we should take "Natural Cures." Ads for the "Sable Hair Farming System," Trudeau's own "Mega Memory System," "Doctor Callahan's Addiction Breaking System," "Action Reading," "Eden's Secret Nature's Purifying Product" and "Howard Berg's Mega Reading" all came under scrutiny they could not withstand.

"We're going to be sharing Dr. Callahan's revolutionary breakthrough that he discovered while studying quantum physics," the addiction infomercial went, before claiming that the system cured compulsive eating, as well as alcohol, cocaine and heroin addiction, and led to weight loss without dieting or exercise. "This technique will take 60 seconds to apply and works virtually 100 percent of the time," the FTC noted as another claim. It said that the "videotape sold in the infomercial showed Dr. Callahan demonstrating his technique -- a series of gestures, including tapping the face, chest and hand; rolling the eyes; and humming, which, if mimicked, were the supposed addiction cure." The claims were false, according to the FTC.

Another Trudeau product, "Howard Berg's Mega Reading," offered a home study program guaranteed to boost reading speed and comprehension 10 times over. "I have a letter here from a girl who has brain damage," Berg confided in another infomercial. "She was in a car accident and half her brain stopped functioning. It was electrically dead." According to the FTC, "he then claimed that after using his system for a brief period -- as long as a coffee break -- her reading speed increased from three to 600 words per minute..." Not surprisingly, the FTC deemed the Berg program bogus as well.

And Trudeau's own "Mega Memory System," which asserted that everyone has an innate photographic memory that could be tapped into with his help, was unmasked too. To show how fraudulent the system was, the FTC cited snippets of the infomercial, such as: "Kevin Trudeau's breakthrough techniques were developed while working with blind and mentally handicapped students. Their recall ability increased from 15% to 90% in just 5 days," as well as the infomercial's claim that the system was "guaranteed to work for you."

In the end, Trudeau settled the case; he was fined $500,000 in consumer redress and warned against making false product claims in the future. But this didn't deter him. In 2003, the FTC charged Trudeau once more, this time citing another product, Coral Calcium Supreme. The FTC argued that claims made in Trudeau's infomercial by Dr. Robert "Bob" Barefoot that calcium derived from coral reefs near Okinawa, Japan, could treat or cure cancer and other ills -- such as multiple sclerosis and heart disease -- went far beyond existing scientific evidence concerning the health benefits of calcium. Trudeau settled that case as well. But this time, in addition to being fined $2 million, he was also banned from "appearing in, producing, or disseminating future infomercials that advertise any type of product, service, or program to the public" forever.

Afterward, Trudeau loudly complained that the FTC was censoring him and started a Web site called The Whistleblower, on which he tries to fashion himself as a new Ralph Nader -- a selfless consumer advocate opposing powerful institutions and defending regular folk. But Trudeau's claims of persecution and martyrdom are hard to swallow for many. "He wasn't censored -- that's just total fantasy," says Dr. Stephen Barrett, a health-fraud expert who runs a network of watchdog Web sites, including Quackwatch. "What's happened is that he's just not allowed to sell products with false claims. That's the only censorship going on."

"Trudeau is the undisputed king of false infomercial advertising," he continues. Barrett's alarm over Trudeau's tactics heightened with the coral calcium infomercial. "It was just one lie after another, all orchestrated by Trudeau," Barrett says. He isn't any more impressed by Trudeau's current infomercial for the bestselling "Natural Cures 'They' Don't Want You to Know About."

The book, which Trudeau self-published, is a paranoid mixture of self-evident and widely known health facts with very few, if any, natural cures. It is almost amusingly campy -- except that the information is so odd, and alarmist. "Natural Cures" is poorly sourced and peppered with jaw-dropping absurdities, such as "The sun does not cause cancer. Sun block has been shown to cause cancer" or "All over-the-counter nonprescription drugs and prescription drugs CAUSE illness and disease." Or, this tribute to logic and language: "If you read the labels of everything you put in your mouth, you would see the name [sic] of various chemicals. All the chemicals listed are dangerous man-made chemicals. They are poisons. If you were to take any of those chemicals and ingest a large amount at one time, you would probably die. Therefore they are in fact poisons."

His prose style mimics the gibberish favored by online spam advertisements, and he frequently uses SCREAM CAPS to emphasize OBVIOUS POINTS. At one point, Trudeau implies that he was an undercover government agent and that, because of his inside knowledge, the government and powerful corporations are out to get him -- though he doesn't share what any of his highly prized knowledge is. And always lurking somewhere is the nefarious "They" of the book's title -- the FDA and the FTC, who are in cahoots with the drug companies, which hold back the real natural cures because they won't make any money if you're healthy.

On every page, he stokes the paranoia and anger generated by recent high-profile corporate and government scandals, as well as the ire against the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries. But don't worry, not only will his book save you, but you can also go to his Web site, NaturalCures.com, for more information and for the "real cures," all for a lifetime membership of $499 or a monthly fee of just $9.95. In essence, the infomercial sells the book, which sells the Web site --which nets Trudeau tons of money.

But there's nothing strictly illegal about Trudeau and "Natural Cures." Heather Hippsley, assistant director for the division of advertising practices at the FTC, who supervised the commission's case against Trudeau, explains: "Books are fully protected speech. He can author a book and voice his opinions ... The line is: Informational materials, OK. Products and services, banned."

Peer-review systems -- like the one in place on Amazon.com -- do their best work in warning potential buyers of bad or faulty products. On the Amazon site, over 500 people have weighed in on "Natural Cures" so far. Yet, although reviews have been almost overwhelmingly negative -- in Amazon's "star rating" scheme, the book is averaging a two -- sales haven't slowed. Despite headlines like "'Scams they don't want you to know about"; "Trudeau is worse than the drug companies!"; "Left feeling totally duped"; "Natural Cures he Contiunous [sic] Not to Tell U About"; and "The Book Just Simply Sucks," "Natural Cures" hovers at the top of the Amazon bestseller list week after week.

Indeed, all the negative Amazon reviews in the world probably won't keep people from checking out "Natural Cures." "What's driving sales is not people buying the book but people buying the infomercial," says Sam Catanese, president and CEO of Infomercial Monitoring Service, which tracks the direct-response television marketing industry. In fact, according to Catanese's data, "Natural Cures" was recently the most-run infomercial on television -- 139 times in one week. (The runner-up was a distant second, appearing 96 times.)

Read the full article on Salon.com

"What Kevin Trudeau doesn't want you to know"
By Christopher Dreher
Jul 29, 2005