Barbara Walters…A Missed Opportunity

‘Barbara Walters Special: A Matter of Life and Death’

A Review by J. Morris Hicks of this ABC special that aired on 2-4-11

Barbara Walters

Expecting so much more, I was very disappointed with the Barbara Walters’ special that aired on Friday night.  The good news is that Barbara made millions of people aware of the horrors of heart surgery and has no doubt influenced thousands to get a medical check-up that might very well save their life.  The bad news is that she didn’t take the opportunity to tell them how easily heart disease can be reversed.

While watching the recording on Saturday morning, I kept thinking — they’re going to show all these celebs going through this horrible surgery, then they’re going to wrap up with Bill Clinton talking about the 99+% heart disease reversing success rate of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn’s simple, yet powerful, plant-based diet-style. Wrong.

Clinton briefly talked about his plant-based diet earlier in the show and then right near the end, said that people need to know that their heart disease is reversible if they’re willing to change their diet.  But not many details, no follow-up questions by Barbara and no mention whatsoever of doctors Esselstyn, Ornish or Campbell.

This special will be a real boon for the cardiologists of the world for the next few months; people who’ve never had a check-up will be making appointments and thousands of new heart patients will be recruited.  Some of them may even ask their new cardiologist what Clinton was talking about on the “special” in terms of changing their diet.

Of course, their new doc won’t know how to answer that question or he’ll say something lame like, “Well, we’ve found that most people aren’t willing to make the extreme changes needed to reverse the damage.”  The doc may also consider the fact that if he told that patient about the near 100% success rate that Dr. Esselstyn has posted at The Cleveland Clinic, that he might very well lose the patient….and that his future earnings would suffer.

Bill Clinton making a point about his “plant-based” diet to Wolf Blitzer on CNN. You can see this video on the Video tab of this website.

The good news is that out of the millions of people that saw this show, thousands of them will do internet searches and many of them may even learn about “that Cleveland Clinic guy” that Bill Clinton mentioned on the Wolf Blitzer Show on CNN back in October.  The sad thing is that most will not go that route and will soon be joining the “cracked chest club” they mentioned on the special last night.

On Saturday afternoon, I got to thinking about what kind of advertisers had paid for that show.  So, on Sunday morning, I did a careful “ad analysis” of the entire show — making a list of all of the program’s advertisers.  Here is the summary of my Sunday morning analysis:

  1. Beginning with the first break and continuing until the last commercial immediately following the show, there were a total of 33 ads.
  2. A total of seven food ads.  None of the advertised foods would be acceptable in the health-promoting diet that Bill Clinton would be eating on his current heart-disease reversing diet.
  3. The second ad of the first break was for the Chipotle Angus Third Pounder from McDonalds — packing 760 calories, 41 g. of fat, 17 g. of saturated fat, 2 g. of trans fats, 140 mg. of cholesterol, 1760 mg of sodium, and deriving 49% of its calories from fat — a classic example of perhaps the least healthy food that you could possibly eat — and a very efficient promoter of heart disease.
  4. In addition to the McDonald’s ad, there were three for chicken, one for popcorn and one for Kellogg Eggo Waffles…the last two being the least damaging of the six.
  5. There were two Perdue Chicken ads in the final break; one on either side of an ad for the Hartford Hospital for all your heart attack needs.
  6. A total of four drug ads:  the ones with the very short positive message followed by a long list of warnings.

Early in the show, right after Barbara returned home following her surgery, she said that her doctors had told her to gain weight, so she started “stuffing herself with baloney sandwiches and hotdogs almost every day.”  Bill Clinton talked about his heart-disease reversing plant-based diet during a short clip in the second half of the show, but Barbara asked no follow-up questions.  Sadly, many people will naturally assume that baloney and hotdogs are “heart-healthy.”  Not.

Then, just before the show ended, Barbara asked Clinton what advice he would give both to men and women.  He said “You should know that if you’re prepared to change your diet, you can probably reverse heart blockage if it’s not too far along; and if you’re in critical condition, you may have to have by-pass surgery.”  Not once did Barbara ask for any details about his powerful dietary regimen that reverses heart disease.

So what did the average middle-age viewer think after viewing the show?  What type of action will the show stimulate?  I am thinking that this well-done special will probably be a boon for the huge business that has been built around coronary artery disease: cardiologists, hospitals and related staffs, the statin drug producers, and the health insurance companies.  Wait a minute, how do the insurance companies benefit from heart disease?  Simple, they get a piece of the pie…and the bigger the pie, the more they get.

Bottom line for me:  Although the show fell way short of my expectations, there is some good news here.

  1. Bill Clinton mentioned his plant-based, heart disease-reversing diet twice.
  2. Millions of people saw the gruesome horrors of the actual surgery involved.
  3. Selected content from this episode will find its way into many of my blogs, speeches and future books.
  4. A few hundred people will discover Dr. Esselstyn’s heart disease-reversing program at the Wellness Institute of the Cleveland Clinic.
  5. I have become even more inspired to share my powerful message to as many people as possible for as long as I live.

But how many more lives could have been saved if the viewer had been told the details of Clinton’s diet and the track record of Esselstyn’s Program? And if they had learned that the program costs less than $1,000; the diet is simple and inexpensive and produces a host of health benefits beyond heart disease?  People need to be told all of the facts, so that they can then decide if the diet-style is too “extreme” for them and that they would prefer having their chest sawed open.  As Dr. Esselstyn says, “heart disease is a toothless paper tiger that need never exist…and if it does exist, it need never progress.”

Handy 4-piece take-charge-of-your-health kit—from

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Blogging daily at…from the seaside village of Stonington, Connecticut – Be well and have a great day.

—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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1 Response to Barbara Walters…A Missed Opportunity

  1. Kit Slitor says:

    Morris Hicks is right on in his assessment. The problem with our media is that the sponsors often have economic interests which are counter to positive social or behavioral changes. Even “hospital food” is usually not only bland and bad tasting, but downright bad nutritionally. I can imagine a bypass patient waking up to be served Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes with gravy, salt and butter. The entire food industry depends on expanding its profits by promoting “recreational eating” so that people are encouraged to “eat out” with a table of friends, even if they aren’t hungry. “Fun food” and “tasty food” is packed with animal fat, salt, sugar, bread crumbs, weird preservatives, etc. A whole paradigm shift needs to occur, folks need to change sources of their media to get new, truthful and helpful information. Thank goodness for the Internet and this wonderful blog, because it tells you what you need to know. Morris Hicks seems to be a moral person with no agenda to line your arteries with fat and plaque.

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