Marty Becker responds to 20/20 report
Editor's note: In the wake of the 20/20 report that aired Friday, Nov. 22, celebrity veterinarian Marty Becker, DVM, submitted this statement to dvm360 (for more reaction from the veterinary community, and to watch the segment, click here):
For many years, there have been two things most people knew about me as a veterinarian:
1) That I was a strong advocate for our beloved profession; and
2) That I appeared regularly on ABC-TV’s Good Morning America.
After my appearance on an unfair and biased 20/20 segment last week, I don’t know what makes me feel more sad and angry: that shoddy news-reporting practices turned a 90-minute interview into an indictment of our profession or that it was ABC-TV that used a fragment of my own interview to do so.
Actually, I do know. My lifetime of strong advocacy for people, pets and our profession has been questioned because of what happened. That hurts me the most by far, and it has me wondering how I could have changed things.
The days since that segment aired have been some of the worst days in my professional life, but I’m not sure I could have changed what happened. When you have been in the media for as long as I have, you know full well that news organizations aren’t on “your side.” They’re not supposed to be, of course, but they are supposed to present both sides accurately and truthfully.
I was on 20/20 to advocate for the best practices in veterinary medicine, and in my interview that’s exactly what I did. But of course, as we all know now, that’s not what ended up on the air.
I was also going to be talking about how to save money without shortchanging your pet, a topic I’ve written about many times, including in my two most recent books and in articles for Parade magazine, the AARP’s website and for my own syndicated column. Those tips did not cover avoiding veterinarians or questioning their recommendations, but rather offered common-sense advice for home care such as keeping pets at ideal body weight, administering parasite control, providing daily oral care, giving frequent baths and receiving vaccinations as needed based on veterinary guidelines and guidance.
I was told that the segment would be about “veterinary secrets,” and these were the “secrets” I shared. In the 90 minutes I was interviewed I talked about the importance of regular veterinary exams, why we want to catch disease early on in a period of grace, how important preventive care is, and how we need to do more testing to get an accurate diagnosis before we prescribe a treatment plan.
I was concerned that the interviewers kept coming back to a variation of the same question: the idea that dental care is an “upsell.” It didn’t matter how many times I corrected that impression, they came back to it. They finally had their “gotcha” when I answered this question honestly:
"If you had a young dog that had been examined by a respected veterinarian and found to be perfectly healthy, would you recommend yearly teeth cleaning under anesthesia?"
The 30 seconds or so that followed was, from their point of view, the only “good” part of my interview. They put my answer into their context that veterinarians routinely push care where none is needed. That idea, of course, completely misses the point of what I had said in the rest of the interview, and the point, as well, of wellness and preventive care. If preventive and wellness care isn’t a good thing, why do we go to our own dentists and doctors for wellness care? You and I and the best-informed of our clients understand this, but it seems to be a concept too difficult for the people at ABC’s 20/20 to grasp.
But they should have been able to. Before their “gotcha” clip I’d told them how the majority of pets have periodontal disease by the age of 4. And how anesthesia is necessary to clean a pet’s teeth, and why the American Animal Hospital Association recognized that with their recent recommendations.
I was a little concerned when I walked out of the studio, and I said as much to my friend and colleague Dr. Robin Downing, whom I’d happily met up with when we realized we were both in New York City together for an event. But I knew what I’d said in my interview and hoped that I’d done my part to explain why what may seem like an “upsell” is anything but. I was expecting that the segment would not be exactly what I personally wanted to see, but I never imagined how I’d be used to support something I do not believe in.
So what now? There’s nothing I can do to change what they did: They knew what they were doing when they did it, and that’s a fact. And maybe it would have been even worse had I not been involved, but I don’t know that for sure. I do know that as horrified, saddened and angry as I’ve been with the story, I have been uplifted upon hearing from many of my colleagues who have stood by me. Some, like Dr. Downing and Dr. Ernie Ward, knew exactly what had happened and offered their support personally and publicly. Others accepted my explanation and then stood behind me.
What’s done is done, and what will happen now is this: I will go on as I always have, using all my media platforms (more than 200,000 followers on Facebook alone) to inform pet owners about the good work we do and what good medicine is so they recognize it when they see it. The 20/20 segment is a bump on the road of my lifelong journey, and I will not let it slow me down.
That 20/20 piece, like every shoddy piece of reporting we’ve ever seen, will soon be forgotten. Not soon enough for me, not soon enough for you. But before we put it behind us, we should use our sadness and our anger to stiffen our resolve to keep on doing what we’re doing: Keeping pets healthy with the cutting-edge care our patients deserve and educating pet owners so they understand why this is so important to us as doctors, in keeping with the oath we swore when we entered our profession.