He’s not an expert, but he’s played one on television, and that’s part of the reason that Kevin Trudeau could soon be headed for federal prison.
There, as one blog comment sardonically says, he could peddle a book called “The Prison Rituals ‘They’ Don't Want You To Know About.”
Trudeau has been a fixture of late-night television, selling products and books for nearly 20 years, and for nearly as long, he has been at odds with federal regulators and the justice system over misrepresentation. His latest encounter may send him to prison for a long time.
A federal jury in Chicago convicted him Tuesday of criminal contempt of court for lying in infomercials about the contents of his eat-all-you-want diet book, “The Weight Loss Cure 'They' Don't Want You to Know About.”
Trudeau has cast himself as a TV infomercial polymath, an authority selling his expertise on hair restoration, finance and investment, memory loss, pharmaceutical treatments, and diet plans.
Nine years ago, in a consent agreement, Trudeau was barred by the Federal Trade Commission from misrepresenting the book on TV, but with a few years, the feds said, he was back on the airwaves, in half-hour infomercials that ultimately aired 32,000 times. He talked about the "easy" techniques in his book, which in fact called for prescription hormone techniques and colonic hydrotherapy, among other anything-but-easy weight-loss procedures. A jury took less than an hour to convict him of continuing to make those claims on TV in spite of an agreement not to.
Two years ago, a federal court upheld a nearly $38 million fine against Trudeau for deceptive marketing that violated that 2004 settlement with the FTC to stay off the airwaves when it came to advertising his products via infomercials.
Facing that, Trudeau filed for bankruptcy this spring, then told the courts that he couldn’t pay the fine, and the feds are carrying that case forward, too. They say he was, in fact, hiding assets, as well as running up the tab on fancy comestibles cooked up for him by two personal chefs, and driving around Chicago in a Bentley worth a third of a million bucks. He was, so it seems, buying like mad — but the federal judge wasn’t. Trudeau, a federal judge said, was “living much more like a prince than the pauper he professes to be.”
Trudeau may be the best-known pitchman in a virtual cottage industry that makes money off American optimism, paranoia and conspiracy thinking. You see the ads on the Internet too: What language professors don’t want you to know about learning Spanish. What doctors don’t want you to know about this belly-fat miracle cure. Three secrets your hair stylist is praying you don’t find out about.
It’s pretty ridiculous on the face of it. This is capitalism: An academic, a doctor who has a fast, easy, surefire way to learn a language or cure a disease or make you thin, would kick over the institutional traces in a moment and go right out and sell the “secret” for a bazillion bucks. (By the same token, journalists don’t “hide” stunning stories of misdeeds and malfeasance; if we can nail them down, they win us Pulitzer Prizes, book deals and guest spots with Oprah.)
But Trudeau knows that people want to believe it anyway, and that’s how he got rich. As NPR reported: “In a series of infomercials, Trudeau claimed the book revealed a 'miracle substance' discovered in the 1950s and kept secret by food companies and the government that allows people to eat anything, not exercise and not gain weight. In fact, the book prescribed daily exercise and a 500-calorie-a-day diet.”
But who’s going to pay blah-blah dollars in three easy installments to be told something like that? No, we all want the miracle. Most of us are sensible enough not to believe it, but there are enough of the other sort for the Kevin Trudeaus of the world to prosper.
We’re going to get a boatload of it this week and next, for the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. Millions have been made over those five decades selling conspiracy theories, some of them with serious questions raised by serious people, others just fancifully grabbing and scamming a piece of a tragedy.
Americans love feeling “in the know,” and conspiracy theories let them do that without mastering — or by ignoring — the hard work of fact-finding.
Some 9/11 conspiracy thinkers began with their own conclusions and worked backward, amplifying what seems to fit with their believes and ignoring or editing what doesn’t.
When Popular Mechanics did a brilliant, sober engineering and structural analysis of the New York terrorist attacks, and found that the science supported exactly the scenario that happened — two passenger jets took down two buildings — some in the conspiracy community had a fit.
Popular Mechanics — good ol’ Popular Mechanics — was “in” on the conspiracy too, they declared. The comments were astonishing, and someone I met who had worked there told me the calls were so abusive that she had to stop answering her phone.
No one was able to refute the science; they just didn’t like it, and therefore it had to be wrong. And whoever disagrees becomes part of the “conspiracy.”
Seriously, how many people can keep a secret? How can government, or any institution, be simultaneously incompetent and mastermind plotters?
Yeah, I think so too.
If Trudeau does finally get sent off to prison, brace yourselves for hearing that this just “proves” he was telling the truth, that “they” are there to silence “truth tellers” like him.
And because “they” have silenced him, you’ll be able to read all about it on thousands of websites and in millions of copies.
Follow Patt Morrison on Twitter @pattmlatimes