Friday, April 4, 2014

Author Imprisoned 10 Years: Weighing Freedom of Speech vs. Harmful Advice

Kevin Trudeau, a bestselling author, infomercial king, and international speaker has been sentenced to doing a dime behind bars for bilking consumers.

A decade ago, Trudeau settled a case with the FTC, agreeing to no longer appear in or produce ads selling goods or services. He was jailed this past November for criminal contempt, defying the government court order that bars him from running false ads about his book, Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About.

Trudeau aired the infomercials at least 32,000 times, prosecutors say.

Some of the alternative health claims made in his book have been proven false. In particular, the FTC said his book insisted oral calcium could cure cancer, heart disease, and other maladies.

The sad case of Trudeau raises issues about free speech, responsible speech, and speech that is criminal.

The bigger problem with books involving health is the authors, for even when well-intentioned, are limited by what they can claim simply because medicine and healthcare best practices are far from settled. Today’s a cure-all pill becomes the cause of another disease. And methods that were laughed at, such as chiropractics and acupuncture, are now embraced by Americans. So much is simply not known about the body, drugs, natural cures, mind-body connections, and the impact of our changing environment.

On the other hand, some science seems more established than other forms, in part, because of tests and long-term studies that show us consistency and results. But even in the face of concrete science, who is to say an alternate medicine can’t work in certain cases?

Authors should be free to propose new ideas, theories and approaches, but they must present them responsibly. Buyers must beware that what is published is not always the definitive truth.

But once an author has crossed the criminal line, has been called on it, and is told to clean up his act- and doesn’t -- it’s hard to generate sympathy for him.

Still, as deficient as Trudeau may be in his actions, I don’t want to see publishers curtail the publishing of new, even controversial or unprovable ideas, claims and theories. Without others pushing the envelope and challenging the status quo, how will we improve our world and put dual scrutiny not just on authors like Trudeau, but on all “experts.”

For authors one lesson is clear. You have the opportunity, oven the obligation, to write books that are controversial and filled with ideas that challenge the norms. But you also have a responsibility-- moral and legal -- to offer things you known to be true or at least don’t know to be false. Otherwise, your fate may be shared with that of Trudeau.


Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2014

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