Jewish World Review March 11, 2002 / 27 Adar, 5762
Up until a couple of weeks ago, I had not been paying much attention to this guy. I knew he appeared with regularity on the Oprah Winfrey program, and I knew he sold a lot of books. So I asked one of the producers on my TV program, "The O'Reilly Factor," to call his publisher, Simon & Schuster, and invite Dr. Phil on "The Factor."
We were turned down very quickly.
Now that's very strange because most authors, even best-selling ones, want to promote their books on well-watched news programs. The audience for news is usually very literate and affluent, and they buy hardcover books. So why would Dr. Phil turn us down? I love a good mystery.
Phil McGraw has a Ph.D. in psychology from North Texas State and was practicing in Wichita Falls, Texas, when he met Ms. Winfrey, who, at the time, was fighting a lawsuit filed by a Texas rancher. Apparently, Dr. McGraw impressed Oprah with his no-nonsense outlook, and the rest is history.
Oprah uses McGraw to analyze regular folks who have marital and relationship problems. And herein lies another problem. Even though the troubled guests freely agree to appear on "Oprah," their situations are explicitly discussed and critiqued by Dr. Phil in front of millions worldwide. A few weeks ago, a sad sack couple named Rebecca and Michael sat there talking about Michael's adultery and Rebecca's sexual hang-ups because of the betrayal. Oprah introduced the segment by saying "Dr. Phil has a message for every woman who's ever been cheated on, and he is not messing around." Indeed.
Dr. Phil dismantled the hapless Michael, at one point telling him: "They say, hey, it's just the dog in me. What can I tell you? It was there, and it was over with. But it's not over with. This is something that may have been a one-night stand for you, but it has been a two-year hell for her."
The guy was looking at his shoes, his wife glaring, the audience judging. Phil and Oprah sat side by side shaking their heads. The conversation continued until Phil told the couple to "stop blowing smoke at themselves," or something like that. The segment wrapped up with Phil saying the couple had "a lot of unfinished emotional business, and you've got to give it a voice."
Now, all of this would just be routine daytime TV fodder, if not for one unspoken element. Rebecca and Michael have school-aged children! Kids who now have to deal with everyone in their town knowing all about their parents' marital situation. Can you imagine children having to face that at school, on the playground, at scout meetings?
Do no harm?
I want to ask Dr. Phil and Oprah about the children of these dopey adults who allow themselves to be used on national television. Who is responsible if emotional damage is done to those kids? Do they get to go on "Oprah" and tell Dr. Phil about "a lot of unfinished emotional business" in their lives? What the heck is going on here?
After a bit of research, I found out that Dr. Phil is controversial among therapists. One camp sees him as an emotions hustler who has turned serious psychotherapy into a carnival sideshow. The other camp says Phil is doing a service by showing dysfunctional couples to the world and chastising them to get "real." The thinking in this camp is that some viewers may decide to seek private therapy after watching Dr. Phil in action, and that's a good thing.
I don't care. Every adult in America is responsible for his or her own decisions. If they want to be humiliated on "Oprah," fine with me. But I do care about innocent children who will be stigmatized by the foolish actions of their immature parents. And I do care that powerful people like Oprah and Dr. Phil are, apparently, ignoring the plight of these kids.
Do no harm, Dr. Phil. What say
03/04/02: Promoting the general welfare