My mom told me I should watch The Dr. Phil Show when it first came on the air, and I have been a faithful viewer ever since. In fact, I often use Dr. Philisms when I write and speak, with my favorite and most used one being “When you choose the behavior, you choose the consequences.” When Libby (my cat) and I took our cross-country trip in 2018, I was excited to go to the show in LA, where I sat about ten feet away from Dr. Phil’s wife Robin during the taping of two separate episodes. The studio has flat screen TV’s on the knee walls between sections of the audience, and I found myself watching the show on the TV in front of me instead of looking up at the stage where the show actually was. It was surreal. I’ve enjoyed watching him because he usually dispenses common-sense advice (given that common sense isn’t so common anymore) to people willing to air their dysfunctional lives and families on national television.
Dr. Phil has mostly managed to keep his political opinions and affiliation separate from the show, as he should. Honestly, knowing for sure that he’s a died-in-the-wool Republican who supports Trump will forever taint my view of him and make it harder for me to see past that knowledge. Yesterday, Dr. Phil went on Fox ‘News’ and said things that force me to re-evaluate my high opinion of this man from Texas.
Here’s the rub, though. If Dr. Phil, a 69-year-old male and a known diabetic who is a member of the demographic group most at risk of a fatal outcome from Covid-19, really believes that he’s being harmed by sheltering in his 5-bedroom, 6-bath, 6,170 square-foot home with an in-ground pool, more art than the Met, an entire wall of guns on a half-acre of property (my house is on more than an acre), then he should walk outside and mingle with the little people out in the rest of the world, sans PPE.
Phil McGraw is a psychologist, and, although given the title of ‘doctor’, he is not a physician. Psychologists do have to obtain a bachelor’s degree, followed by a master’s and doctoral programs, which Wikipedia shows Phil did, graduating in 1979, but he is not a medical doctor. In fact, he is no longer a licensed psychologist, having voluntarily surrendered his Texas license to practice in 2006. He has not hidden his unlicensed status from his viewers, and most of the guests on the show are offered actual mental health services with licensed personnel throughout the country paid for by the show.
His “I’m just an old Texas boy” character is a big part of his appeal, at least for me, and his show has occasionally aired subjects that seemed to reflect a right-wing perspective. He doesn’t hesitate to let us know that he’s a Christian, although I would prefer he keep his personal faith, well, personal. To those of us who have recovered from religion, there is no benefit to his talking about how he’s got a personal savior in Jesus. In fact, I find it offensive when celebrities like Phil McGraw think we care one way or the other about their religious choices. If he doesn’t want to hear about my atheism, then he shouldn’t tell me about his god.
All those things were of no significance to my devotion to his show. My DVR has been set to record every new episode for years – in fact, it’s the first show on my list – and I’ve watched them all, usually the same day they air. It’s been frustrating during this pandemic, because the Philadelphia station that carries his syndicated show has been pre-empting portions for local Covid-19 news conferences, so his filmed-from-his-house shows haven’t been available in their entirety. I find myself distracted by the stuff in the room behind him (what is that red thing in the corner of the counter over his shoulder???) and keep wondering how much countertop you have when you can cover so much counter with stuff. Then I think about how much time someone has to spend dusting all the stuff in the kitchen alone. Having seen photos of his eclectically decorated home, I also question his insistence that Robin is keeping that house clean. There’s no way in hell that Robin is the one cleaning that stuff – she’d never have the time to do anything else, and would never be able to leave the house. My mom used to tell me the way you know that a house is more than you can afford is when the first thing you think about is how long it will take you to keep it clean! Those with money don’t have to worry about cleaning – they just pay someone else to do the work for them. It must be nice.
Yesterday Dr. Phil revealed both his political ideology and his ignorance, two things that now force me to reconsider my devotion to his show. I saw a clip of his Fox appearance on MSNBC last night, and today my daughter Anna made sure I didn’t miss him making an ass of himself. At first, I tried to convince myself that maybe it was from a few months ago, before the fecal matter hit the air-moving device, but reality’s a bitch, so I was forced to acknowledge that Phil has revealed a part of himself by both appearing on Fox ‘News’ in the first place and then saying things that clearly have nothing to do with anything as it regards this highly contagious virus we are trying to keep from killing hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens.
For someone who purports to be wise and knowledgeable, his comparison of the Covid-19 pandemic to pool drownings, cancer or car accidents was beyond dangerous. I’m not sure how Phil concluded that the loss of life from Covid-19, which has taken more than 33,000 Americans to date, can be equated to those lost by non-contagious illness and accident. Surely, even though he never went to medical school, Phil McGraw can intellectually understand that a highly contagious virus with a significant mortality rate (especially among older men with comorbidities) that has no effective treatment or vaccine cannot be allowed to just spread unchecked throughout the population, overwhelming the healthcare system and leading to even more deaths because of a lack of ventilators and ICU beds in the interest of getting back to business as usual, right? RIGHT?
The financial problems facing the citizens of this country could be addressed by a functional federal government led by a president who gives a damn about someone other than himself. Instead of pointing out how destructive this ‘lockdown’ is on people’s mental health and finances, maybe Dr. Phil could have pointed out how the Trump administration is failing to help out the neediest among us while they give more tax breaks to people in his own income bracket. Or maybe he could use his significant wealth and platform to help those most in need, instead of giving Trump’s state tv another sound bite to support their anti-science platform. Even better, he could use his private plane to fly around the world, gathering PPE for the healthcare workers on the front lines and flying it back to the US for distribution.
Phil McGraw is not a doctor – he’s a retired psychologist without any relevant experience or knowledge about infectious diseases – and he has overstepped his bounds with this Fox appearance. Opinions are like assholes – everybody has one, and they should keep both of them out of the public eye! Phil can be unhappy about the situation in which we now find ourselves, but he should not be publicizing his opinions in this atmosphere of political polarization and the demonization of experts. His appearance last night on Fox has revealed that Phil McGraw’s common sense isn’t so common anymore. So go on out, Dr. Phil. Walk amongst the unclean, go to a homeless shelter or maybe an ICU full of Covid-19 patients, and breathe in the air, unmasked. Then go back home and share what you’ve acquired without washing your hands or changing your clothes with your wife, your sons, and your grandchildren. Which one of them will you sacrifice to restart the economy? If you’re unwilling to offer up one of your own on the altar of capitalism, shut the fuck up about getting everyone else back to work. You’ve lost a devoted fan by revealing your callous disregard for your fellow citizens.
I suspect I’m not alone.
When you choose the behavior, you choose the consequences.