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Dr Phil: From selling out Britney Spears to weight loss scams, the TV host has outraged America before

Over his nearly 20-year career, Dr Phil has raised an eyebrow or two for multiple reasons
UPDATED APR 18, 2020
Dr Phil McGraw (Getty Images)
Dr Phil McGraw (Getty Images)

As the country battles the coronavirus pandemic, talk show host Dr Phil McGraw — Oprah Winfrey's protege and a former psychologist — has once again made headlines with unnecessary comments that could be more harmful than otherwise.

Dr Phil appeared on Fox News's 'The Ingraham Angle' on April 16 and expressed his disappointment at the country shutting down because of the virus. He noted that the United States does not shut down every year due to deaths from car accidents or smoking and in doing so, Dr Phil used incorrect statistics to make his point.

However, this is not the first time Dr Phil has mired himself in controversy. Over his nearly 20-year career, Dr Phil has raised an eyebrow or two for multiple reasons. Moreover, while Dr Phil listens to his guests and offers advice, he is not a licensed psychologist and cannot legally practice in the state of California.

According to an investigation by Salon, in 1988, Sara Jane Morrison — Dr Phil's then-19-year-old client — alleged that he carried on an unprofessional sexual relationship with her, would touch her inappropriately, and intentionally kept her "totally dependent" on him.

The TV "therapist" has many more scandals surrounding him and his show and over the years, many lawsuits have been filed against him too. Let's take a look at some of his biggest scandals that outraged America.

Britney Spears

In 2008, when Britney Spears was hospitalized after suffering from a highly publicized mental health breakdown, Dr Phil visited the pop star and spoke to the media about it, drawing criticism from mental health professionals and Spears' family.

Dr Phil visited her during her psychiatric hold on Spears' family's request to come in "as a resource to support them, not to go out and make public statements". However, he immediately issued a public statement about the singer's "dire" situation and hoped to get her and her parents to take part in an intervention on his show.

Spears' family complained that he had violated their trust and potentially caused additional psychological damage. The family's statement continued, "Any statements publicly that he made because he was brought in under this cloak of trust, are just inappropriate. We feel like, to set the record straight, we need to say that." 

He later apologized — not for visiting Spears, but for making the visit public.

Dr Phillip McGraw attends the 2016 CBS Upfront at The Plaza on May 18, 2016, in New York City (Getty Images)

Alleged weight loss products scam

Dr Phil launched his weight loss business in 2003, endorsing shakes, energy bars and supplements under the 'Shape Up' brand on his show as well as in his books. The products claimed to contain scientifically researched ingredients that could help people change behavior and take control of their weight. 

Dr Phil then came under criticism and investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for lacking the expertise to recommend weight loss products. Three disgruntled customers also filed a lawsuit against Dr Phill, accusing him of making false and misleading statements.

The FTC eventually dropped the investigation after the products were discontinued. Dr Phil denied any wrongdoing and reached a $10.5M settlement agreement with the plaintiffs.

The #100outOf100 controversy

In March 2019, Dr Phil interviewed a woman and her quadriplegic boyfriend and offered them this advice: "You can either be his lover or you can be his caregiver, but you can’t be both…100 out of 100 times, this won’t work."

He was immediately called out for his comments as people with disabilities and their spouses and partners spoke up, defying Dr Phil’s #100outof100 claims with reflections on love and caregiving. Many viral videos were also created to prove Dr Phil wrong.

Teen beating case

In 2008, a producer for Dr Phil's talk show posted bail worth $3,300 on behalf of a teenage girl who led seven other girls in viciously beating up another girl and this was videotaped. The producers bailed the 17-year-old out so she could participate in the taping of a one-hour show devoted to the incident. 

The show was later canceled after news about the bail was leaked. “In this case certain staffers went beyond our guidelines,” a spokesperson for the show said. “We have decided not to go forward with the story as our guidelines have been compromised.”

Dr Phil McGraw and his wife Robin McGraw attend the ceremony honoring Dr Phil with a star on The Hollywood Walk Of Fame on February 21, 2020, in Hollywood, California (Getty Images)

'Cruel' interview of Shelley Duvall

In 2016, Dr Phil came under fire from celebrities and mental health experts when he interviewed 'The Shining' actress, Shelley Duvall, who suffers from mental illness. The then 67-year-old Duvall appeared disheveled and rambled nonsensically during the interview. She conceded she was “very sick” and also spoke about the late actor Robin Williams still being alive and how aliens were implanted in her leg. 

Stanley Kubrick's daughter Vivian Kubrick denounced the interview, calling it "appallingly cruel" and an "exploitation". Ronan Farrow and Al Roker also called out Dr Phil over the incident. 

Drunk sex Tweet

In 2013, Dr Phil tweeted from his personal account, "If a girl is drunk, is it OK to have sex with her? Reply yes or no to @drphil #teenaccused." It was subsequently deleted, but not before folks lashed out at the TV doc for making such an inquiry.

"@DrPhil By law, when alcohol is a factor, no one can consent. Don't know what's happening to you? It's rape period," tweeted one user. Another wrote, "Telling that @DrPhil finds a "Should you rape? Yes/no?" question open to debate." One more user wrote, "@DrPhil The answer is No, Never you jackass. And then you kick whoever asked you in the throat."

Intoxicating Todd Herzog

A joint investigative report from Stat and The Boston Globe revealed that multiple former guests on 'Dr Phil' who appeared seeking help for their addictions alleged that staffers instead enabled their issues.

'Survivor' winner Todd Herzog, who was battling alcoholism, claims that he was sober when he arrived on set for an appearance in 2013, only to find a small bottle of vodka in the dressing room. After he guzzled it, he said, someone gave him a Xanax, saying it would help ease his nerves. He was so inebriated during filming that he had to be helped onto the stage by Dr Phil and several other staff members.