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Dr. Phil's guest drug abuse scandal: Latest in history of lawsuits and allegations of unethical conduct
Contra Costa Times - 12/30/2017
Dec. 30--Dr. Phil, who first became a celebrity psychologist on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," and his daytime talk show and rehab business empire have long been lashed by lawsuits, allegations of unethical conduct and controversies involving guests and troubled celebrities such as Britney Spears and Shelley Duvall.
Nonetheless, Dr. Phil -- whose full name is Phillip McGraw -- has managed to more than thrive with his tough-love, "tell it like it is" persona.
He's marketed his no-nonsense advice to phenomenal success with his eponymous daytime talk show, his books, his recovery program and his other media appearances, including with his long-time friend and mentor Ophah Winfey.
These days, McGraw, 67, is America's best-known TV doctor and highest-paid daytime personality, earning $79 million in 2017, according to Forbes. The American Psychological Association in 2006 also presented McGraw with its presidential citation, saying his "work has touched more Americans than any other living psychologist."
But could the McGraw Teflon finally wear off with the latest scandal that broke Thursday?
A joint investigation by the Boston Globe and the medical news site Stat has chronicled new and disturbing allegations of treatment of guests who came to McGraw for help with substance abuse struggles.
The expose presents accounts from multiple guests on his syndicated show who say their addictions were enabled by members of McGraw's staff in hopes of boosting ratings.
Todd Herzog, who struggled with alcohol abuse in the years after winning "Survivor," said that when he arrived at the Dr. Phil Los Angeles studio in 2013, he found a bottle of vodka in his dressing room and was given a Xanax to "calm his nerves." Herzog had to be carried on set before his sit-down with McGraw, and registered a .263 blood alcohol content -- more than three times the legal limit.
The health and welfare of other guests was put at risk by staff members, who allegedly played a role in their search for drugs, family members told the Globe and Stat reporters. The investigation also looked into the level of medical care guests with addiction issues received while filming in Los Angeles, as well as McGraw's relationship with the treatment centers his guests are often referred to. Centers that buy "Dr. Phil's Path to Recovery" have been promoted on the "Dr. Phil" show.
McGraw declined to comment on the report, but Martin Greenberg, the show's director of professional affairs, described the claims as "absolutely, unequivocally untrue."
A spokesman for the show issued a statement to People on Friday, saying the article "does not fairly or accurately describe the methods of Dr. Phil, the TV show, or its mission to educate millions of viewers about drug and alcohol addiction."
The statement also said that addicts "often lash out at the very people who are trying the hardest to help them break the cycle of addiction." The show vowed to pursue its commitment to "educate and inform" the public about addiction.
No other word came from McGraw's camp or his production company Friday, so it's unknown what if any actions will follow the Boston Globe and Stat report. CBS Television Distribution is the distributor of "The Dr. Phil Show." (He and his son Jay McGraw have also entered into a deal with CBS Television Studios to develop new scripted broadcast and streaming series, Variety reported. )
But in light of this new report, it's fair to look at McGraw's past controversies and question if and how they belong to a long pattern of behavior. Here's a summary of the most notable scandals:
First wife: Dr. Phil was domineering, unfaithful
McGraw, an Okhaloma-born college football player, married ex-cheerleader and homecoming queen Debbie Higgins McCall in 1970 when both were 20 years old. In a 2002 interview with the Kansas City Star, McCall said that during their marriage, which was annulled in 1973, McGraw was domineering, unfaithful and wouldn't allow her to participate in a health spa he had built and owned. She claimed that he demanded she confine herself to domestic duties but also lift weights to bulk up her bustline. "When I confronted him about his infidelities, he didn't deny these girls and told me that it had nothing to do with his feelings toward me, to grow up, that's the way it was in the world," McCall said.
Stealing material from a former colleague for his show?
The entrepreneurial McGraw, who received a Ph.D. in clinical psychology in 1979 at the University of North Texas, teamed up with Texas businesswoman Thelma Box, who presented motivational seminars, according to "The Making of Dr. Phil," an unauthorized biography, which outlines "some dark periods" of his history, Salon reported. Critics claim that many of the phrases and the terminology McGraw later used on Oprah Winfrey and on his own show were coined by the businesswoman. While Box was hesitant to criticize McGraw to the biographers, she expressed alarm that he never mentioned her name or gave her credit in his books, on his show or in interviews about his background.
Investigated for a sexually inappropriate relationship with a client
A former therapy client of McGraw's filed a complaint in the late 1980s with the Texas State Board of Examiners of Psychologists, alleging that the psychologist carried on a controlling and sometimes sexually inappropriate relationship with her, Salon reported, citing "The Making of Dr. Phil" and other investigative articles. The client was 19 years old at the time, and alleges that McGraw touched her inappropriately, insisted that she check in with him often, and kept her "totally dependent" on him. McGraw eventually settled the case with the board, which issued a letter of reprimand and ordered that he undergo a year of supervision and an ethics class, according to documents from the Texas board.
Oprah Winfrey's "creation"
After the Texas licensing board's ruling, McGraw closed his private practice and entered into the business of trial consulting, where he took on Winfrey as a client when she was defending herself against libel charges from Texas cattlemen.
She was so impressed with his approach to life coaching that she invited him to appear on her show. That event was so successful that he began appearing on her show weekly in 1998. Dr. Phil launched his own show in 2002, debuting to the highest ratings of any new syndicated show since the premiere of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" 16 years earlier, according to Oprah.com. In 2015, the Oprah Winfrey Network shared a 2003 conversation between the two about "How Oprah Created Dr. Phil."
Alleged weight loss products scam
In 2003, McGraw entered the weight loss business, endorsing shakes, energy bars and supplements under the "Shape Up" brand on his show and in his books. The products claimed to contain scientifically researched ingredients that could help people change behavior and take control of their weight. McGraw came under criticism and investigation by the Federal Trade Commission for lacking the expertise to recommend weight loss products. Three disgruntled dieters also filed a lawsuit against McGraw, accusing him of making false and misleading statements. The plaintiffs alleged that they lost money on the plan, while dropping no pounds. The FTC eventually dropped its probe after the products were discontinued. McGraw, while denying any wrongdoing, reached a $10.5 million settlement agreement with the plaintiffs, the Associated Press and other outlets reported.
Defamation lawsuit in Natalee Holloway case
McGraw was named as a co-defendant, along with CBS Television, in a 2006 lawsuit filed by two brothers who were considered suspects in the unsolved disappearance of Alabama teen Natalee Holloway, the Associated Press reported. The brothers claimed that their 2005 interview with McGraw was "manipulated" in a way that portrayed them as being involved in her disappearance on the island of Aruba. McGraw and CBS denied any wrongdoing. The case was finally dismissed in 2015, one week before it was set to go to trial.
Britney Spears "intervention"
McGraw drew criticism from mental health professionals and from Britney Spears' family in 2008 when he talked to the media about a hospital visit with the pop star, ABC News and other outlets reported. Spears had suffered a highly publicized mental health breakdown, and McGraw visited her during her psychiatric hold, ostensibly as a "friend and ally of the family," not as a psychologist. (At the time he was not a practicing psychologist, nor was he licensed in California).
McGraw immediately issued a public statement about Spears' "dire" situation and said he hoped to get her and her parents to take part in an intervention on his show. Spears' family complained that McGraw had violated their trust and potentially caused additional psychological damage for his statements. McGraw later apologized, not for visiting Spears but for talking about it to the media.
Controversy over coverage of teen beating case
Later in 2008, a producer for the show posted $3,300 bail on behalf of the ringleader of a group of eight teenage girls in Florida who viciously beat another girl and videotaped the attack, the New York Daily News said. Producers bailed the 17-year-old out so she could participate in the taping of a one-hour show devoted to the incident. The producers canceled the show 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."
"Cruel" interview of Shelly Duvall outrages Hollywood
McGraw came under fire from Ronan Farrow, Al Roker and other celebrities and mental health experts for his November 2016 interview with "The Shining" actress Shelley Duvall, who suffers from mental illness. Duvall, then 67, appeared disheveled and rambled nonsensically during the interview, the New York Daily News and other outlets reported.
She conceded she was "very sick" but also spoke about the late actor Robin Williams still being alive and how aliens were implanted in her leg. The daughter of "The Shining" director Stanley Kubrick expressed "complete disgust" for McGraw's "cruel" interview in an open letter on Twitter. Vivian Kubrick called for a boycott of McGraw's show. Journalist Farrow also tweeted his disdain and backed up the boycott call, while "Today Show" co-host Roker called the incident "shameful."
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