February 11, 2008
On Blaming Dr. Phil for his Britney Spears Comments: How's That Workin' For Ya?
I just read an interesting article in The New York Times (it came out more than a month ago; okay, so I don't exactly have a finger on the pulse of the nation) called Do The Rules Apply to Dr. Phil? It's about whether or not Dr. Phil McGraw violated the rules of the California state medical board and the non-disclosure rules of Hipaa (the federal act restricting doctors and therapists from sharing patient information). The short story is, Dr. Phil hasn't been licensed in 20 years, therefore what he does is not covered by Hipaa or the state's rules. As long as he doesn't charge anyone for therapy, basically the man can say or do what he likes; and he did. (Just in case you haven't paid attention to the media for the last few months, briefly, Dr. Phil went to see Britney Spears when she was hospitalized, at her parents' behest; and then told the world—as if news reporters hadn't already done it—that she needs medical and psychological help.)
The issue is not that he was wrong in his assessment—so far no one's arguing with that—but that he violated the privacy of Ms. Spears and her family.
I don't understand why everyone is so surprised by this. I mean, do you think Lynne Spears, Britney's mom, has never seen or heard of the Dr. Phil show? Can we accurately surmise that, in having this very famous and unlicensed fellow come to their daughters' hospital room, the family didn't expect or want any "negative" publicity?
Dr. Phil shouldn't exploit vulnerable people, is that true? Watch the show sometime; his guests—who are there voluntarily—air their dirty laundry, he tells them on a broadcast watched by millions that they're nuts and need help, and the people agree with him; that's why they came. The audience loves it; that's why they're his audience. The sponsors love it because of all the people who love it and watch their commercials and buy their products as a result.
Many of us have strong opinions about this. Take a look at the letters to the author of the Times article, overwhelmingly in favor of feeding McGraw to the lions.
I am not defending Dr. Phil’s actions, mind you, nor am I blaming her parents…but, you know, their super-famous kid is having problems, and they allowed a "TV doctor" to get close to the situation. When you see a sign on a fenced yard that says “beware of the dog,” the dog is barking, and you enter the yard anyway, is it reasonable to expect that the dog won't bite? And can we blame the dog—who is, after all, only doing its job—if its does?
©2008 by Carol L. Skolnick; all rights reserved.