‘Getting real’ with Dr. Phil: it’s gonna be tough

In a society where death-defying surgeons are unable to make ends meet because of the rising cost of malpractice insurance and where doctors have to go on strike just to prove how serious our health-care situation is becoming, hearing about a doctor whose life is an unmitigated success story is always reassuring.

One particular psychologist springs to mind: a man who has been saving lives and souls for nearly a decade. This man is the Jesse Ventura of daytime television, the one and only Phil McGraw.

Apparently, Dr. Phil is our only hope for “getting” this society “real” anytime soon, and he has made the bold psychological decision not to solve anybody’s problems. Instead, through bullying, browbeating and the power of mass media, Phil has started a nationwide crusade against slightly overweight women.

A week before Jon Stewart expended his energies badgering the hosts of “Crossfire,” he aired a brief segment poking fun at Mr. McGraw. Although his attempt to curb “Crossfire’s” “partisan hackery” was well-intentioned, Stewart could have done the nation an even greater service confronting the heavyweight champion of bigotry.

Ironically for doctors campaigning for tort reform, Dr. Phil’s career was born in a libel suit. He was on a team hired to defend Oprah Winfrey when she slandered cows everywhere by calling them “mad.” Oprah was so taken with the hard-nosed psychologist that she started inviting him on her talk show once a week to discuss America’s problems with obesity and broken families.

These days, Dr. Phil has the highest rated syndicated show since Oprah began 16 years ago. He has had five number ones on the The New York Times’ bestseller list, and he was named one of “People” magazine’s “Ten Most Intriguing People of 2002,” although, due to editorial oversight, he was left out of the “Fifty Most Beautiful People” issue.

On a recent episode in which a mother was crying because her child showed characteristics similar to those of a criminal, Phil cited himself, his children and his household as the ideal environment for child rearing. Alright, so he leads by example. But when he interviewed President Bush and his wife last month, he talked almost exclusively of his own new book, asking the President repeatedly whether he agreed with Dr. Phil’s conclusions.

When Teresa Heinz and John Kerry appeared on his show, the discussion turned to the similarity between Teresa and Phil’s wife because they had both raised sons. In fact, Phil’s entire medical strategy consists of a simple two-stage process. First, point out how great he and his wife are and then ask “Why can’t you be more like my wife and I?”

If that fails, batter the subject into submission with a barrage of harsh words and meaningless cliches: “Get Real, Get Smart, Get Tough.” Dr. Phil is currently under fire after he recently told a child’s parents that their son was likely to grow up a serial killer. Instead of recommending counseling, therapy or referring the parents to a specialist, he attacked the parents’ parenting strategy and shamed them into submission.

For Dr. Phil, everything boils down to willpower: If “you don’t get real about fat, you’re going to get real fat.” Despite being ridiculed by legitimate obesity and mental-health experts everywhere, he blatantly ignores the fact that obesity, depression and addiction are diseases that require treatment by a doctor.

More than Tucker Carlson or James Carville, Dr. Phil represents what is wrong with the country these days. Unlike “Crossfire,” Dr. Phil’s show cannot claim to reveal facts and educate the masses.

However, like “Crossfire,” Dr. Phil’s program is a blast of hot air. Dr. Phil has made millions of dollars by ridiculing his guests. One of Phil’s more vociferous critics, Roseanne Barr, called him “Hitler reincarnated.”

Which reminds me of a joke: What’s the difference between Phil McGraw and the Hindenburg? One is a flaming, right-wing gas bag, and the other is just a blimp.



Andrew Smeall will be “getting real” with Dr. Phil as a competitor in Phil’s Ultimate Weight Loss Challenge. Just kidding! Andrew isn’t a slightly overweight woman.

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