Dr. Phil has gotten himself into hot water with people online before, but never something quite like this. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Phil went on Fox News to speak with Laura Ingraham on Thursday — and people on the internet are outraged at what he had to say. Dr. Phil, a television personality whose real name is Phil McGraw, went on air to discuss his perspective on shutdowns around the country in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“250 people a year die from poverty, and the poverty line is getting such that more and more people are going to fall below that because the economy is crashing around us. They’re doing that because people are dying from the coronavirus, I get that,” Dr. Phil said, adding, “Look, the fact of the matter is 45,000 people a year die from automobile accidents, 480,000 from cigarettes, 360,000 a year from swimming pools, but we don’t shut the country down for that, but yet we’re doing it for this? The fallout is going to last for years because people’s lives are being destroyed.”
Dr. Phil's statements seemed to allude to the fact that economic gain and letting people out of their homes should take precedence as mass deaths happen for a number of reasons all the time in the U.S. On top of that, he discussed the "mental toll" that this is taking on people, and why they must be allowed to leave their houses. This was in contrast with Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who explained on Fox News why it's so important to be as cautious as possible about ending shutdowns. Fauci is among a number of public health officials, including doctors and epidemiologists, who have explicitly said that America needs to take this pandemic seriously, and prioritize remaining inside to beat the virus over frustrations around these restrictions.
Now, Twitter critics are aligning to demand that Oprah Winfrey step in and speak out against Dr. Phil's comments. Oprah has used her platform to prop up the work of Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz, giving them credibility. In the 90's, Oprah helped to “create” Dr. Phil when she met him in 1996 and hired him to counsel her professionally, and it was partially through their relationship that he rose to fame. After watching the video that’s quickly gone viral, people have started tweeting at Oprah to take down Dr. Phil because he isn’t a medical doctor and he shouldn’t be giving medical advice.
This started when Kate Aurthur, Editor-At-Large for Variety, tweeted, “The most meaningful thing Oprah could do to help right now would be to publicly disavow Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz” late last night — referring to the advice they frequently give using their massive platforms. Others echoed Aurthur's call to action, noting that Oprah had a certain responsibility in helping the American public clarify those statements and position them in the right way.
Dr. Oz, who has also been a regular guest on Oprah’s show and achieved the same notoriety hitched to her name, has also come under fire for his comments about reopening the United States economy amid the coronavirus pandemic and getting our "mojo back."
“Let’s start with things that are really critical to the nation where we think we might be able to open without getting into a lot of trouble. I tell you, schools are a very appetizing opportunity,” Dr. Oz said to Sean Hannity on Fox News. “I just saw a nice piece in The Lancet arguing that the opening of schools may only cost us 2 to 3 percent in terms of total mortality. You know, that’s — any life is a life lost, but to get every child back into a school where they’re safely being educated, being fed, and making the most out of their lives, with the theoretical risk on the backside, it might be a trade-off some folks would consider.”
Dr. Oz's comments also caused series backlash for suggesting that we should reopen schools despite the risk of losing lives. On Saturday, Dr. Oz apologized for his previous comments saying that he "misspoke" and it was not his intention to upset anyone.
As protests against quarantine measures continue to sweep the U.S., the danger in comments from public figures suggesting that the economy should open against expert opinion is inherent. It's unclear whether Oprah will be the vessel to put a stop to these statements, which seem to be largely coming from her supporters, though the relentless power of Twitter may just force her hand.