Ethics Verdict On Dr. Phil’s Media Mugging

You're in the clear, Phil...this time.

You’re in the clear, Phil…this time.

If a brilliant scholar like Richard Dawkins can get himself in hot water trying to be provocative in 140 characters, you can imagine the scalding a phony expert like Dr. Phil can attract with his tweets. Sure enough, the Oprah Winfrey-spawned arbiter of troubled relationships is now being ground up in the maw of the blogosphere and news media for tweeting this question to his inexplicably large mass of Twitter followers:

 “If a girl is drunk, is it okay to have sex with her? Reply yes or no to @drphil #teensaccused.”

He did not ask “If a girl is passed out drunk, is it okay to have sex with her?” Nor did he ask “If a girl is drunk, is it okay for me to have sex with her?” (The answers to both of these questions, obviously to me, you, and Dr. Phil, is emphatically  no. But then, he didn’t ask either of them.) He also didn’t suggest that he doesn’t know the answer to the question he did ask. He posed a question for his followers, which it is reasonable to assume was done to get a sense of the majority response.

There was nothing wrong, unethical, “tone deaf,” insensitive, sinister, off-putting, icky, misogynistic or otherwise inappropriate about the tweet or its wording, whether it was sent by Dr. Phil or anyone else.

And yet (from the Washington Post)...

“If Dr. Phil is drunk, is it okay for him to tweet?” responded one follower. Another wondered, “If a person is a mysognyist [sic], is it okay to just refer to him as ‘Dr. Phil’ from now on?” Within a few hours, Oprah Winfrey’s former acolyte became thoroughly detested online. Then, he compounded the situation by committing what has become an unpardonable sin in the public venues through which we conduct discourse: He deleted the tweet. On his timeline, the comment no longer appears, but other Twitter users quickly made sure it wasn’t gone.

“Hey, @DrPhil, if someone deletes his tweet, is it okay to post a screenshot of it?” queried a user who attached a cached image. Others were more direct: “@DrPhil is a bloody coward and has since deleted the tweet.”  While some users applauded the attempt to remove what they saw as garbage, the prevailing notion was this: Dr. Phil McGraw had created the garbage, therefore he should have to sit with the garbage, a scarlet garbage letter affixed to his chipper, family-expert profile. The deletion became, for some, nearly as objectionable as the original missive.

Dr. Phil didn’t delete the tweet because he was trying to cover up a mistake or misconduct, or because he is a coward. A hoard of cyber-assassins intentionally reading intent and meaning into a post that cannot possibly justify such an interpretation were smearing him outrageously, and he prudently removed the innocent provocation that was inexplicably sparking his mugging. He has no obligation, ethical or otherwise, to preserve a tweet that is being intentionally distorted to denigrate his character. Nor should he apologize for a completely legitimate, inoffensive, legitimate question posted on Twitter. He is right, His critics are wrong.

Also unfair, stupid and vicious.

 “If a girl is drunk, is it okay to have sex with her?” means, for the apparently millions of reading-impaired critics of the pseudo-doc, “Does impairment by alcohol mean that a women is incapable of meaningful consent for sexual relations? What if  both partners are drunk? Does this mean that having a few at dinner precludes a roll in the sack later? How drunk is too drunk? Alcohol increases libido and decreases inhibitions. This is one of the primary virtues of alcohol, some would say, including many women. What if it’s the woman getting frisky because she’s smashed? Were all those leading men  who made wild, rapturous, amorous love after imbibing a couple of bottles of wine with their beloved rapists?”

These are all excellent ethics questions, and Dr. Phil’s tweet was a legitimate, clear, provocative, ethical way to spark an important discussion among teens and everyone else.

His critics and attackers in this instance (I have been a Dr. Phil critic in the past) are engaging in cyber-bullying and mob ignorance. They are the unethical villains here. Dr. Phil is the victim, and this time, at least, did absolutely nothing wrong.


Sources: Washington Post, New York Daily News

Graphic: New York Daily News

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work or property was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at


16 thoughts on “Ethics Verdict On Dr. Phil’s Media Mugging

  1. Everyone is a genius is hindsight, but all he had to do was send a complimentary tweet “If a boy is drunk, is it okay to have sex with him? Reply yes or no to @drphil #teensaccused.”

    Then he would have some feedback that would probably make the point he was aiming for. And the fact that he used the word “girl” instead of woman or female, suggests he’s honing in on sex and underage drinking.

      • No I don’t think it’s the same question…. It’s basically a throw away tweet, but would have accomplished two things: Provides the appearance of fairness for both sexes, and who knows, the responses might have been an interesting comparison. Grist for the Mill.

        • . It’s basically a throw away tweet, but would have accomplished two things: Provides the appearance of fairness for both sexes, and who knows, the responses might have been an interesting comparison. Grist for the Mill.
          Of course what you say makes sense…to normal people.

          When I flipped by MSNBC on Tuesday night, they were discussing this very topic and how some Tweeters might mistake what Dr. Phil tweeted as meaning he WAS saying it was OK to have sex with drunk girls.
          A complete pretzel twist.
          So…it pretty much doesn’t matter what you say (or in this case tweet), if the Rabid Idiot Liberal Hysterical Patrol has you in their cross hair, you are going down.

      • Of course it is the same question. If the person is drunk, why does the sex of the drunk person matter regarding the issue of whether sex with a drunk person is rape?

        Look there is no way rape-by-intoxication statutes are enforced in anything but an even-handed manner with respect to sex.

  2. I have pondered Phil’s tweet to the point where I am considering it, along with the hostile reactions to it and to Phil, as defining and presenting a parable. A parable about the American people, and the agents of American government in their current state of power over The People (and supporters of governments’ continued expansion of those agents’ powers). Don’t dare ask the question if the answer is obvious.

  3. How good is your southern accent Jack? Put on a fake mustache and go as him for Halloween! You can spend the night being a condescending ass and mentioning Oprah in every sentence. I really hate Dr. Phil…..

  4. There is no doubt that sex with someone passed out drunk is rape. The Holy Bible recounts a story of the rape of an intoxicated-to-unconsciousness person that resulted in pregnancy. See Gen. 19:30-38 The kicker is that the rapists were the ones who got pregnant, for the rapists were female and the victim was male.

    If sex with a person was rape merely because the other person was drunk, we would have to build many, many more women’s‘ prisons to house all the offenders.

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