Dr. Phil intends to stop “reckless” use of freedom of speech and the attacks on his reputation. After filing a lawsuit against a popular supermarket tabloid recently for writing what he calls “false stories” about his marriage, Dr. Phil explained that his goal isn’t to necessarily bankrupt the weekly publication. According to the Courthouse News on Tuesday, Dr. Phil feels like he’s been portrayed as a “pervert” for years by the National Enquirer and only wants to stop its parent company, American Media, Inc., from further victimizing him and his wife, Robin McGraw, through use of the First Amendment and freedom of the press.
The goal of many tabloids is to sensationalize stories on the front cover in order to increase sales as people are leaving checkout lines in grocery stores. But Dr. Phil says the National Enquirer has taken it too far with repeated “disparaging articles” about him and his second marriage to current wife, Robin. Fox News reports that for the last 13 years, the gossip magazine has printed more than 80 stories that allegedly falsely portray him as a “philandering pervert.” The celebrity gossip genre generally publishes rumors about popular celebrities in order to make sales, a business practice used by tabloids, better known as “dishing or tattling.”
Sales of the National Enquirer tend to go up with Dr. Phil featured prominently on the front cover, since the Dr. Phil show is still rated as one of the top 25 syndicated TV shows in the U.S., even after 14 seasons. People tune in to watch Dr. Phil every week on CBS for advice on everything from weight loss to parenting. In fact, according to Zap2it, the Dr. Phil show would take the take the spot for the number one syndicated television talk show in America if not for rival Live with Kelly on ABC.
Dr. Phil McGraw has 25 years of experience in psychology and gained celebrity status in the late 1990s when he regularly began appearing on ABC’s popular syndicated tabloid talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Dr. Phil fears his reputation as a respected psychologist is at stake because of regular “falsehoods” published by the National Enquirer on a monthly basis, mainly about him and his wife of 40 years, Robin Jameson McGraw. But other “false” stories have also surfaced on the National Enquirer’s front cover about Dr. Phil’s first marriage to Debbie Higgins McCall in 1970, a marriage that only lasted for three years and fell apart because of alleged cheating by Dr. Phil, as “falsely” stated by the National Enquirer and two other publications put out by American Media, Inc., Radar Online and Star Magazine. After tolerating the “unlawful conduct” by American Media for far too long, Dr. Phil felt like it was time to put an end to the hurtful stories that portray him as a “pervert.”
Perez Hilton shared on Monday that Dr. Phil finally decided to file a defamation lawsuit against the National Enquirer and American Media for $250 million. This lawsuit comes after Dr. Phil gave American Media the chance to stop publishing “manufactured” stories about him in 2012 in exchange for him holding off on filing a defamation lawsuit. But immediately after that 2-year agreement expired, American Media resumed publishing “disparaging material” about Dr. Phil, prompting him to file the lawsuit last week. According to the complaint by Dr. Phil, the First Amendment right cannot be used to justify defaming a person’s personal and private life.
Dr. Phil and Robin’s lawsuit comes after Hulk Hogan won a $140 million lawsuit against Gawker Media. The gossip website also used freedom of speech as a defense for releasing a sex tape between the 62-year-old professional wrestler and Heather Clem in 2012. Hogan’s victory ultimately bankrupted the celebrity gossip blog, but Dr. Phil says that’s not the intended outcome of his lawsuit against the National Enquirer. Dr. Phil claims he only wants American Media to stop “reckless” use of the First Amendment, not put the Boca Raton, Florida-based publisher, that was founded in 1936, completely out of business. L. Lin Wood, Dr. Phil’s lawyer, says there’s no “value in false speech, and there is no First Amendment protection for the knowing or reckless publication of lies.”
“Enough is enough, it’s time for them to own up… As a member of the media, I have a deep respect for the First Amendment. But it does not protect these people who knowingly print lies for money, particularly lies about my wife.”
However, according to LawNewz, reporters are actually protected from defamation claims if they write stories based on official public documents or from statements made by public officials, which American Media says they did. Dr. Phil counters with even though American Media may have relied on court documents as sources for negative stories about him, they “intentionally” took statements from court proceedings out of context and knowingly failed to publish accurate reports.
A spokesperson for American Media, Inc. issued a statement saying they “look forward to successfully defending” themselves against Dr. Phil in a court of law.
[Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images]