Dr Phil criticised for claiming lockdown deadlier than coronavirus with inaccurate facts and bizarre comparisons

'The problem is, they have huge followings ... when those prominent doctors go on TV and say these things, a lot of people listen'

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Friday 17 April 2020 16:39 BST
Dr Phil claims shutdowns worse than coronavirus

On Thursday night, Fox News featured a segment with “Dr Phil” in which the TV personality shared inaccurate statistics about non-contagious causes of death, and asked why the country was not shut down for them as it has been to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

He criticised the lockdown saying it will “create more destruction and actually more death across time than the actual virus will itself.”

“The fact of the matter is we have people dying — 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?” he said.

“Dr Phil” was booked on Laura Ingraham’s show to talk about the mental health effects of the lockdown — a serious issue that will likely have a long running impact on the population. He explained that loneliness increases the risk of strokes, coronary artery disease and dementia.

However, the focus of his segment was overshadowed by his spurious statistics, and what amounted to a dangerous call to end the lockdown.

Coming just 24 hours after Dr Oz made equally incredible remarks about schools reopening and an acceptable number of children dying, the reaction on Twitter was unforgiving.

It was almost difficult to know where to start in rebutting his claims.

While the number of smoking-related deaths was approximately accurate, he upped the annual number of automobile deaths by about a fifth. His figure for deaths in swimming pools was 100 times as many as recorded each year in the US and would equal almost 1,000 people a day dying in pool accidents.

In addition, car crashes are not contagious; you cannot contract drowning; and while secondhand smoke can affect the health of those around you, it is not comparable to a highly contagious viral pandemic.

This leads to the next point raised by many on Twitter. “Dr Phil” is not a medical doctor. Phil McGraw is a TV personality with a doctorate in psychology, but no licence to practice. Many asked what qualifications he has to compare medical and mental health issues on television. On Friday morning “Mr Phil” was trending on Twitter.

Mr McGraw’s interview stood in contrast to an earlier appearance on the same show by Dr Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s foremost expert on the coronavirus pandemic.

He responded to Ms Ingraham’s questions comparing Covid-19 to HIV and SARS with facts and scientific evidence, and explained the new guidelines to slowly reopen the economy.

Both Dr Oz and “Dr Phil” originally found fame through the Oprah Winfrey Show and both have a large following, which raised concerns about the impact of the spread of inaccurate information.

Speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, host Willie Geist said: “The problem is, they have huge followings. Dr Oz and Dr. Phil both have shows with millions of viewers. Fox News, those programs, obviously, are very highly rated. Millions of viewers. So when those prominent doctors go on TV and say these things, a lot of people listen.”

Mr Geist noted the importance of interviewing real public health experts and officials and epidemiologists who are not there to play to an audience or for TV ratings.

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