Dr. Phil files $250 million defamation suit against American Media

Saying he and his wife are sick and tired of relentless character assassination, the nation’s most famous psychologist is going after the nation’s most famous tabloid publisher in a $250 million lawsuit filed this month in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 07: Dr. Phil McGraw speaks during the taping of his television show, announcing "Little Kids Rock Across America" at Paramount Pictures Studios on December 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
Dr. Phil McGraw (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

In the 42-page lawsuit, Phillip McGraw, better known to daytime TV audiences simply as “Dr. Phil,” claims the Boca Raton-based National Enquirer and its sister publications have fabricated “salacious and offensive” stories about him and his philanthropist wife, Robin, to shore up their sagging bottom lines.

Since 2003, American Media, the parent company of the Enquirer, Star Magazine and Radar Online, has published more than 85 articles – roughly six per year – accusing the couple of being frauds, according to the lawsuit filed by West Palm Beach attorney J. Grier Pressly III and Atlanta lawyer L. Lin Wood.

While the wealthy couple has built a reputation as tireless crusaders against domestic violence, in dozens of articles AMI has falsely claimed their home life is far from idyllic, the attorneys wrote. With no facts to support the allegations, they have published stories portraying Dr. Phil as an abuser and his wife as a pitiful victim.

“The National Enquirer falsely and maliciously defamed Mrs. McGraw by conveying to the average reader that she is a fraud and professional hypocrite suffering from the very same spousal abuse that she so fervently campaigns and advocates against,” the attorneys wrote, describing a series of what they called “sleazy tabloid practices.”

The motivation for the attacks is no mystery, they claim. Reporting $17 million more in liabilities than assets on its Dec. 31 quarterly report, AMI needs money, they said.

“Confronted with financial difficulties, declining circulation, and the need for cash flow, AMI has shamelessly and unlawfully sought to generate revenues by misappropriating and capitalizing on the McGraws’ names,” the attorneys wrote.

Officials at AMI didn’t return a phone call for comment. But it has shown no sign of backing down.

In articles published online this week, all three publications trumpeted a six-year-old story about a federal judge in California blasting Dr. Phil as a “charlatan” for inviting a couple on his show to brag about shoplifting more than $1 million. The judge made her comments during the couple’s sentencing hearing.

On Monday, the 2010 story was new again on the National Enquirer’s website. “Dr. Phil is a ‘charlatan’ and a ‘terrible, terrible man!’ A California judge branded him all that and more … and The National ENQUIRER has all the details,” it wrote.

In the lawsuit, attorneys representing the McGraws said such tactics are typical. The publications have repeatedly rehashed old stories and embellished them either by leaving out key facts or fabricating them entirely, the attorneys claim.

In February, they claim, AMI threatened to run a story that Dr. Phil, while a student at Texas Tech University, got into a drunken brawl at a bar and smashed a beer mug over a fellow patron’s head. However, the attorneys claim, the bar where the fight allegedly took place didn’t open until 1977 – six years after Dr. Phil attended the Texas school. Further, they claim, the bar didn’t get a liquor license until 2009 – 38 years after the doctor left.

“The utter, flagrant, demonstrable falsity of that story epitomizes AMI’s abuse of the First Amendment,” they wrote.

The recent stories AMI published also violate a 2012 agreement hashed out after the McGraws then threatened to file a defamation suit, the attorneys said. In exchange for dropping the suit, the company agreed not to publish any more articles about them. When the two-year agreement expired, the attorneys claim, AMI threatened to publish the story about the bar brawl.

Unlike their claims about AMI, the McGraws don’t need the money. Both have written best-selling books. In 2015, Forbes said Dr. Phil earned $70 million that year. It ranked him the 15th highest earning celebrity in the world.

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