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Is Dr. Phil Barking at the Moon? Is Brian Williams Arguably a Journalist?

Is Dr. Phil Barking at the Moon? Is Brian Williams Arguably a Journalist? It’s been a weird couple of weeks for people who suffer with a mental illness. During that time, people with a mental illness and their loved ones heard Dr. Phil brushing off a woman’s worries by declaring that her obsession did not mean that she was “insane” because insane people “suck on rocks and bark at the moon.”

Then, just a few days ago, NBC news anchor Brian Williams said of Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man who held three women captive and raped them for a decade, that he was “arguably the face of mental illness.” Arguably? Arguably for whom?

Does Dr. Phil really believe that people with mental illness bark at the moon?

Should a news anchor such as Brian Williams be attempting to diagnose… well, anyone?

Dr. Phil McGraw and Brian Williams have both been sensitive to mental health issues in the past, according to a news release penned by NAMI:

NAMI shares the outrage of many people over these remarks. More importantly, we are surprised and disappointed over their source. Both Dr. Phil and Mr. Williams have been sensitive to some mental health concerns in the past. We expect better of them and they should know better. We hope to pursue dialogues with them to renew their concern.

It’s not just surprise and disappointment one should express to remarks such as this by people who are generally respected for their celebrity stature within our culture. It’s also sadness at the plain stupidity their remarks display.

It’s outrage that these remarks can stand days after they were said, without even an acknowledgment. If Dr. Phil had said that the woman’s obsession did not mean that she was Hispanic because Hispanic people “suck on rocks and bark at the moon,” he would’ve immediately been called out on it. He might’ve even been fired. At the very least, he would have later apologized.1

Brian Williams probably thought the word “arguably” could excuse his discriminatory remark. And as Pete Earley noted, Brian Williams violated the AP Stylebook guidelines — the ‘bible’ of journalists:

mental illness – Do not describe an individual as mentally ill unless it is clearly pertinent to a story and the diagnosis is properly sourced.

When used, identify the source for the diagnosis. Seek firsthand knowledge; ask how the source knows.

As far as I could tell, Brian Williams didn’t even have a source for that remark — he just made it up as he went along. That’s not the mark of a journalist; that’s the mark of a sloppy sensationalist.

Neither the good doctor nor the good journalist have apologized for their inappropriate remarks. In fact, despite the public outcry for their prejudiced remarks toward those with a mental illness, neither have even acknowledged the problem.

Clearly, as the President noted earlier this year at the National Conference on Mental Health that I attended, we still have a long way to go in ridding society of the stigma and prejudice directed toward those who have a mental illness. Especially when people of the caliber of Dr. Phil and Brian Williams don’t even acknowledge the hurt and harm their words have caused millions of Americans who suffer from mental illness, as well as their loved ones.


Read the full news release: Dr. Phil and Brian Williams: You Can Do Better; Listen to President

Is Dr. Phil Barking at the Moon? Is Brian Williams Arguably a Journalist?


  1. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Dr. Phil has to occasionally say outrageous things in order to stay relevant and popular in the competitive talk show ratings. Talk shows like Dr. Phil’s have become the sewer of daytime television, long since relegating any semblance of human dignity or heck, just plain humanity, to others. []

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Is Dr. Phil Barking at the Moon? Is Brian Williams Arguably a Journalist?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from
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Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 7 Aug 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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