Published: 1:25 PM 02/09/2011
By Grier Weeks
Alaska authorities have charged a woman with child abuse for brutalizing a Russian boy she adopted, but federal authorities should be looking hard at charging television’s “Dr. Phil” McGraw for his role in the crimes.
Jessica Beagley, the 35-year-old wife of an Anchorage police officer, was featured on McGraw’s show forcing the seven-year-old boy to drink hot sauce, verbally assaulting him and then putting him in a cold shower for punishment. The abuse was so disturbing it caused audience members to cry and call for removal of children from Beagley’s home.
Holding the camera throughout the harrowing scene was Beagley’s 10-year-old daughter. The Associated Press reports that McGraw’s producers had asked Beagley to get them footage of her abusing the child, after she sent them a video describing the punishment she planned.
The “Dr. Phil” show sought the footage in order to capture “naturally occurring behaviors and interactions,” claims spokeswoman Stacey Luchs. Beagley and her attorney claim she believed she would get on the show for parenting help.
But McGraw’s producers wanted footage of actual abuse.
Having solicited and received the video, the show promoted it with lurid advertisements, featuring their gritty, child’s-eye-level camera work. McGraw then broadcast the boy’s humiliation on a show entitled, “Mommy Confessions.”
“What happens behind closed doors can be shocking,” McGraw promises his viewers, chin in hand. A split second later, piercing screams emerge from behind a shower curtain.
McGraw’s degenerate production has provoked a minor international incident, focusing attention on abuse by Americans of children adopted from overseas. “This video caused a huge wave of outrage in Russia,” says Andrey Bondarev of the Russian Consulate in Seattle.
An embassy press officer interviewed by ABC News says Russian authorities “are in contact with the U.S. officials regarding this case.” Another official, said to be an assistant to Russia’s Commissioner of Children’s Rights, told the Anchorage Daily News that “there is quite a big chance” of the boy and his twin brother being taken from their American siblings and returned to Russia if Beagley is convicted.
Despite all this, news reports appear blind to the obvious role McGraw played in commissioning the child abuse for his television show. Law enforcement authorities — made aware of the incident by the Russians, if by no one else — also seem to take for granted that television entertainment is an acceptable motive for inducing crimes against children.
No matter how you look at it, it seems clear that McGraw caused abuse to occur that might not otherwise have happened. On the day in question, one child was cruelly assaulted in a staged incident, while a second was forced to hold the camera and film her brother’s suffering for McGraw’s benefit.
Instead of immediately notifying Anchorage authorities of the abuse — and their own role in it — the McGraw show made the decision to take their ill-gotten gain and exploit it for commercial profit. Their actions further exacerbated the pain suffered by both child victims and their siblings, pain that is not over yet.
Phil McGraw should give up every penny of his foul profit immediately, in some arrangement that benefits these or other victims of abuse, without any chance of further contact or manipulation by him and his show. Then he should answer in a court of law, along with Beagley, for his role in this incident.
After that, maybe he can be extradited to Russia. You can see it from Alaska.
Grier Weeks is Executive Director of PROTECT (www.protect.org).