Oprah’s tight-lipped exploitation machine

Date: 2010-11-24

Oprah’s tight-lipped exploitation machine

By Scott Christiansen

“I have no comment,”—click.

That’s all that came over the phone when Flashlight asked Jessica Beagley, an Anchorage mom, about her appearance earlier this month on the syndicated tabloid TV show Dr. Phil. Beagley was featured in a November 17 episode called “Mommy Confessions” during which the studio audience jeered Beagley for her unorthodox, and arguably cruel, child-rearing techniques. The audience watched video of Beagley disciplining a 7-year-old by washing the child’s mouth with hot sauce while she screamed in the child’s face. Then she bullied the child into a cold shower, and screamed some more.

It’s difficult to watch an unhinged mother—the hot sauce video is no exception to that rule—and the Dr. Phil studio audience reacts with predictable outrage, gasping aloud at the video and jeering at Beagley while she’s onstage. Beagley tells the audience they are entitled to they’re opinions. The Dr. Phil website claims the video “brought many audience members to tears”—although one could argue tabloid TV come into the theater ready to be shocked in to tears.

“That’s why I’m here,” Beagley says in the episode, as if 15 minutes of shame was exactly the type of therapy an out-of-control mother needs to prevent her from harming a child. Readers can find video of the hot sauce incident and a transcript of Phil McGraw’s interview with Beagley and her husband, Gary Beagley, at Dr. Phil’s website.

You won’t find many details about the Beagleys there. Gary is an Anchorage Police Department patrol officer, and formerly a detective at the department. Photos are shared at the family blog, The Beagley Bunch, where you can see a clan (six kids, two parents) wearing ceremonial white temple robes and posing in front of a Church of Latter Day Saints temple in Bountiful, Utah. There isn’t much juice there, though one child is described as “so easily touched by the spirit that she is often crying and can’t explain why.” (That’s not the child who gets the hot sauce treatment. Flashlight will bet any child forced to rinse their mouth with pepper sauce knows exactly why they cry.)

Gary told McGraw a friend of his wife’s gave them the idea for the hot sauce, according to the online transcript. Credit his Department of Defense training for the cold shower technique. “In the military, we use cold showers for discipline, to get people’s attention,” Gary tells McGraw—formerly a practicing psychologist, by the way, and now a practicing entertainer—that the 7-year-old “pays attention at the moment” when ordered into a cold shower.

Phil McGraw is pimped by Oprah Winfrey’s corporate empire, Harpo Entertainment Group. A Dr. Phil spokeswoman contacted via Harpo said Monday the company had “no statement” to provide “at this time”—leaving the door cracked open for further exploitation of the Beagley bunch. In the transcript and on some of the web content, McGraw tells his audience that his camera crew did not videotape the hot sauce incident. The tape was made by one of the Beagley children and submitted by the family. The 7-year-old, according to the transcript, has been to therapy. There is no indication on the web site that the parents had counseling other than their Dr. Phil appearance. (That’s one thing we wanted the show to address.) The 7-year-old was alleged to have received at least two discipline cards in elementary school in one day for throwing pencils and afterward lied to Jessica Beagley about the in-school discipline.


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