Dr. Phil deletes controversial tweet about drunken teen sex after online backlash

Aug. 21, 2013 at 1:22 PM ET

The Twitter account for the "Dr. Phil Show" frequently tweets out questions for its audience to ponder. Recent questions include, "Do you know someone who has used their child against their partner during a divorce?" and "Have you experienced abuse by a stepparent?"

But a question the show sent out on Tuesday crossed the line for many readers. 

In a now-deleted tweet, the Dr. Phil account wrote, "If a girl is drunk, is it OK to have sex with her? Reply yes or no to @drphil #teensaccused."

Reaction was immediate and vehement. An article on Salon.com called the tweet "vile" and urged readers to let the TV host "know what you think" via tweeted responses.

A Twitter hashtag, #DrPhilQuestions, quickly began to collect satirical takes on the ham-handed question.

On Wednesday morning, the show issued a statement about the deleted Tweet, making it clear that the question was not written by the TV psychologist himself, and stating that its posting made him "very upset." 

“This Tweet was intended to evoke discussion leading into a very serious show topic based upon a recent news story, hence the #teensaccused label," the statement read. "It was a poll question, not a statement or a joke. As he has maintained over many years, Dr. Phil believes that the position of those incapacitated in any fashion; be it drugs, alcohol, age or mental illness can not and do not have the capacity to give their consent to anything, especially sex, which could have life changing repercussions. This was a research post in preparation for a show, not a personal post and Dr. Phil deleted it the second he saw it. It was clearly ill-advised. We sincerely apologize that it suggested anything other than what was intended, data gathering. As you can imagine, Dr. Phil is very upset that this happened.”

Dr. Jeff Gardere, like Dr. Phil a television personality and psychologist, told MSNBC TV's Thomas Roberts he understood that the tweet probably had a show-related intention, but that the question was poorly written.

"I think they were trying to provoke some kind of content to the show that's coming up," Gardere said. "But I think the other issue that may be going on here -- and I understand why people are enraged about this -- if you take a look at the question itself, does it legitimize someone saying yes, it's OK to have sex with a girl if she's drunk. ... People are very sensitive about this, especially after the Steubenville (Ohio) high school rape case, so you have to be very careful."

Gardere said the show's tweet should have given more information about what they were trying to gather from the audience. "Just by itself, (the question) can be interpreted in many, many ways," he said. "When you're talking about rape, when you're talking about serious issues like that, you need to be very, very careful that you're not intimating anything, or legitimizing any inappropriate behavior. I hope they've learned their lesson, and I think they will."