Back in January, I was contacted by a producer from the Dr. Phil show. I was hand-picked, he said, because he liked my other interviews and what I had to say. I would be the only one in my position (“pro-prostitution”) on the show. The topic was the whole CraigsList ad verification/sexual trafficking thing. That I currently advertise on CL (under another name), is a plus. Jim Buckmaster was supposed to be there, along with several state Attorney Generals and some women arrested from CL stings. I was told that there was going to be some massive new stings off CL and these women would be given the option of jail or the show. [I won’t discuss that, you’re welcome to draw your own conclusions.]

Well, Operation Innocence Lost did indeed make some arrests. I was ready for the show. Or at least prepping hard for it. I was finally told the show would be recorded March 18 in LA. They would pay for my expenses. Nice!

This was exciting news for me and a big coup. Dr. Phil may not be the most respected of men but it’s a BFD for a small-time businessperson like myself. Then came the show’s pre-interview. Not a single question was asked about my political views or anything about CL. Instead, I was asked a number of intrusive questions about my mental health, personal history and childhood! My childhood is irrelevant in topics of national policy. It really is.

And they asked for my real name and SSN. No, they weren’t paying me, they just wanted my SSN. The girl on the phone assured me no one would see it except everyone at the office and Dr. Phil himself. I would have to sign a boatload of legal papers which their lawyers had drawn up. Though I requested a copy of these forms via email, none were sent. Though I needed to submit my name for the travel department, I declined. They wouldn’t reimburse my expenses through my company. Fine, I’d just pay for it myself – business deduction.

My instincts were going off. If Dr. Phil had been a client, I would not have seen him. But I asked around and consulted several people whom I felt I could trust to point out any holes in the show’s or my logic or who might have had similar experiences. No one trusted the forms, the “real name”/SSN requirement, or probing questions. A few of these people went so far as to suggest a staged event, like an arrest or “blast from the past” type of personal meeting. That they could think of these possibilities meant the show could too. That I was advised to have a lawyer with me while I was on the show was a big warning sign.

I didn’t do the show.

Missed a massive publicity opportunity that I was really looking forward to. I was prepping like a trial lawyer and getting grilled by friends. I was going in there ready to rumble. But…I was not willing to trade certain things for that opportunity. It was a gamble; nothing guaranteed except that I would be giving up enough info for an untrustworthy person to track my entire life from birth.

I’m not someone with a lot of skeletons in my closet. (That you’re reading this blog is proof of that.) Like most normal people, I don’t need a staged arrest, my tax records pulled up or people I’d rather not see again suddenly shoved into my life once more. My mother and sister don’t need harassed or outed. They have not chosen my life path and don’t deserve the troubles. I want the opportunity to sell more books. I’d like to make safe new clients (though I don’t think TV shows are quite the answer for that). I want to change assumptions about sex workers and hopefully change policy around sex work — which was the big opportunity this show presented.

My “real name” is not a state secret, not really. But if I wanted to work under that name, I would. I’ve chosen a professional name for a reason and I want that respected. When I choose to share that trust with people, it’s simply because I want to. I don’t expect strings either way, though I do expect my trust not to be misplaced.

There is a lot that I freely give to many people for many reasons. And there are a few things I sell because, like anyone, I need to pay my bills. I sell my books. I sell my time as an adult companion to men.

In the end, despite what many might think, everything is not for sale.

UPDATE: A little more discussion here.

20 thoughts on “to dr. phil or not to dr. phil

  1. G’ah, that sucks, but it sounds like you made the right decision.

    Perhaps you could pitch a show to John Stossel? He likes the theme of government laws harming the very people they’re allegedly intended to help. He’s written essays in defense of the “D.C. Madam”:

    http://abcnews.go.com/2020/story?id=3105239&page=1

    And has done shows on the subject in the past:

    http://sexwork.com/subcontents/ABC%20Report.htm

    I think you could pitch the use of trafficking laws as a new weapon against prostitutes.

    Also, have you considered doing youtube videos? Maybe interview prominent sex rights activists, stage debates with the anti’s?

  2. Good for you! No doubt you made the right decision – whether the show would’ve been a great experience or not, all you had to go on was the information you were given beforehand. And you responded in the only appropriate way which was to protect yourself.

    Shame on them for either trying to trick you, or just being incredibly unprofessional with those pre-show details.

    You’re inspiring as always!

  3. I agree with Casey. I’m very glad to hear that you didn’t do this interview. What Dr. Phil would’ve done is act like a sanctimonious, condescending jackass (so, his usual self) and make an attempt to shame you into tears on national television. Failing that, then he would’ve upbraided you like you’re the Beast made flesh. *shakes* The thought of that pre-show interview gives me the heebs.

  4. Having worked in television and with some less than reputable show hosts , I think it was a setup. really glad you didn’t fall for it! Be cool and see ya.

  5. I agree with Aspasia and Casey. Dr. Phil is nothing but a hack, and even though you may have felt it might have possibly have produced some positive press for the industry, he’s well known for being condescending and patriarchal.

    In fact, don’t know if you saw the show today, but he had a girl (Ashley) on who’d been advertising on CL and he was absolutely nothing but a jackass to her. He has *never* had the first positive thing to say or show about sex work, and I know without a doubt you’d have ended up being put into a situation that would’ve been problematic.

    Anyway, as I said, glad you decided not to do it. 😉

  6. Christopher,

    Oh! Very good lead! Thank you so much! Sounds like a great opportunity.

    As for YouTube…I’ve only just now gotten a digital camera with video capability. Though I’ll probably do videos on my upcoming trip, RedLightDistrict Chicago is WAY ahead of me on this one.
    http://redlightdistrictchicago.com/

    Casey,

    My gut instinct, and the instinct of others around me, were not good. Everything pointed to a VERY unpleasant surprise on the show. I did Lincoln-Douglas debate in high school but the more I found out about the show, the less it sounded like I would get the chance to re-use my rusty skills.

    Aspasia,

    He would’ve reminded me a lot of my last boyfriend, but since I haven’t slept with Dr. Phil, not sure it would’ve made the same impression! 😉

    Yes, the whole slant of the show was becoming far more personal than professional. My “personal” is only relevant in the ways I share on this blog. It’s not ratings fodder, far as I’m concerned.

    Jeb,

    Nice to hear from you! I owe you a book and an email. Anyway…thank you for that. Other people thought that as well. It was a tough call to make because I wanted to do it.

    Alexa,

    Wondered what the finished show would be like. Of course he was a jackass! That’s what he does. That part isn’t what worried me.

    The main thing that sickened me about the show is that they gave these women the choice of being grilled on a national TV show or jailtime. If this doesn’t sound like television-based trafficking, I don’t know what does. My $0.02.

    XX

  7. The more I read, the worse being on the show sounded. That was an incredible amount of red flags that went up. There was no reason for you to give them a legal name and SSN if you were not being paid for your appearance. You’ve got incredible instincts about people that are probably nearly 100% correct. Trust can only be earned by experience and not because someone says you should. Good for you in making the right choice. I don’t think there is any oversight or confidentiality of personal information in a media outlet like that. That and similar shows exploit the people that go on those shows for personal gain. Your opportunity to do a show in the right way will come. Don’t settle for something if you don’t feel it is right.

  8. Well, everyone, looks like our suspicions have been confirmed (also posted this info @ BNG):

    Well, here’s something rather disturbing from TMZ.com: A couple that appeared on Dr. Phil’s show as “professional shoplifters” were later arrested by their local authorities based on their televised appearance.

    http://www.tmz.com/2009/03/31/dr-phil-triggers-seizure/

    http://www.northcountytimes.com/articles/2009/03/30/news/inland/san_marcos/z54340f45c0c009de88257589007b37cd.txt

    In light of what Amanda related with her experience with them (esp. the SSN & ID demand) and what sexworkeradvocate reported about the episode in question (and the suspicion of collusion), I wonder if a similar arrest is awaiting the prostitute that did appear on the show. Goddess, that’s shady.

  9. Aspasia,

    I believe something like that would’ve happened to me. But unless the format of the show changed, I believe the sex worker on the show had already been arrested via a CraigsList sting. Course, I haven’t actually seen the show. But I do know they wanted arrested women.

    XX

  10. Amanda,

    I have heard cases in which the major media have double-crossed and misrepresented the program agenda to interviewees that would make a list as long as your leg in fine print. I’m glad you didn’t bite on that bait. You did the right thing.

    It’s interesting to confirm that Dr. Phil is a typical major-media phony. At least that made your experience partially worthwhile.

    BB

  11. Think of the Dr. Phil audience: conventional, middle-class, family-oriented, you-get-the-idea… You would have been ripped apart in a televised witch-burning masked as a compassionate intervention. The audience for this kind of TV programming is not interested in questioning their own long-held beliefs but in having them reaffirmed (advertisers pay for an unquestioning audience). Good for you trusting your gut and letting this thing get away. You might have wound up like these people: http://www.wiredprnews.com/2009/04/05/dr-phil-guests-in-hot-water-for-shoplifting-admission_200904053058.html

  12. Amber,

    Thanks! You made me smile.

    Peridot,

    Yes, in the end, their motives became obvious and I needed to look at how far I was willing to go for possible publicity. Obviously, I have boundaries! A good lesson for me.

    XX

  13. What Peridot said occurred to me too: Dr Phil’s audience is largely female, of the mainstream, family-oriented variety. He would’ve looked like a hero, “rescuing” victims of prostitution and setting them straight (in jail).
    The CL arrests Amanda mentioned signaled that he was working hand-in-hand with LE – a clear trap.

    I would’ve loved to see someone as articulate, intellingent, and informed as Amanda to shut down his arguments, but as all have said, talk shows are not honest reporting, they’re showcases for hacks and showmen. Hosts are not going to let themselves be embarrassed by a truth different from theirs.

    Now for the SSN thing, I’ll play the devil’s advocate and say that too many people game the system by appearing on TV to make themselves look good. If you’re serious about vetting someone you’re debating (remember Oprah and james Frey?), you need to do a background on them and confirm all their facts, which Dr Phil does. He has investigators working F/T for him.
    I used to watch his show and have seen him get people comfronted by LE and picked up after the taping.

    All in all, it was clearly the right decision to pull back. If Dr Phil wants to interview people who have something to lose, he has to come on THEIR turf and take his own chances, like some do with terrorists. Why risk arrest at the hands of a self-promoter?

    It just shows how difficult a path it is to raise one’s profile while being in an industry still currently illegal. Hard to change that when people who claim to want your voice heard are just setting you up.

  14. Living in L.A I know someone who worked on the set. DP is a walking conradiction,as soon as he turns that corner at the end of his show and takes his microphone off ,he’s screaming yelling and talking abot firing this or that idiot!
    Robin I heard,is a sweetheart. Good choice and great boundries!

  15. Hobbyist makes a great point. His audience is mostly female mainstream women,ones who love to judge and belittle other women they would see as a threat. I find this incredibly annoying.

    I’ve noticed Dr Phil promotes the Jerry Springer mentality with women. Every topic or gest he wold have on the show that involved cheating ,affairs,confronting the other women ect…he would take the side of the person who wanted to trash the perosn the husband saw or cheated with. I’ve seen shows were he let the person or sudience rip into the women who they thoght should get the scarlett letter. I hate that whole mentality and I can just see those battles axes groaning and rolling their eyes while yo were on stage. I really stand women like this!
    Dr Phil would more thna likeley have belittled you.

  16. Tamara — Thanks for your insight. Having never watched his show, I could only go on input from other people, and my own gut feeling. Asking for my SSN to appear on a TV show where I wasn’t getting paid a dime (and asking all these “background” questions) was a big warning.

    XX

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