When the Dr. Phil show contacted me to appear on a show on false confessions, I hesitated. I've worked with 60 Minutes, Nightline, Dateline, Prime-Time, 20-20, American Justice, and other high-quality investigative shows which can devote the time necessary to educate the public about the phenomenon of false confessions but had never worked with producers from a show that at times can lapse into Jerry Springer (a graduate of Northwestern Law School) or Maury Povich land. I was reticent but realized that the Doctor has a much bigger audience than most of the other shows and that the show would reach a different demographic than 60 Minutes -- the kind of people who sit on juries and who would have trouble understanding how a person could confess to a crime he or she did not commit. There were times when I almost pulled out of the show, fearing that the show was going to exploit the pain of some of its guests, but the producers backed off and so I stayed the course. It was a wise move.
To my surprise (and pleasure), Dr. Phil impressed me with his knowledge of the subject and with his understanding of the facts of the two cases which were profiled (Jonathan Kaled and Marty Tankleff). He asked good questions of me and of a NYPD homicide detective who appeared with me about police practices, the use of deception, and about the need to electronically record interrogations. He treated the Kaled family with great empathy and promised to assist Jon in his recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder (he is keeping the promise so far) and he even went as far as giving his opinion that Marty Tankleff deserved a new trial. Dr. Phil's website at http://drphil.com/shows/show/819/ summarized the show nicely and in his uncensored blog, viewers can hear how he really feels about the show, the and the Kaled and Tankleff cases http://drphil.com/uncut/page/uncensored/. Even more interesting is the chat room about the show, which contains some 25 pages of viewer's reactions to the show. http://drphil.com/messageboard/topic/2153
At the beginning of the show, Dr. Phil asked audience members for a show of hands in response to his question about whether they could ever imagine confessing to a crime they did not commit. Only a few hands were raised. When he asked the same question at the end of the show, most of the audience members (who probably thought they would see a shouting match between ex-lovers or other family dysfunction) had changed their minds. To me, this was a sign that the show was a success and once again demonstrates the power of the false confession narrative and the importance of educating the public about the causes and consequences of false confessions.