Phillips was born in Fresno, California. His father was a Greek refugee whose family fled Turkey during the post-World War I chaos. His mother was born in New York City.
Phillips completed his high school education in San Jose, California, and then earned a bachelor's degree in political science at Santa Clara University in 1975. He spent his junior year at l’Institut d’Etudes Françaises in Aix-en-Provence, France, and is fluent in French. He did graduate studies in journalism at San Jose State University and attended the Professional Writing Program at the University of Southern California. He earned a certificate in Conflict Management and Mediation from Fresno Pacific University in 2010.
In 1976, Phillips began working at KTEH, the public television affiliate in Silicon Valley. He ran the station’s video services department. He produced feature stories and presented documentary reports for such programs as “Tomorrow/Today,” an innovative science and technology magazine series on PBS.
Phillips operated the public access television station for Gill Cable TV in 1977. He took a one-year stint as press relations manager for the Pacific Telephone Company in 1979 before forming his own independent media production company.
Prompted by the devastating 1988 earthquake in Armenia, Phillips traveled to the Soviet Union and began reporting for NBC/Mutual radio. He was one of the first journalists to cover fighting in the Caucasus region of Nagorno-Karabagh and the border war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, he was named the network’s Eastern European correspondent, reporting dramatic changes in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and Romania while based in Prague.
Following the 1990 Iraq invasion of Kuwait, Phillips reported the first Gulf conflict from Baghdad. He re-located to Moscow to cover the collapsing USSR and was dispatched to Afghanistan, Somalia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Haiti. In 1995, CBS News assigned him to report stories throughout the United States while based in the network’s Detroit bureau.
Phillips left daily news reporting in 1996 and entered the world of high technology. He was hired as public affairs director for Omnipoint Communications, a GSM wireless service provider. In that capacity, he also served as an international advocate for the GSM Association, a London-based trade organization for the world’s wireless operators. While at Omnipoint, Phillips led the department dealing with company communications, media relations and public affairs. He was a member of the President’s Council and published Wireless Etiquette (Omnipoint Books, 1999), the world’s first guide to the polite use of instant communications devices, which was written by Peter Laufer. He was a champion of wireless security, challenging claims that GSM conversations were vulnerable to eavesdropping. In 1999, Omnipoint merged with VoiceStream Wireless (now part of T-Mobile).
Phillips moved back to California in 2000. He began a five-year investigation into the assassination of Ghevont Tourian, the Armenian Archbishop who was stabbed to death in a New York City church on Christmas Eve Sunday morning in 1933, an event which continues to divide Armenians worldwide. That research led Phillips to write a historical novel, Murder at the Altar (Hye Books, 2008).
In 2005, Phillips returned to his birthplace, and for five years he hosted “Quality of Life,” an interview/news talk series on Valley Public Radio, the NPR stations in Central California. In June 2009, he broadcast the program live from Yerevan, Armenia.
In February 2011, during a series of scandals involving NPR, Phillips wrote an op-ed published in The Fresno Bee and the Bakersfield Californian, critical of financial influences on news content. A week later, he was fired. This prompted public reaction from listeners.
Phillips is the author of Off the Air: Thoughts About Our Quality of Life (Hye Books, 2011), a compilation of his radio commentaries.
In November 2011, Phillips announced that he had formed an exploratory committee to run for Congress in the newly redistricted 23rd congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. He became an official candidate on March 9, 2012 challenging incumbent Rep. Kevin McCarthy. He came in second in the June 5 primary election, assuring him a spot on the November 6 runoff ballot. This was the first time that McCarthy faced a serious challenger since being elected to Congress in 2006. A newcomer to electoral politics, Phillips ran with no party affiliation. He garnered more than 57,000 votes — nearly 27 percent of the total.