At the risk of sounding all hipsterish, I hated Tony Robbins before it was cool.
I wrote my piece “Tony Robbins Has Always Been Shitty” over a year ago when he came under fire for his criticism of the #metoo movement. In it, I discussed my personal experiences with him, and went into detail about how he bases his motivational “therapies” on pseudoscientific hokum. He’s a carnival performer and people eat it up, then keep on eating at ever-increasing levels of payment to his multi-billion-dollar organization.
And yesterday, shit got really real with the publication of an exposé of Robbins published in BuzzFeed after a year-long investigation.
It was obvious the Robbins team knew it was coming and had the defense ready to go, because not long after, this piece, allegedly written by Robbins himself, appeared on Medium.
Let’s unpack this piece of shit.
The man who hates victims, whines about how he’s been victimized
Tony has a long history of blaming the victim and saying people are made stronger by the abuse they’ve suffered. His criticisms of #metoo are one example of this, and there are many other examples in the BuzzFeed piece.
But this defense from him is a whine fest about how he’s been unfairly treated by BuzzFeed. Oh, the hypocrisy.
He writes: “your organization has made it clear to my team that you intend to move forward with publishing an inaccurate, agenda-driven version of the past, pierced with falsehoods. It is intended to disparage me personally, my family, my life’s work …” and “I have never behaved in the reckless, irresponsible, or malicious manner intimated by false, unfounded, and incendiary allegations suggested by BuzzFeed story-tellers.”
Aw, what’s the matter, Tony? I thought such trials were supposed to make you stronger? Stop playing the victim.
The video counter-claim
Early in the piece, Tony writes, “Please see this video with one person’s account of how your reporters so eagerly tossed her truth aside.” He actually links this video a second time a few paragraphs later, and again at the end. But if you read the Medium piece, the way he presents it is like you’re getting three different testimonials. There is no hint that it’s the same video each time.
Here is the copy for the second linking of the same video “We have evidence to prove that your reporters rejected and otherwise ignored factual accounts from several individuals you contacted.”
And the copy for the third linking:
“Below is a link to just one example of an individual who is frustrated by the way your reporters tried to take two minutes of seminar footage out of context in order to frame my two hours of work with her as ‘abusive’ rather than acknowledging her direct experience.”
So, there are “several individuals” who were “ignored,” but you have to spin one video to make it seem like there are three?
And yet, there is a much larger issue.
Tony’s piece presents (three times) a 100-second video of Analay Souza Campos who wants us to hear about how Tony changed her life.
Okay. I believe her. He changed her life. That’s awesome.
And much like a rabid Jordan Peterson fan, Tony proclaims that what BuzzFeed published from her “intervention” was taken “out of context.”
Tell me, in what context is this okay?
“She likes to call it emotional abuse. What the fuck is emotional abuse? Are we that fucking weak that someone can’t tell you with passion what they fucking feel without them abusing you?”
What the fuck is emotional abuse? Damaging, Tony. Emotional abuse is damaging.
Then she tells him there was physical violence too. And he says, “Tell me about that.” But without even giving her a chance to respond he immediately says, “What led to that. What role did you play?” Then he tries to cover his ass by saying, “I’m not suggesting that there’s any excuse for hitting a woman, so hear me. But I also want you to know that people don’t just act a certain fucking way.”
Ever hear that saying that everything said before the word “But” is bullshit. Yeah, that. Because he makes it clear that there is an excuse for hitting women, and she provided it. He asked what role she played, then goes on to ask, “Has he loved you? Has he looked out for you? Has he put up with you when you’ve been a crazy bitch?”
And then he goes on to say that he knows she’s lying about what she’s telling him: “I know by your body that you’re lying.”
Go back to the BuzzFeed piece and listen for yourself. Despite Analay proclaiming the session changed her life, it doesn’t make Tony’s tactics defensible. More often than not, people are broken by the mistreatment they suffer, and need compassion, not being blamed for what happened to them.
As an example, a couple of years ago I wrote a piece for the Chicago Tribune about the link between childhood sexual abuse and obesity. But it’s not just sex abuse and weight gain. The research reveals that a variety of “adverse childhood experiences” can have a wide variety of negative health, psychological, and social effects on a person into adulthood.
Analay says Tony’s terrible treatment of her made her stronger, but the research shows that kind of abuse usually has the opposite effect.
Shooting the messenger
As part of his defense, Tony links to a five-year old piece to discredit the publication, writing that BuzzFeed is the “least-trusted news source.” And for a man who cries “out of context,” he sure is a champion of taking things out of context.
First off, it’s five years ago, when the publication was new. And if you actually read the link it reveals that it’s merely an opinion survey of readers, and it includes this telling text:
“It’s important to note, though, that fewer than 40 percent of respondents had heard of BuzzFeed. (Pew) | BuzzFeed EIC Ben Smith emails: “Most of the great news organizations have been around for decades, and trust is something you earn over time. Our organization is new, our news operation is even newer, and it’s early days for us. The more people know BuzzFeed News, especially young people who make up a small share of these surveys, the more they trust us.”
Hard to trust a new organization you never heard of.
What’s more, BuzzFeed has improved in the last five years. This doesn’t mean they’re the Washington Post. Not by a long shot. But it shows how Tony is willing to manipulate and twist the truth to fit his agenda. If he wanted a more accurate representation of the current state of BuzzFeed’s reporting, he’d link to their profile on Media Bias Fact Check.
It’s not a glowing endorsement. They’re left center in their bias and their factual reporting is mixed. But it’s not the “least-trusted news source” he alleges. Then he channels his inner Trump by dragging out “post-truth” and “fake news” and “mis-information.” He is making it seem like we can’t trust the news, but we can trust Tony, because he immediately follows it with: “The very heart of my life’s work is empowering others to find the TRUTH that sets them free.”
Minimizing the message
Tony writes “you allege that approximately 20–30 years ago — when I was in my 20’s and early 30’s — I was negligent with both my employees and individuals who chose to attend my seminars. You also allege (through anonymous sources) that I pursued conflicting intimate relationships. Your claims range from indistinct to ridiculous.”
First off, the BuzzFeed piece contains a number of recent examples. It wasn’t all two or three decades ago. And “early 30’s” is still old enough to know better, FYI. And yes, some of the people were anonymous because they stated they feared reprisals. Evidence of Tony’s aggressive legal defenses give them every right to be afraid. And there are plenty of named sources in the piece, including former Robbins staffers, supporting what’s being told.
What’s more, there are so many quotes and links that Robbins just ignores. He sweeps it all under the rug as “indistinct to ridiculous.”
Robbins also claimed in his Medium piece that “You have denied my team’s requests to meet with you in-person to present key evidence that contradicts your false allegations.” Uh, okay. But the BuzzFeed piece repeatedly references communications from Robbins’s legal team. His side got their say, but he’s miffed because there was no in-person meeting? It’s just another way of minimizing the message.
I am so great
There is an episode of The Simpsons where toddler Bart is roaming through the house bashing a pot and shouting, “I am so great! I am so great! Everybody loves me! I am so great!”
That’s what the rest of the article reads like. He brags endlessly about the millions he’s helped, and name drops Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, and Princess Diana.
Yeah. Cult-leaders have dedicated followers who will defend them vociferously. Tony has a lot of fans, a lot of followers. This is because a thing called post-purchase rationalization exists.
It’s a form of “choice-supportive misremembering,” a cognitive bias where we like to believe our past choices have been good ones. Imagine this: You’ve spent many thousands of dollars on Tony Robbins. Despite news coming out that he’s not so great, or that his tactics are flawed / based in pseudoscience, would you be willing to admit all that money was a waste? Probably not, because then you’d have to admit you’d been duped, and most people hate admitting that.
Tony has undeniably helped people
Tony has changed lives for the better. There is no denying that. But how much wreckage has he left in his wake?
It’s his carnival barker tactics and his embracing of pseudoscience and outlandish stage antics that have made him so popular and built his empire. The money he’s brought in via these methods has allowed him to grow his business and reach more and more people. And he’s helped a lot of those people.
But a lot of other people were not helped. They were just made poorer. Others still were damaged by Tony’s practices. Probably a lot of people.
I’ll end with this question:
If you have to use abusive tactics to help people, and in helping certain people you do damage to many others, then are you really helping?
James S. Fell, MA, MBA, has bylines in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, the Guardian, TIME Magazine, and many other publications. His blog has millions of readers and he is the author of two books: The Holy Sh!t Moment: How Lasting Change Can Happen in an Instant (St. Martin’s Press, 2019), and Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind (Random House Canada, 2014). Order them here.
By Randy Stewart – https://www.flickr.com/photos/stewtopia/3948482669, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16169479