When clicks become more valuable than truth: The BuzzFeed Attack on Tony Robbins

May 20, 2019

Article originally published on Medium

Anyone working to have a positive impact on the world should be worried about the recent BuzzFeed article about Tony Robbins.

Whether the allegations made by BuzzFeed are true or not, their article is a far cry from investigative journalism; instead, it is a poorly constructed and heavily flawed hit-piece.

If the allegations are true, BuzzFeed has done a terrible disservice to the truth by presenting their case so poorly and with such unbalanced reporting.

And if, as I believe, the allegations range from exaggerated to profoundly ridiculous, they have attempted to damage the reputation of a man who millions of people regard as an essential and influential mentor.

For background sake, a few things you should know:

– BuzzFeed published an article, claiming a year of research, about Tony Robbins, alleging a variety of bad behavior ranging from sexual harassment to abuse of clients. Further, the article has a shrill intensity that makes it seem as if they have proof that Tony is a genuinely terrible human and that their ‘article’ is full of revelations that will save people from significant suffering.

– I have both been a client of Tony’s (in the early ‘90s), and I have worked closely with him and spent a great deal of personal time with him (circa 2011/12).

– Most people read headlines and highlights without being concerned with the details and still act and perhaps feel as though they are informed.

Whatever your opinion of Mr. Robbins, this article is the worse kind of journalism. It is evident that the authors had an agenda which had little to do with trying to get to the truth. Instead, they cherry-picked information, took quotes out of context, and ignored key and positive testimony by the various sources they used that did not fit the narrative they wanted.

Again, whatever you think of Tony, you should be dismayed by this.

I will start with what I see as the most egregious aspect of the ‘article’:

BuzzFeed used an excerpt of a conversation between Tony and a client that was recorded at one of his live events. They took a few minutes of a two-hour discussion and used those two minutes out of context to paint Tony in the worst possible light. And, with the two minutes they used, it wasn’t difficult: Tony often relies on harsh language and shocking statements in his interventions with clients.

What Tony said during those two minutes makes for great click-bait and shock factor. And while Tony uses expletives far more often than I believe to be necessary, the things he said had a purpose and a context.

In an interesting twist, the woman in question has since uploaded a video to address BuzzFeed’s misreporting. In the video, she says that her interaction with Tony “changed her life” and helped her to write a best-selling book that has, in turn, gone on to help thousands of people.

She also says that she told BuzzFeed the whole story when they interviewed her, but they ignored her story and based their article on the quotes that would create the most controversy and attract the most clicks. They only gave light reference to her clear statement that the interaction with Tony was positive.

Surely it is up to her to decide whether or not she was ‘abused’ during her interaction with Tony?

This should leave us all — irrespective of our feelings about Tony Robbins — asking why they left this information out.

They knew that the interaction had been positive and productive. They knew that the woman experienced a significant breakthrough and improved her quality of life. But they left that in what can only be a deliberate attempt to damage Tony Robbins with falsehoods. This not just irresponsible reporting; it is evil reporting.

There are other issues raised in the BuzzFeed article; briefly, here is my take:

Unwanted Sexual Advancements

The stories as told by BuzzFeed — which we already know is a very suspect source of stories — barely qualify for the lowest end of any kind of a #MeToo event. Please consider a few things:

a) Dating involves making potentially ‘unwanted sexual advances’ — that is called, asking someone out. As soon as you ask someone out, and they say no, you have made an ‘unwanted sexual advance.’

b) Dating as a celebrity presents its own brand of challenges because it is hard to find someone who wants to be with you for *you* rather than your wealth and fame.

And so, if Tony asked his security guard — assuming that at least this account is accurate — to offer women a chance to meet Tony, who are we to judge? That might not be your dating strategy but, in a sense, it is only one step removed from asking your friend to ask someone out, something most of us did routinely in high school.

One of the women quoted in the story says that a few advances were made while she was a volunteer and that after refusing them all, she was taken on as staff. (In other words, her refusing his alleged sexual advances did not cause Tony or his organization to hold back any opportunity for employment.)

Tony is a powerful man and, perhaps, has the odd sexual skeleton in his closet and admitted as much in a 2013 interview he did with Playboy Magazine. That said, BuzzFeed says that they have been researching this story about Tony for a year, had access to a plethora of insiders and still only managed to find some vague and relatively innocuous allegations none of which have taken place in the last 15 years.

Banned Recording and Confidentiality Agreements

This should be pretty self-explanatory. The major hook of the BuzzFeed article comes from a small audio segment from one of Tony’s live events that BuzzFeed knowingly took out of context. Further, remember that the woman in question has been clear that the intervention was effective, had a positive impact on her life and that she is grateful for it.

With this in mind, it is easy to see why Tony would want to protect himself from recordings at his events; the improper use of excerpts taken out of context can be extremely damaging in the wrong hands.

They suggest blocking recordings as a lack of transparency; I see it as protection against unethical journalists.

This incident has shown me that I have typically been relatively lax about letting people record audio at our live events. Following BuzzFeed’s abuse of out-of-context excerpts, we are considering changing that for all of our events.


Assuming these allegations are correct — the worst of which involving a dropped towel — I think it is important to remember that circumstantial value systems govern our response to nakedness. For instance, in theater, it is quite common for people to do costume changes in front of each other and members of the crew and nobody gets into a tizzy about it.

Tony is a very busy person — rarely have I seen a work ethic like his — and he hires personal assistants to be around pretty much round the clock. Does this mean that they might seem him naked from time to time? Sure, and it may have been unwise of Tony to allow this, it was far from abusive.

People having Breakdowns at Tony’s Events.

Yes, I have seen this. It is true. But let’s step back for a minute because, frankly, this article is suggesting something to this effect:

Don’t go to the hospital, everyone who goes there seems to get sick or injured.

Tony has had a significant and positive impact on millions of people, me included. Are there people he could not help? I imagine so. Are there people that may have felt harmed by working with Tony? It is possible.

What I know, however, is that people often go to Tony as their last hope. They arrive with deep personal issues expecting Tony to be a miracle cure for their problem.

I attended a live event of his in 1993, and I was approached by a couple who told me that they were on the edge of divorce because of the husband’s debilitating jealousy (he forced her to carry two phones at all times). She was living in fear. And their marriage was under threat.

I asked them why they came to the seminar with such a serious issue; they explained that they had tried everything else and had heard that Tony was really good at ‘intervention.’

When they realized that it was unlikely that they would get to work with Tony personally, they asked me to help by partnering up with the husband on one of the exercises. I did. And it was fascinating. Forty-five minutes later, he looked at me and told me that the jealousy was gone. Totally.

I didn’t believe him. But for the rest of the event, they were a different couple; warm, affectionate, connected.

And then I called them a few months later, to check in. They were excellent; their relationship had transformed, and she was taking golf and tennis lessons from male instructors; something that would never have been permitted before.

I am trying, perhaps inelegantly, to make two points here:

1) Tony’s events attract many people with deep behavioral and psychological issues; so yes, there may be more meltdowns and challenges at his events than the average birthday party but that is because he attracted those people to his events, not because he harmed them.

2) Tony’s programs work. If I could, at 23, guide this man through the exercise and in only 45 minutes cure him of debilitating jealousy, it was only because Tony created the exercise and facilitated the event.

Look, I am clearly biased. Both my wife and I feel that our lives are as good as they are because of our time with Tony both before our marriage, as clients, and more recently, working with Tony directly. He has been a positive influence on both of us; independently and together.

That said, I have not written this article to defend Tony as much as I have written it to warn everyone how dangerous it is when we allow the fake press to launch unfounded and unbalanced attacks against anyone. You or I could be next.

Lastly, let’s talk about motivations.

Gary King reached out to BuzzFeed, claiming to be concerned for women. While I know Gary to have a big heart and believe that he probably does care about women, I don’t believe that his motivation was anywhere near pure.

Let’s consider three things:

1) The photographs attached to the BuzzFeed article (provided by King) are no better than promotional material for Gary King: a group picture with a personal note from Tony; Gary and Tony with a private jet; and of course Gary King wearing a hat promoting his ‘Happiness Formula.’

I find that disgusting. And a clear signal that this was far more about Gary King having his moment in the sun than it was ever about defending women.

2) Knowing that BuzzFeed is not known for journalistic integrity, one has to wonder why King chose them. Surely, he would have preferred a serious news outlet? Was BuzzFeed the only publication he approached or were they merely the only ones prepared to take such a half-baked story and tell it in such an unbalanced way.

3) BuzzFeed has shown, time and again, that they care more about clicks and revenues than they do about the truth. Their motivation here is clear.

And so, again, I see this article as a warning to anyone aiming to make a difference in the world. This is a case of small-minded people using made up controversy to generate profits at the expense of others.

If by chance, further stories come out now about Tony and his behavior, BuzzFeed will claim vindication in the face of the backlash they have seen. Instead, I would suggest that they have damaged the truth by publishing rubbish, to begin with, and therefore potentially weakening any legitimate stories that may come to light.

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