Self-help guru Tony Robbins issued a scathing denial early Friday after BuzzFeed News accused him of systematic sexual harassment in stark contrast to his often-squeaky-clean image.
Relying on secret recordings and leaked emails, BuzzFeed News charges in its report that the self-help superstar “created a highly sexualized environment in which both men and women have been told to touch themselves intimately and simulate orgasms—but he has repeatedly singled women out of the crowd for more personal attention.”
Robbins is a bestselling author and multimillionaire who specializes in helping victims of sexual and emotional abuse and works with those who struggle with addiction and mental illness before arena-size audiences. He promises those in need that their lives will be transformed after he helps them “rewire” their brains. He charges thousands of dollars per session and has worked with Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, the Kardashian family, and Oprah Winfrey. His top-dollar program sets members back $85,000 a year.
But BuzzFeed News contends that behind the pearly white smile is a sinister man who preys on vulnerable women, claiming its investigation “reveals how Robbins has berated and victim-shamed abuse victims and subjected his followers to unorthodox and potentially dangerous techniques.” The authors also claim that “former female fans and staffers have accused him of inappropriate sexual advances.”
Robbins responded to the exposé, which he knew was coming out, with an open letter published on Medium in which he accused the news organization of carrying out an “agenda” that included manipulating the facts and its sources and refusing to meet with him personally.
“Unfortunately, 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,” he wrote. “It is intended to disparage me personally, my family, my life’s work, and the efforts of the millions of individuals around the globe who have taken this journey with me over the last 40-plus years.”
He then accused BuzzFeed News of failing to objectively report the story. “To put it in the words of your own reporters, you are preparing to publish an article with the malicious intent to ‘take Tony Robbins down.’”
However, in comments to The Daily Beast, a spokesman for BuzzFeed rejected the allegations Robbins made in his Medium post.
“Our reporting is based on records of Mr. Robbins berating victims of rape and domestic violence, and the testimony of former staffers and followers who accused him of inappropriate sexual advances. It does not appear that Mr. Robbins read the story itself before he published his open letter, which contains a number of demonstrably false and defamatory claims about both our reporting and the resulting article.”
Among BuzzFeed’s claims: Two former “followers” who worked for Robbins “felt he had sexually harassed them by repeatedly pursuing them after they made clear they weren’t interested.” Two other women, also under his employ, alleged that Robbins often asked them to work in his hotel room when he was naked or in the shower. “And another former employee said she was fired after having a consensual sexual relationship with Robbins,” the article states.
The sexual allegations took place before Robbins married his second wife and after he parted with his first.
Robbins’ rebuttal, at times, sounds something like his empowerment talks, touching on the power of personal strength to overcome adversity. He claims that the BuzzFeed allegations stem from the past.
“After more than a year-long investigation by your online entertainment company, 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,” Robbins writes. “You also allege (through anonymous sources) that I pursued conflicting intimate relationships. Your claims range from indistinct to ridiculous.”
BuzzFeed, which titled its exposé “This Is the Story Tony Robbins Doesn’t Want You to Read,” told The Daily Beast that they stand by their reporting. “Our reporting is based on records of Mr. Robbins berating victims of rape and domestic violence, and the testimony of former staffers and followers who accused him of inappropriate sexual advances,” Tess Atkinson, head of BuzzFeed communications, said in an email to The Daily Beast. “It does not appear that Mr. Robbins read the story itself before he published his open letter, which contains a number of demonstrably false and defamatory claims about both our reporting and the resulting article.”