Tony Robbins is American. Buzzfeed is an American news organization. Last week, Buzzfeed published its sixth story in an investigative series about Robbins, that included a story of Robbins allegedly sexually assaulting a high schooler at a summer camp in California. Which, last I checked [looks around quickly], is also in America. So, you might wonder why it is that Robbins has sued Buzzfeed in Ireland. Robbin's layer, Paul Tweed has tried to defend the decision to sue in Ireland, but I'm having trouble seeing how any of this is convincing:
"My client is entitled to have his name cleared. In my opinion the Irish courts are just as capable of making that determination as the English courts or the American courts," said Mr Tweed.
He said Ireland would be the appropriate forum for both sets of proceedings as Twitter’s European headquarters is in Dublin.
"It is totally appropriate that we try to keep everything under one roof," he said.
Wait, what? He's suing Buzzfeed, not Twitter, though apparently he's threatening to sue Twitter too. For what?
Mr Robbins is not only aggrieved with Buzzfeed’s coverage, but the manner in which it has spread on social media platforms.
Mr Tweed said his firm had put Twitter "on notice" of a potential lawsuit.
That's not how any of this works.
Of course, the real reason to sue in Ireland is because either lawsuit would be laughed out of court in the US. The bar to prove defamation against a public figure like Robbins would make it nearly impossible for Robbins to win a defamation lawsuit here, unless he could somehow prove that Buzzfeed made up the reporting, which seems highly unlikely. And, of course, Section 230 of the CDA would protect Twitter. Even in Europe, it seems unlikely that Twitter could be held liable for how other people tweeted, just because Mr. Robbins is "aggrieved" about how this story spread.
Robbins himself put up a laughably bad defense of this legal strategy in a Medium post that actually starts with exactly why his lawsuit should be thrown out with Robbins being told to pay the defendants' legal fees:
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter said, “Without a free press, there can be no free society.”
Freedom of the press is central to the democratic experiment and our last, best line of defense against those in power who threaten the rule of law.
Yeah, that's why we don't let rich assholes sue the media every time they publish an unflattering story. But, I guess, with Ireland not having a 1st Amendment and all, you figure why not jump on a bit of libel tourism to show them who's boss?
Robbins' Medium post does highlight some of those quoted in earlier stories who later repudiated their quotes or said they felt pressured by Buzzfeed's reporters. But that, alone, does not make the original reporting defamatory. And, the fact that Robbins is suing in Ireland, rather than the US certainly suggests that his lawyers here know that he'd lose big time if he tried it here (which also means that any attempt to try to collect money in the US should he somehow win these lawsuits under Irish law, would be easily blocked by the SPEECH Act, which bars attempts by libel tourists to go oversees to get a judgment and then enforce it against US parties).
Buzzfeed, for its part, stands by its reporting.
We learned today that Tony Robbins has started legal proceedings against BuzzFeed in Ireland following a series of reports on allegations of inappropriate sexual advances, verbal abuse and, most recently, an alleged sexual assault of a teen. This reporting is based on hundreds of interviews, audio recordings, and documentary evidence, and we stand by it unequivocally.
Mr Robbin has chosen to sue us abroad rather than address the detailed account of the woman who said he attacked her; the two women who say they saw it happen; and the accounts of dozens of others. The fact that he doesn't even seek to address these claims, choosing instead to abuse the Irish court system and attack BuzzFeed, speaks for itself.
To be fair, Robbins does pretend to try to address the latest claims of assault in his Medium post... but his "response" is basically "that was a long time ago" and nothing else:
Today, BuzzFeed published another article riddled with falsehoods, concerning an alleged incident from 1985, 34 years ago when I was 25 years old. (I turn 60 in just a few months).
He does not note a single "falsehood" in the story. Instead, the rest of his post is basically a smear campaign against Buzzfeed, filled with out of context statements and innuendo (exactly the kind of thing he claims Buzzfeed is doing to him). He complains about their journalistic technique of asking a source to confirm a story, saying that the source called Robbins instead because he "felt [the reporter] had an agenda." That may be interesting, but is not defamatory. It also goes on a weird tangent about "current research on the topic of memories" to suggest that "memories can be influenced and distorted." Look: when you don't actually respond to accusations of sexually assaulting a teen, other than to say it was a long time ago, and then start babbling on about how memories can be distorted, that doesn't make it sound like you're denying anything. It makes it sound like you're scrambling for excuses.
It seems that Tony Robbins is the latest in a long line of very wealthy men who get so upset about journalists reporting stories they'd prefer not to see who tries to SLAPP them in response. Robbins is adding the overseas element here, perhaps recognizing how badly such a lawsuit would fare in the US. But, as Buzzfeed itself notes, this kind of cowardly attack speaks for itself.
Filed Under: defamation, free speech, ireland, libel tourism, paul tweed, reporting, tony robbinsCompanies: buzzfeed