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Tip the Canoe of Tyler Too!

Guerrilla Skepticism

Susan Gerbic and Mark Edward

April 14, 2016

Authors Susan Gerbic and Mark Edward.

I don’t know what you did on Easter Sunday but it had to be better than what we did. Mark Edward and I purchased season 1 episode three of Hollywood Medium from Amazon for $2.99. I hadn’t actually watched a whole Tyler Henry show all the way through before and we wanted to watch together. I’ve been interested in psychic mediums for years and Mark Edward has been more than involved; he worked as a psychic for many years and then wrote a book about it, Psychic Blues, exposing what goes on behind the scenes.

Operation Tater Tot is a project I and others are working on to educate television viewers about the alleged accuracy and endorsements from celebrities of Tyler Henry on the E! Network. E! is proclaiming him as the “real deal,” and his Twitter and Facebook feeds attract thousands of fans. I’m picturing jaw-dropping moments.

What we watched had no jaw-dropping moments; in fact no hits at all. I had assumed that Tyler Henry googled whomever he was going to read and found some key statements he could say he got from the dead. What we found was that it appears to be nothing more than lukewarm cold-reading, flattery and generalities all delivered with a charming smile and a warm personality. We were both disappointed. Not sure why we were surprised; it is so much easier and less likely to be caught in a sting this way.

Let’s break this down.

We watched readings in the homes of celebrities Jodie Sweetin, Julian Rose Reed, Ross Matthews, and comedian Margaret Cho.

First, all four of these people were believers. They all stated to being open to psychic mediums and were excited to participate. Also, keep in mind that these people if they are not getting paid, are getting publicity.

Second, on the show Tyler spent about five minutes reading each person. He may have been doing the reading for 30–90 minutes or more. We don’t know. When watching the show (or any psychic demo on television), remember these are the best clips.

Mark Edward is a mentalist, which is a branch of magic that appears to be possible using psychic powers. It is all about telling stories. Tyler Henry is not telling stories. He is playing it safe and throwing out the most basic of statements and seeing what sticks. Remember, the editors take out anything that does not get a reaction.

Here is the list. Put yourself in this same mindset. How many of these statements would relate to you if you really wanted to believe?

That’s it folks. The whole list of statements Tyler Henry gave in these four sittings, and every time the sitter filled in the details, reaching for whatever they could that would make sense of what Henry was saying. In the after interviews with each of these sitters, they stated that Henry had gotten specific hits. After re-watching, it was clear he did not.

Let’s look these readings over in detail.

With Ross Matthews, Henry said he saw a father figure. “Has your dad actually passed?” And then immediately, “Mom’s still here right?”

When Matthews father was dying in the hospital, Henry described someone missing around the bed, “who was missing?”

Henry stated, “Initially I’m referencing to ‘G’ actually ‘two Gs’” and then asks Matthews, “What’s your mother’s name?” Matthews stated that it starts with a “G” and his grandfather’s last name (not clear which grandfather) starts with a “G.” Henry and Matthews considered this a hit for his “two Gs” statement. I had to play this back a few times to realize that Henry did not say the “G” was the start of a name, but just a “G.”

Henry said that he was getting something about the Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, and hairy feet. Matthews made the connection by saying that in seventh grade, he had played Baggins in a school play, but when asked afterward said, “I was in shock when he said I starred as Bilbo Baggins.”

Henry said the word “Bambi” and Matthews supplied that his father was a hunter who would not shoot deer because of the movie Bambi. Again in the after interview, he said “How did he (Henry) know Bambi? My dad would always say that. It’s weird he could do that, because he is dead on.”

Henry shared a memory with a fish “and I feel like I’m grabbing the fish with my hand and its squirming.” Matthews had just revealed that his father was a hunter, so a statement about someone fishing isn’t that big of a leap. Matthews told the camera afterward that Henry picked up on how he and his dad used to fish together.

Henry did bring up a Chihuahua, a small dog. Apparently, Matthews did own a Chihuahua; it’s not clear when that was. Keep in mind that all dogs are small at some point. Henry did not say that Matthews had or has a Chihuahua or the dog’s name, he only said “I need to bring up a Chihuahua, I’m looking at a little dog… The Chihuahua either barked randomly or did something weird, but there was some incident with the Chihuahua.” I kid you not; this is what Tyler Henry said to Matthews, the Chihuahua “did something.” In the after interview, Matthews said he was shocked that Tyler was able to communicate with his Chihuahua.

Matthews, who during this reading is cuddled up with his male partner on the couch across from Henry, was assured that now on the other side Matthews’s father “always knew his son was gay.” Matthews responded with “well he had eyes and ears.” In other words, Tyler had wrongly assumed that his father died before Matthews came out, but Matthews said that he was openly gay when his father was alive.

The previews for this specific episode showed a shocked Margaret Cho reacting to Henry telling her that Robin Williams had been in touch with him some weeks before and wanted to reach out and connect with her. The show did reveal a “video diary” with Henry talking four weeks prior about Robin Williams appearing to him and Margaret Cho. Henry told his video diary that maybe he will get to read for Cho someday if she is willing. What that viewer is missing is that we don’t know how long Henry’s video diary was, for instance if he goes on for an hour talking about other celebrities he wants to read for. We also do not know if the show’s producer viewed the video diary and said, “Hey let’s see if Cho is up for a reading; lets book her.”

Henry stated that when Cho opened her front door he knew exactly who she was.

The connection with Robin Williams was really weak; Henry made it sound as if Cho and Williams had a unique connection, were friends, and that Williams had been watching Cho preform when he was alive and now from beyond; he is really proud of her. But when Cho talked about her “friendship” with Williams, it is clear that they barely knew each other. She used to watch him preform when she was a kid. There was no connection other than a passing reference that she had been “bumped” to go on stage after Williams several times. Henry then added some statements about why Williams killed himself. Henry told his assistant later that night that at least, “Now we know why he killed himself.” Cho stated the “connection [Tyler had with Williams] was so authentic, that he really was connecting to Robin Williams. I could sense it from his heart and that was really healing for me to hear that.”

Henry stated that he could see an older woman—an aunt figure—do you have an aunt who passed? There is a connection to Washington then a pause. When Cho did not react, he eliminated one choice: “Not Washington DC” and left the other options open. She still did not react, so he asked how the aunt figure could fit into that. Cho went into detail about her aunt being in very bad health and how her aunt wanting to die in Korea, then how she died in a plane over Seattle. In the after interview, Cho said that Henry had seen her auntie, but that is not what Henry said, he saw an older woman—an aunt figure.

Henry asked if Cho might be thinking of writing a book. She said she has been writing a book. He said that there is going to be a two-month delay. Cho replied he was correct as there has been a two-month delay. She stated afterward that saying this comment was so “randomly accurate.” This book, according to Cho, had already been delayed two months, not going to be delayed two months.

Cho gave Henry some jewelry to hold. Henry held the jewelry and stated something about jewelry in a sock. This is one of those statements that sounds pretty specific and if it hits, it really looks impressive. Cho laughed and said that her family does put jewelry in socks and old coffee cans. In his statement, “That is so random; I’m literally seeing jewelry being put in a sock,” Henry confirmed his own sentiment.

Right off in this reading, Henry stated that an older woman is trying to get through. “She views you as a mother to a daughter. Who experienced a fall? Someone had a fall before they passed, she is showing me a fall.” Sweetin smiled and immediately claimed this person was her grandmother who had fallen a lot before she died.

For this next part, remember that Henry was working until recently in a rest home training to be a hospice nurse. Sweetin started to describe her grandmother dying in a hospital or facility of some kind. Henry said that there was something the woman wanted pulled out of her, not attached to her. He said that she was describing to him a motion that she wanted something pulled out. Sweetin said that was because the hospital was trying to feed her with a tube and her grandmother wanted the tube pulled out. Working in a rest home, it’s very likely Tyler Henry saw his share of people being upset that they had a catheter, IV, feeding tube, oxygen mask, and more and didn’t want them.

Henry asked if there were a recovering alcoholic in the family. When Sweetin reluctantly revealed it was herself, Henry told her that her grandmother was so proud of her for managing to stay off alcohol. So one minute Henry did not know that it is Sweetin and the next the grandmother is specifically talking to her granddaughter. Then Henry stated that he knows that Sweetin has dreamed of her grandmother since she died.

Henry said that there was a young person who had passed near Julian Reed. He then went on to say that this young person had a choice; they knew if they lived it would be a difficult life because of health issues, but the person chose death instead. It sounded more like a person who had been hooked up to life support or had been in an accident and could not cling to life any longer, possibly dying before help could arrive. During the time Henry was saying this, Reed had already claimed the person, nodding her head in agreement with tears in her eyes.

Reed asked Henry if he can “get the name” and Henry replied that “no, not a ton; what is interesting is that I often find that I connect to a name or a detail or a specific, but it is not always a name … it is often very strange.” Name, detail, or specific: that pretty much covers everything. Then he asked her if she has any questions for “this person.” She stated, “If I were to open up more and tell you who this person is, could you get more?” Tyler almost stumbled over himself saying “Yes, possibly.”

It was her little brother who had died at age three from a hospital infection. This does not sound like someone who was choosing to die or mature enough to decide that living his quality of life would have been a burden on others.

Then Henry almost off-handily told her to check to see if there is a Michael connection associated with her little brother. Reed sucked in her breath and said, “That’s his name… his name was Michael.” In the after interview, she said that Henry knew her brother’s name was Michael. He did not say that at all; he said that there was a connection to the name Michael.

Michael apparently wanted to mention someone with a history in dance: “a teacher or dancer or…” Reed supplied that he is referring to her mother. It’s odd that this three-year-old thinks of his mother as a dance teacher and not as his mother. If this sounds like an odd hit, keep in mind all Henry is throwing out is a reference to a person in dance, which can refer to someone dancing around the house, a cartoon character dancing, or any other connection. We also do not know what is in the house that Henry might have seen on his way to the couch where this reading is taking place. These are their homes; there can be many opportunities for “reading” the home. There might have been photographs, posters, magazines, and who knows what else he could have seen.

Reed told Henry that she had an older brother. “I want to talk about two kids. How many does he have currently?” Then he told her that there is a new baby on the way and Reed got so excited, clapped her hands, and Henry said that he is so excited for them also. We noticed that Henry did not state the sex of the baby that will be “relatively soon be arriving.” He kept calling it, “the baby.”

Finally with Julian Reed’s reading, Henry was presented with something that could easily soon be checked. Reed was really worried that the show she was currently on will not be picked up for another season. I paused the show and asked Mark Edward, “How would you get out of this one?” Mark said he would be very general and state that he sees something better coming soon in her future. So we continued watching and sure enough, Henry said pretty much the same thing; that he saw two changes happening soon and something in March, then something even better afterward.

Other things to notice that manipulates the TV viewer’s emotions are the music cues. There are defiantly cues to tell the viewer to get ready for some inspirational feel-good moments. The music changed again when it appears he got a hit.

I don’t fault these sitters for their emotion and miss-remembering. They do not have the luxury of viewing the show over, hitting pause, and listening to bits again and again as we did. They have just had their emotions manipulated, their lives reaffirmed, told everything will be great, and their loved ones are watching over their lives and families. Also, these readings are much longer than the five minutes presented for the TV viewer. Information comes at them very quickly and the questions Henry asks are inserted among the statements.

Another aspect of Henry’s style that is very common with mediums is how they reaffirm every piece of information that is given to them as if they knew it all along. He nods many times, smiles, and states, “yes, which makes sense” or “right that is what I’m hearing.” These kinds of statements can become overwhelming to the sitter. It is not just Henry and the sitter in that room. There is a lot of pressure to be charismatic and sell their personality to viewers; even for these Hollywood celebrities, there is a lot at stake.

Every one of these sitters stated afterward how much better they felt, how life-affirming their life choices are, and how relieved to know that life will be good. Henry never touched on bad news. No one ever seems to have a message from beyond that is negative or a warning of any kind. It was all love light and love.

So what did we learn from all this and why bother with an article in such detail about the readings? After watching just this one show, Mark and I learned that Tyler Henry does not have to bother knowing who he is reading far in advance. He only has to look around his surroundings and pick up clues. (He told Margaret Cho that her finances were in great shape. Well, just look around her home.) To say that the slightest shred of skepticism on the part of any of the sitters we watched was in short supply would be a gross understatement.

Henry is still at the beginning of his career. As he becomes more experienced, he will probably start telling more stories and less very general statements about Hobbits, Bambi, and older females who have a “G” somewhere in their name. In this sort of career, the leaps on the learning curve tend to be exponential rather than slight.

Mark tells me not to be surprised if we see Tyler Henry going out and hitting the road with stadium-sized shows before too long. As with fellow performers like John Edward and Theresa Caputo, arena shows are an excellent training ground for allowing newcomers such as Henry to sharpen his wits and learn the tools that come with experience on the road.

Why are we focusing so much energy on Operation Tater Tot? Henry has to start somewhere. He is still learning, but with his sweet smile and cloyingly warm personality, he has a lot of potential. Hollywood Medium just got a second season. He has thousands of fans and his Wikipedia page has already attracted 236,281 views since it was written only three months ago.

We cannot show that Henry is a fake. It is extremely difficult to prove a negative. Nor is it our responsibility to show he is making it all up. The show is making the extraordinary claim, not us.

We invite you to ask yourself what is more likely: That Tyler Henry has the power to reach beyond death and pick up impressions being shown to him by dead people like so many others out there in whack-a-mole psychic-land; or is he just cutting his baby teeth on another round of the boy-next door angle, using cold-reading and feeding his clients a steady stream of sweetly delivered fairy tales?

It is hard for those of us who feel bad for anyone left in tears to imagine why a person professing these abilities isn’t instead working with law enforcement to solve real crimes or finding missing persons. We can only surmise that his handlers and the people behind his show on E! think he’s just too busy visiting celebrities at their Palm Springs homes, asking them about small dogs, older people falling down, and father figures. Group hug everyone.

Susan Gerbic and Mark Edward

Mark Edward and Susan Gerbic are skeptical activists; they have traveled to several counties in their battle to expose what they call grief vampires and to educate the public. Edward has appeared on TV in his role as a mentalist and also as an expert on the paranormal. Gerbic is the organizer and leader of several exposés of psychics, including Operation Bumblebee and Operation Ice Cream Cone. You can contact them at markmindreader@gmail.com and SusanGerbic.com.