12 December 2017
Sometimes what is missing from a psychic reading is more interesting and more important than what was actually said.
Case in point: In the summer of 2016, as a promo for the third season of E! Network’s Hollywood Medium, psychic Tyler Henry sat down with American television host of The Today Show, Matt Lauer. They recorded for an hour, and The Today Show released a 6:35 segment on YouTube. This video has been watched 1,025,162 times, and has more than 4,000 likes, and 890 comments.
As I write this, Lauer has just been fired from his job as the host of The Today Show. The media is reporting that Lauer was accused of many cases of inappropriate sexual behavior with women. Lauer released a statement soon after, and apologized for his actions, admitting that some of the allegations were true. I remembered that Tyler Henry had done a psychic reading for Lauer and I wondered if there was any foreboding of this scandal. Most people would say that this has been the worst week of Lauer’s life, surely Tyler Henry must have seen it coming and warned him?
I’m going to give a brief overview of the reading, with my explications of what is on the video. Then I will describe what is missing. The video, if you want to follow along, can be watched below.
Let’s set the scene first. Tyler Henry is sitting with cameras and lights on a set, and Lauer walks in with ease and confidence. He shakes Henry’s hand and says he really doesn’t know how this works. There is voice-over from Lauer telling us that Henry has been on The Today Show doing readings before and that Henry did not want to know who he was going to read in advance. This is typical of all of Henry’s videos; there is strong stress on this point: Henry does not know who he is going to read. This is a reaction to skeptics claiming that Henry Googles people in advance. I’ve written about Henry many times, here, here, and here stating that, from my investigations, it appears that Henry does not need to do research. By using cold-reading techniques, he can produce the same effect as what we see happening during a reading.
In this case, Henry does know Lauer, and they greet each other with Lauer saying, “Good to see you again Tyler, how have you been?” Henry knew that he was shooting a promo for Hollywood Medium, so it seems probable that he knew he would be reading Lauer.
Henry uses psychometry (holding a personal object) in order for him to focus on who the sitter would like to “come through” during the reading. Lauer (this is explained by a voice-over) brought a pocketknife that was given to him by his maternal grandfather. Lauer gave it to Henry, who then said that many people want to come through. This is a statement that mediums use as a way to transition between “stories”; if they aren’t getting good hits with someone, they just move to the next person, saying things like, “so now an older woman is pushing her way forward and wants to acknowledge a dog. Does that connect to you?”
Henry then mentioned a “fatherly kind of essence” who did not want to die in a hospital surrounded by doctors. I’m not sure how many people would be happy to die in a hospital, but Henry goes on to acknowledge that this person was grateful that he did not die “in a traditional kind of facility.” At first, I wondered about this statement, as it does seem a bit of a risk to state it with certainty at the beginning of the sitting. So, I went back and watched this exchange a few more times, paying attention to the body language of Lauer. And sure enough, you can watch him agreeing with Henry, nodding his head, making eye contact and reassuring Henry he was on the right track. Henry is young, but he has done over a thousand readings and is no fool when it comes to body language feedback.
I also want to point out that as soon as Henry starts talking about this “fatherly kind of essence,” Lauer’s demeanor completely changes. His head drops and his voice softens. During a voice-over, Lauer says that Henry is talking about his father who died in 1997.
At this point, Lauer in his mind has claimed the “fatherly kind of essence” as his father. But for Henry, he still does not know if this is a father, grandfather, father-in-law, a mentor, uncle, brother, or a close male friend. Henry plays it safe and continues saying “he” or “this person” but nothing else to describe him.
Next Henry moves onto something that seems specific but really is a common general statement made by mediums doing readings. The “fatherly kind of essence” is showing Henry, “a coin, coins, or a coin collection.” Henry follows up with, “that is a really odd thing.” Henry does this all the time; he makes a very general statement and acts like it was specific. Lauer says that he has a couple of silver dollars from him but not a lot. Henry replies that there is a third coin somewhere.
Next Henry lightens the mood a bit and throws out another general “vision.” The “fatherly kind of essence” is showing him a bird that was in the house and someone had to trap the bird and it was really funny. Lauer said that this had actually happened.
How risky was that statement for Henry? Birds fly into homes, and businesses, and all kinds of places; it’s not that unusual. And they often will not leave on their own and need to be removed. I’m sure it is pretty comical when it happens. (One of the people who commented on the video said that while watching, a bird flew into her house.) The odds of Lauer connecting to this story are pretty high, a quick YouTube search and you will find endless videos of birds flying inside homes. If Lauer had not connected, then Henry had several options. He could have said, “this happened before you were born, ask someone else in the family” or maybe it was on a TV show they could have watched together, or it could have happened to someone else in the family. Henry does not say to whom this happened or when. That leaves the door wide open for Lauer to make the connection. Or the final out, if Lauer had not connected to the story, Henry could just move on to something else knowing that only the best parts of the reading will actually air. And Lauer (like most humans) will remember the hits and forget the misses.
And once again, Henry makes a statement claiming that what he just said was really specific, “It’s random details like that that proves someone is coming through.”
Next, Henry says that the “fatherly kind of essence” has just told him that Lauer has sleep apnea; something that Lauer confirms. Sounds like a specific hit. Well … what are the odds that a man would have it? A Google search tells me that about 4 percent of men have it, so that does look like a hit. Well done “fatherly kind of essence.” Oh wait … a Google search for “Matt Lauer” and “sleep apnea” returns a 2014 article, How early does Matt wake up? In this article, Lauer says that he “sometimes” has sleep apnea. Very possibly Lauer has discussed this on The Today Show; maybe when Henry was present. When Henry was getting his makeup and hair done before the taping, he could have innocently asked the stylists something like, “Matt must get up really early in the morning; he probably has sleeping problems?” With that little question mark at the end of the sentence and a pause, they easily could have told him all kinds of things. Not so difficult for a personable Tyler Henry to glean a bit of information. It’s not as if this was a test for the JREF million-dollar challenge. So the sleep apnea was not so much of a hit as I first thought.
The “fatherly kind of essence” now acknowledges a lone individual in a boat with a fishing pole. Lauer is nodding in agreement. The video cues the emotional music, so viewers know we need to start getting misty eyed. Lauer clearly emotional, tells Henry that this “fatherly kind of essence” is his father. Which leads Henry to smoothly say, “Your father is SO immensely proud of you, you didn’t have to get to where you are today for him to be proud of you … or successful in his eyes. He views you as successful regardless.” Very smooth Henry! He added that tidbit as if he had known all along they had been talking about Lauer’s father.
Next, Lauer asks if there is something his father wants to know. Which is a rather odd question, but Lauer is probably a bit emotional as he has been convinced that he is speaking to his father who died nineteen years ago. Henry says, “He just wants to know if you are happy.” “Yes,” Lauer says, “I am.”
Then the video cuts to Lauer on the beach wearing sunglasses and talking to the other hosts who are back in the newsroom. Lauer is telling them that after that reading, he cried and cried. He said his hands were shaking the whole time and Henry was “spot on.”
Remember that what we were shown was only five minutes of an hour long reading. So, a lot is missing; editing pulls together the best bits for the video promo. Anything that was a miss would not make the cut. Only the best parts would be shown. If there were a lot of great hits, they would have cut the part about the coins or the sleep apnea. They could have run a longer video; so I assume these were the best hits: A “fatherly kind of essence” who did not want to die in a hospital and who gave Lauer silver dollars and wants him to go find the third one. Then there was a bird was loose in someone’s house, and he also wanted to tell Lauer something that he already knew, that he has sleep apnea. Oh, and about the boat: it looks like another hit. Or does it? A Google search for “Matt Lauer” and “father” gives me this article, Today’s Anchor Chat: Matt Lauer’s Fish Tale from 2007 where he says, “One thing you have to understand about me is that outside of my family and my work, I have two passions, both instilled in me by my father: golf and fishing … We also used to do a lot of freshwater fishing, which we both loved … .”
I’m not saying that Henry did a Google search as I did; I’m saying that Lauer’s love for fishing came from his dad, and this was not a well-guarded secret. In that same article, Lauer mentions his favorite photo of his son is one he took on the boat with a striped bass that they had caught minutes before. Perhaps that photo is framed on Lauer’s desk. What is more likely? That a dead person communicated to Tyler Henry a vision of Matt Lauer sitting in a boat with a fishing pole? Or, Henry saw a photo, or heard a story from Lauer’s co-workers, about how much he likes to fish on his boat?
It’s possible, even likely, that Lauer really did think Henry was “spot on.” This was an hour sitting, and a very emotional hour. Lauer is not asking the questions, he is not in control as he is used to. The psychic was throwing a lot at him very quickly, and his brain tried to make sense of it all. That’s how human brains work; we look for connections. Even if something is a bit of a stretch, we will try to make sense of it all. Plus, we want the psychic to be accurate. Henry is very personable and charming, and Lauer likely wanted to make a really good promo. Henry claimed to be speaking to his father, and Lauer really wanted that to be true. And, as we tend to remember the hits and forget the misses, I can’t blame Lauer for thinking the reading was accurate. I’m at home, able to rewind, over and over, rewatch whatever I want, and think about what happened. Lauer wasn’t even taking notes during the reading. I have a notebook with many pages full of notes.
As I said at the beginning, sometimes what is missing is more important than what was said.
What happened to the maternal grandfather who gave the pocketknife to Lauer? We don’t hear from him at all. If it had been a hit, then it would have been included in the segment. In this review of the reading, you might have become annoyed with me continuality using the phrase, “fatherly kind of essence” instead of just saying “father” as we knew that Lauer thought his dad was coming through. We know this is supposed to be dad. But until Lauer said it, Henry didn’t know. And Henry carefully guarded his words with just “he” or “this person” until just seconds after Lauer admitted it was his dad.
Henry, never mentioned a name, not initials, not even one letter. No places, no dates, no mention of a wife, other children, siblings, his parents, grandchildren. Nothing. He mentioned he died, but nothing about the illness or the room. What about pets or family friends, anniversaries or … well … anything?
Lauer had the chance to talk to his father and never asked him any questions? He didn’t ask for advice or even about what the future has in store for him and his family. Dad just wanted him to find the third coin! Really?
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. As I write this, Matt Lauer has just been fired from The Today Show. This is all over the news; it is a very big deal. It is possibly the most important thing that could have happened to him outside of him becoming a star journalist. The allegations against him, if true, are disgusting. Coworkers are coming forward saying that they all knew he was unfaithful to his wife, but they didn’t know that he was having non-consensual relations with other women. Lauer’s father said he is “immensely proud” of Matt. Really? If these claims of infidelity and or sexual harassment are true, you are immensely proud of your son?
And if they are not true, or only partly true, then why was dad spending his precious, limited time communicating through Henry about sleep apnea? Dad just wanted his son to “be happy.” How about a head’s up dad? This week has been earth-shatteringly difficult for Lauer and his family; for the next few years, Matt Lauer will be the butt of many jokes. He is likely to lose his wife and children; he has already lost his career, and dad just wants to talk about a bird that flew into the house?
Something is really missing here. And that is the point. Each of these recorded readings can be reviewed years later and analyzed. Just like when Tyler Henry didn’t mention to Alan Thicke that just two months after their reading, Thicke would be dead.
I’ve read through the comments on this video. Some are believers, hoping they will be able to get a reading from Tyler Henry. Others are slamming psychics as frauds. Almost no one is commenting on the actual statements from the reading or noticing what is missing. As I noted at the beginning of this article, sometimes what is missing from a psychic reading is more important than what was actually said.
I would like to thank Rob Palmer for suggesting I write this article and Stuart Jones and Rob Palmer for reviewing my writing.
By Susan Gerbic
Affectionately called the Wikipediatrician, Susan Gerbic is the cofounder of Monterey County Skeptics and a self-proclaimed skeptical junkie. Susan is also founder of the Guerrilla Skepticism on Wikipedia (GSoW) project. You can contact her at SusanGerbic@yahoo.com
Originally published on csicop.org and republished here with full permission.