Apr 22, 2016

CNN Still Soft-Soaping James Ray

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

A magician never reveals his secrets... unless he's a down on his luck, ex-con, trying to mount a comeback, and you stick a camera in his face.

Sometimes I miss New York. This is one of those times, because this week's debut of Enlighten Us: The Rise and Fall of James Arthur Ray at the Tribeca Film Festival is an event I'm actually sorry to miss, if only for stunning reveals like the above. You want to see how I played my followers like fiddles? Watch my hands, as I subliminally conduct your thoughts and feelings. See? ACTING!!!

This is not to say that it's a great film. I'm hearing not very good things about its effectiveness in conveying the horror of James Ray's actions, or holding him to account. For starters, the families of his victims were never even contacted by the filmmakers, so their voices and continuing concerns are notably absent. According to The Verge, Virginia Brown, mother of the late Kirby Brown, took it upon herself to contact the director, Jenny Carchman, and met with her over lunch. Kirby's sister Jean Brown's calls were unreturned, and Carchman declined to interview any family members on film. Ginny has posted a letter under the auspices of SEEK Safely, Inc., the organization of which she is a founding member.

We were disturbed to see clips of Ray “at work” before and after his incarceration serving as an infomercial for his comeback. The film failed to look critically at the tactics Ray had used prior to his incarceration and continues to use that put his customers at risk of emotional, financial,and physical harm; the film even omitted important facts such as the suicide of another attendee at a Ray event just months prior to the three deaths in Sedona. Many of these tactics, such as encouraging participants to share about personal trauma in a group setting, are commonly used in the unregulated selfhelp industry and are exactly the sorts of “red flags” SEEK wants to alert consumers to.

When asked at the end of the film how and why Sedona happened, Ray’s declares, “Sedona had to happen. It was the only way I could experience and learn… A test of character. I think I did ok.” Unfortunately, the people who were injured and traumatized, and especially those who died, are not so “ok."

According to this morning's write-up on The Daily Beast, only four of the survivors of that 2009 sweat lodge appear in the documentary.

So, on the one hand, filmmakers recorded James Ray tacitly admitting that three people were sacrificed on the altar of his own personal development. But, on the other, as jaw-dropping as that is, the overall approach was uncritical, never challenging Ray on his outrageously self-indulgent commentary.

"The case that ensued set legal precedent," he insists. It was, he says, "the first time in the history of this country [when] consenting adults participated willfully in a legal activity... an accident occurred, and it was prosecuted as a crime." He later says that the sweat lodge tragedy "had to happen for [him] to learn and grow."

Such scenes in the film are powerful depictions of Ray’s blatant narcissism. But they also represent where Enlighten Us fails.

The implication that no accident has ever been prosecuted as a crime is patently false: airplane crashes, hunting accidents, accidental heatstroke deaths in cars, the BP oil spill. Accidents are prosecuted as crimes all the time, and yet the filmmakers brush right past that, allowing Ray’s willful misdirection to pass as meaningful commentary.

As one film-goer noted, "Carchman’s approach is even-handed enough to give viewers grist to consider him a veritable David Koresh or Ralph Waldo Emerson, depending on their inclinations."

The documentary was produced by CNN Films, so you'll forgive me for not being shocked at the total lack of journalistic scrutiny Ray receives. CNN's history of enabling this huckster will be familiar to readers of this blog. Those who read my trial coverage will remember that Tru TV's "In Session," which initially broadcast the trial, dropped it like one of James Ray's "hellacious hot" rocks, when it became clear that he was guilty and would probably be convicted. They'll remember how trial watchers pleaded with them to continue streaming the trial on CNNLive, to ultimate disappointment. And, they'll remember the free airtime they gave him, upon his release from prison, with Piers Morgan's grotesque, pandering interview.

I suspect that, much as he did with that interview, Ray made his appearance in this documentary contingent upon Ginny Brown and his other critics being excluded. So, once again, the person who throws the biggest temper tantrum wins. I'll know better when I see it, but I suspect gaining that much free rein to run his suck on film is a mixed blessing for Ray, because he seems to have lost any ability to not reveal himself.

There is much that did not make it into the film, like the fact that Kirbry Brown, James Shore, and Liz Neuman were not the only deaths overseen by Ray. Colleen Conaway died from an apparent, but extremely suspicious, suicide at another of his workshops, mere months before the sweat lodge incident. Nor is it made clear that this was not the first sweat lodge to go horribly wrong, only the first to actually kill people.

It's clear that Ray is viewing this documentary as free advertising, as he struggles to restart his career. He told the Daily Beast:

“My main reason for doing the documentary is that I really want to be able to help people in their life,” Ray said. “I feel like if I’m able to turn around, then I can be better equipped to help others turn their lives and businesses around.”

He's still spinning this atrocity and being given the platform to do it. He artfully, sometimes tearfully, takes "responsibility" while still managing to blame everybody else and paint himself as the brave, beleaguered survivor.

Salty Droid, aka., Jason Jones, put it more bluntly:

“Ray seems totally convinced that it was worth people dying for him to become the man he is today,” Jones says. “They made a movie about James Ray stepping over graves into glory, without including a single word from the families of the dead. It’s almost as ridiculous as James Ray still telling people how to find wealth and success… like he did.”

 photo tribeca2016_zpsr3dpovli.jpg


  1. Extremely well said, LaVaughn. He's still playing the pathetic 'poor me' card, still with the same delusions of being an actor he's always had, still this need for fame and adulation .... at any price. Unfortunately, there are many people who didn't watch the trial and will believe his spin on it is true. It beggars belief that he STILL thinks he did nothing wrong ... shudders.

  2. Well done for covering this, LaVaughn. I haven't been able to stomach anything about the New Reformed Death Ray. But I did just do a tedious line by line demolition of an infuriating article about the film, which included an interview with Ray. For the record, this is the article in question--

    In it, we learn some new and extraordinary details about past events. Ray first heard about Colleen Conaway's death on the telephone, so all the police records and witness statements and eye witness reports and all of Ray's previous versions are all wrong.

    And apparently, there was a doctor in the deadly fake sweat lodge in 2009, and he just sat there and did nothing while people collapsed around him. And poor James had to take the rap.

    All of that presented presented as fact by the journalist.

    (I suspect ray is distorting the doctor from 2008, Dr Kent, who was not allowed to testify that it was life threatening in 2008 as well. I could confirm that by checking your records here.)

    1. Yeah the Daily Beast article was awful – typical, knee-pad style journalism.

      There was a doctor, but like the nurse Ray claimed to have on hand, she wasn't there to provide medical support. She was there as a paying participant. There was also an orthodontist, who did hella more than Ray did in the aftermath, but who also paying from the privilege of being tortured. The nurse, if I recall, was part of the Dream Team, in other words, an unpaid volunteer, and I can't remember if she was even still actively in nursing. It's ridiculous, retroactive CYA, because Ray had consistently refused to set up medical support for any any of his events.

      This is really well done, Yakaru. I checked your blog and found:




      I think you need to double-check the Daily Beast links. One of them appears to be wrong. Thanks for sharing. It's a really thorough debunking.

      And, nice to see you!

    2. This might be a double post because my comment just disappeared...

      But yeh, thanks!

      I'd forgotten that there was in fact a doctor there. I adjusted some of the wording accordingly. And I fixed the link too! Thanks.

      I also just put together a handy "infopack for journalists" wanting to parrot Ray's excuses - his top 26 excuses.


      I'd seen you were covering the "New Death Ray", but just couldn't stomach him.

    3. Awesome. Should go out with every media packet. Sad thing is, the reporter from the Daily Beast obviously read the first Verge piece, and STILL failed to challenge Ray on anything. Journalism is nearly dead in this country.

  3. Yes, he takes full responsibility for what??? that it happened? He is sorry that it happened? If James Ray had come out of prison "learning" that the powerful mind control techniques he used, the sensory deprivation tactics he set up, and his lack of regard for people in distress (his "three good friends"), if he had learned that what he had done was reckless and dangerous, then the prison experience would have been positive. Instead, he says, he learned that life is hard, unfair, and one can get kicked in the teeth, but still survive and now he has more to teach people about how to survive the "unfairness" of life. As long as he continually refers to this as an "accident", Mr. Ray is dangerous. In the film, "Enlighten Us", he actually says, "Sedona HAD to happen so that HE could learn." 3 people had to die for him to resurrect his business?

    What have we learned since the day Kirby died in his deadly sweat lodge? We have learned: this industry is unregulated, there is no license to be a "guru"/teacher, no credentials, no regulations for safety, no risk management plan, no medical support even when running a physically challenging event and that the national media vets celebrities they have not properly investigated. (He lies about his training and experience). We have learned that our organization: SEEK Safely,Inc. is needed to educate the public, empower consumers and promote ethics and safety in this industry. Check out our website: SEEKsafely.org.

  4. This post just popped up on my Facebook feed -- well done, LaVaughn. And well done too, Yakaru. I will add your links to my own cursory post about this film.

    I don't think I have ever accused Death Ray of being a murderer, but I have shamelessly called him a convicted killer who IMO didn't serve nearly enough prison time.

    1. Hi Connie,

      I just saw your comment. For some reason I didn't get a comment notification. I'll have to check your post. And, um, yeah, he was convicted of criminally negligent homicide. That makes him a convicted killer and these stenographers keep letting him dodge that basic fact.


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