Thursday, November 21, 2013

Remember 'Psychic' Sylvia Browne?

Montel Williams is a strange bird. Education activist André-Tascha Lammé took the former talk show host to the digital woodshed for fronting those dreadful commercials for predatory Pay Day Loans. Montel fired back with a response that could be politely called clueless or at worst whorish: "a 14 day loan has an ANNUAL percentage rate? Maybe get a grip on reality."

Considering Montel presided over a daily talk show that often raised important issues, critical subject matter that most daytime programs shied away from, many of his faithful viewers might now wonder why he would trade credibility for cash. Illness most likely has a lot to do with it, he has multiple sclerosis and it's a living. 

But after MoneyMutual paid a $2.1 million fine in March 2015 and agreed to quit the business in New York state because of, "sky-high interest rates — sometimes in excess of 1,300 percent," Montel withdrew his endorsement and will no longer do the commercials. Still...

Despite the good he's done Montel has a long history of facilitating fraudsters, providing a forum for the most transparent hucksters and there's no better example than 'psychic' Sylvia Browne.

I know one shouldn't speak ill of the dead but I wrote this before Sylvia Browne, the phony psychic that often appeared on Montel William's daytime talk show, passed away on November 20th 2013:

For a year or two I got bored listening to college radio and turned on afternoon TV shows to keep me company while I worked. 'Montel', 'Maury', 'Judge Judy', that kind of thing. The television was behind me so I wasn't really watching, except when Maury got the tests back or revealed his undercover backstage stings on cheating husbands. I loved being emotionally exploited that way. Otherwise the TV was just background noise.

But those times when 'psychic' Sylvia Browne appeared on 'The Montel Williams Show' I'd find myself staring at the set in disbelief. She was so transparently phony I couldn't believe any credible person would lower himself to play along but Montel did so with tremendous enthusiasm. (In all fairness he did produce some important hours on controversial subjects that other talk shows were ignoring, not that I can remember any, but still).

This misshapen mystic's bona fides largely (totally) stemmed from having assisted law enforcement agencies around the country in finding numerous missing children... but the evidence behind those claims turned out to be vaporous. Almost two decades ago the magazine 'Brill's Content' looked into Sylvia Brown's dubious assertions and discovered, in the 115 cases they examined, Browne was not right even once—and was flat-out wrong 25 times. “In twenty-one [cases], the details were too vague to be verified. Of the remaining fourteen, law-enforcement officials or family members involved in the investigations say that Browne had played no useful role.”

Her main schtick on 'Montel' was answering audience members' questions about what the future held for them personally. She did so in the most optimistic way possible... yes, you'll get that new job or raise. Yes, you'll meet a man with dark hair in September. Yes, you'll have a baby next year, a boy (the studio audience would always squeal over these revelations). It takes her not a moment of pause to make these proclamations with a certainty she maintained came from God himself. Can't argue with that.

More disturbing were her pronouncements to distraught family members about missing loved ones, like this appalling - but telling - example:

Browne would also be asked by the host about any premonitions she had concerning stories in the news. When she wasn't stating the obvious, her prognostications were ludicrously off-base. During the Sago Mining disaster Browne was confident that the miners were still alive... they were actually dead. She predicted society would "say goodbye" to the common cold in 2009 or 2010, "a small cubicle will become available in doctor's offices sometime in 2009 and it will be heated to a very precise temperature. There may be a special vapor placed into the cubicle. Patients will stand in the cubicle for approximately five minutes and the rhinitis germ will be destroyed." I must have missed all that, then again I was busy...

In 2006 she really went out on a limb, “Aliens will begin to show themselves in the year 2010, they will not harm us, they simply want to see what we are doing to this planet. They will teach us how to use anti-gravity devices again, such as they did for the pyramids." Why couldn't she have been right that time?

Predicting that Obama would not be re-elected, then taking it back when the election was weeks away, is all in good fun but, at least once or twice every time she was on with Montel, Sylvia Browne would be confronted with the emotionally raw parents of a missing young person and tell them, without the least doubt or hesitation, that their child was dead in a ditch somewhere.

In 2004, on 'The Montel Williams Show', she matter-of-factly told the distraught mother of Amanda Berry, one of the kidnapped Cleveland three, that her daughter was "not alive, honey," delivering the news like she was in a greasy diner ordering a cup of coffee.

Amanda Berry's mother went to her grave a little over year later "devastated", convinced her child had passed. In 2003, Browne told the parents of missing teen Shawn Hornbeck their son's remains would be found near, "two jagged boulders"; he turned up alive 4 years later. This ghoulish fortuneteller 'earned' her living this way, both on TV and in $800 private sessions.

She said all this with a thick veneer of sanctimonious self-righteousness. No wonder, if her marks had known that she was convicted in 1992 of investment fraud and grand theft they might not have taken her so seriously.

It's a decade too late but Sylvia Browne is finally being hoisted on her own petard in the social media public square where, if history is any guide, she'll be burned at the stake for the witch she is. For the moment she's pointing her broomstick towards the lights and cameras as is her wont, releasing a statement with that always-in-style, catch-all mea culpa that only God is right all the time. Given that God was her stated source, she offered no explanation as to why He, and by extension she, wasn't always correct. That's the back-pedaling of a carnival faker... when cornered, blame it on the guy who isn't speaking to anyone right now

Montel Williams is hawking radioactive products on TV? My only question... what was he pocketing for promoting Sylvia Browne's naked scam?