The John Edwards Scam

Skeptic magazine has a report on a John Edwards performance (and that’s exactly what it is) in front of a wildly enthusiastic crowd of 2500 people who had paid $45 each to have him talk to their dead relatives. But the crowd included three skeptics, one a psychologist. They describe his transparent con job.

Edward appeared to rely largely, if not exclusively, on cold reading techniques—a fishing expedition. “I’m getting a Joe … Joseph … Jack … or a J-word and this is from a father … father-in-law … or a father figure to someone up there [in the balcony]. I am seeing this in connection with a maimed arm or possibly amputated arm from being caught in some type of machinery, possibly farm machinery. It could also be that the arm was run over by a tire.” When the individual he addressed could not make a connection, Edward repeatedly asked, “Who is near you? Who else is with you?” The audience, of course, wanted Edward to succeed, so they were willing participants in the deception. One individual, for example, volunteered that he had a grandfather who had a finger amputated. “No,” Edward replied, that was not what he was seeing. After three or four audience members could not make a connection, Edward jokingly threatened “Don’t make me come up there…” and he rationalized that maybe his thick “New Yawk” accent prevented the audience from understanding his references. Eventually Edward instructed the entire section to go home and think about it to see if the name of the father-figure came to them. It could also be some event that would happen in their future, he concluded. Well that pretty much covers everything, doesn’t it?

More than once Edward explained that he couldn’t see differences between a son, son-in-law, daughter or daughter-in-law and so forth—blood relations couldn’t be distinguished from legal ones as long as the relationship was loving. Then Edward went fishin’ again in the balcony: “I’m getting a name that sounds like Blackie … Block y… or Biloxi or maybe just a b-l-k sounding name….” No one responded. He again tried to get an association from several individuals sitting together in another section, but without success. More than one person was told “I am getting a message from your mother who has passed…” only to be told the that loved one was still in the land of the living.

For another audience member, Edward claimed that he saw her dead son or son-in-law, unnamed. She volunteered that it was a son who had died. Edward then made the cover-all statement, “I see that he died from some event or impact upon his body” to which the woman replied that her son had shot himself. “Oh, that must be the impact I saw,” he claimed. Rationalization, generalization, and after-the-fact reasoning are effective tools of the medium.

None of the people who send this man gobs of money ever asks why it is that their dead relatives can communicate with him but are apparently unable to just say a name. Why do the dead have to keep him guessing, giving him just letters (always the most commonly used ones, by the way) and vague descriptions of what happened? The answer, obviously, is that he’s just using the very old technique of cold reading. He’s a con man, a fraud, a huckster. It really is that simple.

About Ed Brayton

After spending several years touring the country as a stand up comedian, Ed Brayton tired of explaining his jokes to small groups of dazed illiterates and turned to writing as the most common outlet for the voices in his head. He has appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show and the Thom Hartmann Show, and is almost certain that he is the only person ever to make fun of Chuck Norris on C-SPAN.

  • cptdoom

    I wonder if anyone has actually tried to catch these con artists in the act. I am thinking you could hire an actor (or more than one) to be in the audience and eventually volunteer that their relative is who the “psychic” is referring to, and then lead the “psychic” on. After he’s caught telling the actor all about their beloved grandfather Joseph who died when the actor was a child and has a message from beyond, the actor could say “thanks, but actually both my grandfathers are alive, and neither one is name Joseph,” just to watch the fraud crumble.

  • Trebuchet

    John Edwards is a disgraced former politician, who once ran for Vice President of the US. The subject of this post is John Edward (no “s”). He’s pretty much in the same league as Sylvia Bowne, other than not being dead.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Sheikh.Mahandi stephenyeats

    I once did that to a “psychic” at the Webster Theatre in Arbroath (Scotland) quite a few people in the audience laughed during the reveal, something like – yeah but my auntie is alive and well and living in Dundee, many of the rest just shot me filthy looks, of the rest they got very nasty – to me, not the “psychic”. Of course my wife didn’t speak to me for about three weeks.

  • cjcolucci

    Trebuchet:

    Which one do you think would resent the confusion more?

  • tubi

    @cptdoom #1

    I wonder if anyone has actually tried to catch these con artists in the act.

    Penn and Teller did a segment about this on “Bullshit!” although they focused more on James van Praagh, also a fraudulent turd.

    And Joe Nickell at CSI has written about Edward many times

    John Edward:Spirit Huckster

    John Edward: Hustling the Bereaved

    John Edward: Psychic Medium-Or Small? (clever)

    And others.

    But it doesn’t seem to do any good. They’ve all been caught out before, especially the odious Sylvia Browne, but they keep chugging along. Well, she doesn’t, at least. Thank goodness.

  • eric

    I’m getting a b….bank? Bank account? Your loved one is saying something about you giving me all the money in your bank account?

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    I’m gettting a “be”… a “be ee”… an “ee ar”? I’m getting a beer.

    *sip*

    Holy crap, I’m psychic!

  • tiredofusernamerules

    This fraud will be appearing in my city of Louisville in the near future. It’s depressing that I have friends who are looking forward to it.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    tiredofusernamerules “…I have friends who are looking forward to it.”

    Oh, my God! You’re psychic, too!

  • Moggie

    Being dead is pretty boring, you know? This is what they do for entertainment.

  • kevinalexander

    Your loved one is saying something about you giving me all the money in your bank account?

    I must be psychic! I knew someone was going to say that!

  • elrondhubbard

    I wish we could make some sort of federal regulation that makes preying on the not-so-bright punishable with severe jail time. These (not)psychic hacks are truly some of the most reprehensible people out there. At least there are skeptics who are willing to call them out. We need more skeptics!!!

  • jba55

    Sweet merciful crap, I hate this man and all the other like him. Does he claim this is real? If so how is it legal?

  • josephmccauley

    South Park already got John “dead to rights”. I believe the episode is “Biggest Douche in the Universe”.Check it out!

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