John Edward: Psychic Medium—or Small?

June 28, 2010

Some of the comments were humdrum but a few were priceless. People were responding to a heated exchange between “psychic medium” John Edward and John Fain, an ABC radio host in Melbourne, Australia, who questioned Edward’s abilities.

The spat took place in 2009, but a later Internet posting ( https://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/he-was-so-arrogant-20100609-xvb7.html ) revived the controversy. “I honestly would not share air space with the man; he was so arrogant,” said Edward, adding, “I have been interviewed and I’ve been interrogated. [Fain] took it to another whole level.” Edward promised never to appear on the radio show again.

Fain soon hit back ( https://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/pretty-crook-abcs-faine-hits-back-at-tv-psychic-20100610-xy5k.html ), saying: “He does showbiz, he makes money. He takes money off people. I think what he does is, you know, pretty crook [i.e., an artifice or trick]. I don’t believe in him and I don’t think anyone else should be suckered by him. When he was here we kind of disagreed on everything fundamentally.”

I share Fain’s views. Edward (real name John Edward McGee, Jr.) began his career as a fortuneteller at psychic fairs. When he discovered that sitters would sometimes adapt his proffered statements to the dead rather than the living, he changed his billing from “psychic” to “psychic medium” and began to hustle the bereaved. If in his television appearances and shows he occasionally cautioned against phony psychics, he might have been thinking not only perhaps of Sylvia Browne (real name Sylvia Brown), but of himself. For instance, when I was both a behind-the-scenes advisor and on-camera interviewee for a Dateline NBC episode on Edward, he was caught cheating, passing off information he had gleaned earlier from a cameraman as otherworldly revelation. (See my “John Edward: Hustling the Bereaved,” Skeptical Inquirer , November/December 2001.)

Responses to the Edward/Fain dispute were sometimes predictable. One wrote of Fain: “The way he attacks people who don’t fit into what he sees as acceptable is typical of the close mind [sic] atheist who think they [sic] know everything and have all the answers. . . . . . [sic] they don’t.” Another characterized Edward’s critics as “Ignorant people making ignorant comments who dont [sic] know or understand his work . . . and sadly all of them are men. . . . As far as I am concerned John Edward is one of the most gifted people in the world and contributes far much [sic] more to the human race than I can gaurantee [sic] those who critisise [sic] him.”

For their part, Edward’s critics called him “a scam artist,” “clown,” “fraudster” and more. Only slightly caricaturing Edward, one wrote: “There’s a woman standing beside you. She says she loves you and doesn’t want you to worry about her anymore. . . . She says her name might begin with a B, or a G, or a P—maybe an E. She says she might be your aunt, possibly a great aunt, possibly a hamster. Oh, and she might have liked to eat, or maybe to laugh. She’s saying something about a brooch, or some curtains, or a fridge.” Many accused Edward of using the fortunetellers’ trick of “cold reading,” and one invited him and his ilk to be properly tested: “The legendary James Randi has a 1 million dollar offer on the table for anyone [sic] of these people who can demonstrate their [sic] psychic ability. The tests are reasonable and can be viewed on Youtube.”

Perhaps the cleverest comment on Edward (which was admittedly borrowed) was: “He’s called a medium because what he does is neither rare nor well done.”