“Newsweek”: In Flagrante

March 11, 2016

The once-respectable Newsweek has been caught in flagrante. Between the covers, so to speak, we find an editor not only shamelessly touting a notorious Brazilian “healer” but also promoting one of his arch shills, a “psychic” who had a lengthy earlier career as a pornography queen.

At issue is the February 27, 2016, Special Edition of Newsweek titled “Spiritual Living: The Secret to Peace and Happiness,” by Issue Editor and pop gadfly, Trevor Courneen. Among the features is “John of God, the Miracle Healer.”

John of God’s real name is João Teixeira de Faria, a school dropout and erstwhile drifter, who now runs a “healing center” in Brazil that garners an estimated $10 million annually. He claims spirits take control of his body to effect cures. Suspiciously, however, he still speaks only his native Portuguese, regardless of which entity is possessing him at a given time (e.g., the biblical King Solomon and Ignatius Loyola, the Spanish founder of the Jesuit order, among them).

“John” performs dubious “surgeries” that he characterizes as “visible” or “invisible.” The former involve some eyecatching feat, such as twisting forceps out of sight up a person’s nose. This is simply an old carnival sideshow stunt made possible by the sinus cavity extending from the nostrils to above the roof of the mouth. It is long enough to accommodate an ice pick or other implement used in the “Human Blockhead” act.

As to “invisible” surgeries, when I went undercover to a John of God event in Atlanta (while working with National Geographic Television’s Is It Real?) I was selected for just such a healing. It involved prayer and unspecified spirit activity—which I found indistinguishable from make-believe. John of God’s purported spirit workers were apparently non-existent. Otherwise how do we explain the supposedly see-all, know-all entities being taken in by my persona of an old guy hobbling with a cane? (For more, see my The Science of Miracles, 2013, pp. 213–218.)

Newsweek omits the negative and instead describes the Brazilian as the purveyor of “miraculous healings.” The magazine’s single source is one Gail Thackray, co-creator of a film on John of God, conductor of “healing trips” to his touted wonderworking center, and indeed, one of his prominent marketeers. Unfortunately, while billing herself as a “Medium, Reiki Healer, Psychic” and “Spiritual Educator”—she had an earlier incarnation.

As Gail Harris, Thackray was a porn star whom The Chicago Tribune (July 18, 2001) called an “X-rated photo czarina.” She posed nude for magazines like Knave, Hustler, and High Society, and “acted” in various sexploitation and porn films and videos. For Larry Flint Publications, she created the niche adult magazine, Barely Legal.

Unless Newsweek wishes to be renamed Hustler II or Barely Credible, its publishers should take better stock of its bedfellows and hasten back to the journalism they are supposedly wedded to.