This morning, the New York Times ran a puff piece in its business section claiming that 1970s-era spoon-bender Uri Geller has “won” the war against his debunkers by monetizing his fraudulent powers and attaining greater celebrity than his detractors. The story, by business reporter David Segal, praises what Segal describes as Geller’s repudiation of conventional standards of truth, substituting entertainment for evidence and using his postmodern attacks on evidence and reason to generate millions in revenue:
And the point is that Mr. Geller is an entertainer, one who’d figured out that challenging our relationship to the truth, and daring us to doubt our eyes, can inspire a kind of wonder, if performed convincingly enough. Mr. Geller’s bent spoons are, in a sense, the analogue precursors of digital deep fakes — images, videos and sounds, reconfigured through software, so that anyone can be made to say or do anything.
I wish I could shake Segal by the shoulders and scream at him: “THAT’S NOT A GOOD THING!” One does not need to be a fraud in order to inspire wonder, nor does destroying truth produce some greater postmodern good. Does he not remember “alternative facts”?
Segal describes Geller’s half-century fraud, which eventually induced the federal government to spend tens of millions of dollars on a failed program to use psychics to battle the Soviet Union, as “a benign charade” because “he is a reminder that people thrill at the sense that they are either watching a miracle or getting bamboozled.” Again, THAT IS NOT A GOOD THING. He is describing fraud as the highest form of modern accomplishment.
In the piece, we learn that one of Geller’s biggest debunkers decided that Geller is a great entertainer and decided to coauthor a book celebrating him, despite admitting that Geller is a fraud. Segal editorializes that debunkers of Geller’s claims are like “people [who] run into nursery schools shouting there is no Santa Claus.” Comparing adults who, by Segal’s own count, have spent tens of millions of dollars on Geller’s ineffective psychic services to small children is not a great look for the paper of record.
Segal’s story is truly astonishing in the enormous middle finger the New York Times raises to science, to reason, and truth. It may be that art is a lie that tells the truth, but fraud isn’t art. Geller literally claims to have psychic powers and commanded enormous fees for psychic services he was never able to deliver. That’s not the same as David Copperfield making the Statue of Liberty “disappear.”
The Times story continues the paper’s track record of normalizing and even valorizing the paranormal advocates who orbit the U.S. government. Geller worked closely with Hal Puthoff and the Stanford Research Institute, whose psychic investigations not only patronized by the U.S. government (most famously as Project Stargate) but fed into the UFO / interdimensional space poltergeist / cosmic werewolf investigations of Skinwalker Ranch that led us to the current Congressional efforts to mandate investigations into crashed flying saucers and other paranormal nonsense.
It isn’t “fun.” But it is profitable. And for the New York Times, grifting—success without effort, wealth without work—is the highest form of modern achievement.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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