The Great Long Island Medium Argument

There’s this show out called Long Island Medium, where a house wife says she can talk to the dead. The first season averaged 1.3 million viewers, which makes it a fairly popular show.

To make a long story short, my wife likes the show. She doesn’t watch it religiously, but she enjoys the personality of the supposed psychic, Theresa Caputo.

On Sunday night, she began to watch it. I hadn’t seen it before. I was dabbling on my tablet and listening half-heartedly, and my wife turned to me and asked if I believed she could actually talk to the dead. I sighed and said I didn’t – that I thought it was a load of malarkey.

My wife then asked (this is where it gets hairy) how I found it possible not to like the personality of Theresa. Without thinking much about my answer, I looked up from the tablet and said I thought what she did was unethical. I also said I thought she was taking advantage of people in a fragile emotional state and basically robbing them, and using their time of weakness to cash in on a TV show.

To my surprise, my wife got pretty upset with me. She asked why I would ruin the show for her. She asked if I considered her unethical for watching the show.

I asked her why she asked me the question if she didn’t want an honest answer, and that no, I didn’t think she was unethical for watching the show, because she probably hadn’t given it much thought. However, I don’t want to support the show, or what I consider to be unethical behavior.

What really interested me was how upset my wife got. She’s normally pretty laid back and we rarely argue. Religious people get like this when talking religion with me. It’s usually after I start poking holes in their theology or asking uncomfortable questions that they’d rather ignore, and here I was, getting the same reaction when doing the same to a ‘reality’ TV show that my wife enjoyed.

So anyways, the show came back on and my wife started pausing it intermittently to ask me questions. After the medium said a name or event that the person she was talking too knew about, my wife would ask how she’d know that if she wasn’t psychic.

I told her to pay attention to the questions the medium asked. They’re unusually vague and open-ended. I told her to pay attention to how her customer answered those questions.  They would usually nod their heads and start crying, then give her lots of information she can use. The medium usually has had the time to research her clients before seeing them – the Internet is full of information on almost anyone, if you know where to look.

I admit that she’s good at what she does, but that doesn’t make it real. Even in interviews, she uses vague language to describe what she does.

For example:

Most communication in these sort of exchanges is the deceased person reassuring the living. Are the dead ever angry at the person who’s still alive?

Caputo: I’ve never had that experience. I was taught and the way I choose to use my gift is I protect all my sessions in God’s white light. My rule is if they’re angry or they’re upset they’re not allowed to talk about it. If it can’t help us or prevent something, then I don’t want know about it. My wish for all my clients is that they receive the most healing or closure if they come, or just comfort, to continue to embrace their life without their loved ones.

On these shows, there’s conversations with the deceased, but the viewer doesn’t often get a sense of what the ‘other side’ is like. Do you have a sense of that?

Caputo: [Spirits] will bring me to like a park or a field or ponds, and then sometimes somebody will show me a beach or a brook. I don’t know if that’s exactly what it’s like. I say ‘I’ll find out when we get there.’ I can only tell you what they show me.

It sounds like religious babble. She uses language that means very little and skirts the edges so that she can’t be pinned down by skeptics.

So I took my wife outside and pulled up a few James Randi videos, where he exposes these frauds for what they are. I explained that the James Randi Foundation has a million dollar challenge that can be claimed by anyone who can who can ‘show, under proper observing conditions, evidence of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power or event’.

No one has claimed the prize yet. I wonder why? I’d love to see the Long Island Medium take the challenge, but that would probably be the end of a very lucrative career.

I may have ruined the show for her, but it really was unintentional. She’s not upset with me anymore. I think she wanted to believe, but in the end, reason, logic and healthy skepticism won out.



  1. Interesting article. Houdini himself debunked mediums in the 1920s. Since then we've invented dozens of “reality” shows about ghost hunting and psychics and still no definitive proof of life after death.

    I'm a huge fan of the supernatural. It makes a great story, but nothing more than entertainment.


  2. What Houdini did was important in his era, because most illusionists claimed, at least half heartedly that their tricks were done with the help of the supernatural, and after World War 1, there was a huge interest in physics, people were desperate in grief, and wanting to speak to relatives who died in the war.

    Supposedly it was a bad experience with a physic he went to visit with friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the author of Sherlock Holmes series) that led him to his campaign to expose physics as frauds. Doyle wanted to speak with “the spirit” of his son who died in World War 1, and was fooled by the trickery, but then the physic went to bring up the supposed spirit of Houdini's mother.

    Problem was, her alleged ghost was speaking English, but he was of Jewish descent, and his parents were European immigrants who only spoke Yiddish.

  3. From the interview with her this was the best answer in my opinion.
    “So when you’re getting information … is that verbal, is that visual? Help me understand physically what that’s like.
    Caputo: I know it sounds crazy but I can’t explain it. It’s just there.”

    Yes it is crazy,and not surprised you can't explain it 🙂

  4. I agree, CA, it's fun as fantasy, or to try to come up with rational explanations as to what people think they are seeing, but when someone makes money off of conning people like this, it isn't funny.

    I've heard different explanations for haunted houses, that it's psycho somatic, the people start believing in it so much, that they convince themselves that they see it (similiar to “speaking in tongues” and related phenomenon), and I've heard theories that the gas radon or mild levels of naturally occurring radiation can cause brief hallucinations.

  5. I think she's one of those people who wishes it were true to some extent, but realized that there is no evidence to support such beliefs. She also realized how harmful some of the dogma of Christianity can be, and how hypocritical its followers can be.

    I think a lot of people go with the 'agnostic' label because 'atheist' still has a lot of stigma attached to it and they're more comfortable being called an agnostic.

  6. That's the way I was at first.

    I've usually called myself an agnostic, but it doesn't really fit me anymore, I can say with certainty now that I am an atheist, but I'll still keep the word agnostic in the title of my popular Undercover Agnostic series.

  7. If you've ever watched the U.S. show “The Mentalist,” the lead plays an ex-carnival huckster working for the police who explains a lot of the subtle cues and communications that a trained, perceptive person can pick up and use to “guide” people, especially if they're emotionally fragile.

    – Uthaclena

  8. Theresa is definately authentic and the more time that goes by, the more people that agree. And what is this challenge? Does anyone even know the content of the challenge and if it is genuinely constructed fairly to demonstrate authenticity? Considering what I have witnessed with my own eyes living in a haunted house, I find it odd that someone as intelligent as james randi, who seems to have an interest in these phenomenon, hasn't figured out a veritable explanation..just a lot of hot air. Which I'm sure his so called “challenge” consists of air and malarky. You want to know if she is real, schedule a reading. Its not rocket science. What kind of genuine skeptic waits around for someone else to prove or disprove a belief, or lack of.

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