I’m very disappointed in David Letterman. Last night, after two segments with Stephen Colbert, Letterman’s next guest was Theresa Caputo, whose show “Long Island Medium” airs on TLC (which was originally known as The Learning Channel, but dropped Learning from its name as it devolved into The White Trash Reality Show Channel).
Caputo is another in a long line of con artists like Sylvia Browne, James Van Praagh, and John Edward who all claim they can talk to the dead — and that the dead speak back to them, which is the harder part, of course. In allowing Caputo to sit unchallenged in his guest chair, by making it seem as if she was an honest person with an extraordinary ability, Letterman enabled nonsense by helping to promote her unproven claims.
During the segment, Caputo said that, while in the green room, she’d felt the spirit of Michelle O’Callaghan (longtime makeup artist for “The Late Show” who died late last year) who “gave very specific details.” Whatever details Caputo had provided there wouldn’t have proven anything, as she — or someone on her TLC show’s staff — likely had researched Letterman’s recent past and dug up some basic info about O’Callaghan which she could drop in as if she’d just heard it from the dead woman’s “spirit.” But instead of asking Caputo what those details were or pressing her in any way, Letterman said, “I would believe that because all of us felt and continue to feel her presence.” And then he changed the subject, jokingly asking Caputo to contact his dead Uncle Earl.
Later in the segment, Caputo mentioned that someone nearby had something with a pancreas or stomach. Eddie Brill, who warms up the “Late Show” studio audience, spoke up from off-camera that his brother had died of pancreatitis. Caputo responded, “Your brother is stepping forward to acknowledge that he is safe and at peace. Do you feel that if he was diagnosed sooner, that he would still be here in the physical world?” Brill replied, “I’m not sure, I have no idea.” Caputo answered, “Because he says no.”
This is classic psychic medium bullshit. While backstage, it would have been easy for Caputo to talk to some “Late Show” staffers to find out if any of them had lost someone recently and learned about Brill’s brother. Then Brill’s affirmative response makes it seem as if she’s uncovered that information miraculously. And did you notice that Caputo didn’t actually tell Brill anything that would indicate she was actually in touch with his deceased brother? Caputo’s claim that Brill’s brother is “safe and at peace” is exactly what all of these con artists tell their subjects, because it makes the subject feel good — and because saying “he says he’s burning in hell with incredible pain and blames you for everything that hurt him” would be really bad for business. Moreoever, the comment about “if he was diagnosed sooner” means nothing, because severe acute pancreatitis, which has a high mortality rate, often goes undiagnosed in many patients.
Letterman’s only response to this brief exchange between Caputo and Brill was “Hmmm.” No demand for proof, other than asking in softball fashion earlier, “Have you ever been tested?” Caputo admitted that she hadn’t, to which Letterman added, “Because you know there are skeptics.” Then came Caputo’s biggest whopper of the night: “I don’t try to prove what I do, and I respect skeptics.”
Skeptics sure don’t respect her, and shouldn’t. Caputo doesn’t try to prove anything because she can’t, and if she did allow herself to be tested and failed, she’d be shown up as a fraud like all the others. So don’t hold your breath for Caputo to apply for the Million Dollar Challenge offered by the James Randi Educational Foundation.
If someone tried to pull this crap on me, invoking a dead relative and pretending to give me post-mortem messages from them, I’d be furious. Caputo plays with the emotions of vulnerable people mourning the loss of a loved one; she preys on them, using their tragedies as a platform to spew garbage in exchange for money and fame.
Letterman’s role in this disgusts me because it’s exactly the opposite of how his hero, Johnny Carson, would have handled it. It’s ironic that this nonsense on “Late Show” took place exactly 50 years after Carson’s “Tonight Show” debut. In his three decades on the air, Carson often used his show as a platform to expose hokum and con artists, often with the help of James Randi (see Randi’s exposure of faith healer Peter Popoff or his demonstration of what “psychic surgeons” do). In fact, Carson was a major benefactor of the JREF, and made provisions in his estate documents for the John W. Carson Foundation to continue that financial support for Randi and his staff after his death.
That’s a positive message from a dead guy, and you don’t need Caputo or any other mediums to hear it. Too bad Letterman can’t live up to it.
If Letterman’s interested in good TV, he’ll invite Randi (or JREF President DJ Grothe or board member Chip Denman or Skeptic publisher Michael Shermer) to sit in his guest chair to explain cold reading and other techniques that “psychics” like Caputo use to defraud people. If not, his legacy will now include the title Enabler Of Nonsense.