On Sunday night the fifth season of Long Island Medium concluded, and not surprisingly, the show has been a hit so far thanks to Americans' interminable appetite for paranormal nonsense. For season four, the TLC paid Caputo $400,000 to peddle her hokum to the public, and her net worth is estimated at $2.5 million and surely rising. She is said to charge $400 for a 30-minute reading and holds readings in front of live audiences of people who pay in excess of $100 per ticket.
But for all the hulaballo, Caputo is a classic "cold reader." This technique has been used countless times before by charlatans like John Edward, James van Praagh, Rosemary Altea, and the late Sylvia Browne. Cold reading usually begins with the medium asking an individual or an audience about an unnamed relative or friend dying, such as a "spouse," "brother," or "John." And it is these "spirits" who allegedly communicate messages through mediums like Caputo, but always in a maddeningly vague way. One would think that if spirits really existed, and that if they could communicate, and that if they wanted to communicate, they might say to her something like, "This is John Billings and I want you to tell my wife Ellen that I still want her to stop smoking!"
But this never happens for the simple reason that Caputo, like all mediums, is full of shit.
Just watch the first 90 seconds of Caputo cold reading an audience of a couple hundred people on Anderson Live:
Notice she begins addressing the large audience by saying that somebody there had lost a spouse, while another had lost a sister, and another was wearing their mother's or grandmother's religious article. All vague. All probable, especially with such a large audience. The strategy for the medium is to ask general questions and let individuals in the audience be the ones to fill in the blanks, meaning everything. That is, until the end, where Caputo assures her victim that the departed in question is saying that they love them very much, or some other happy notion. It's never a negative message because no one wants to pay a stranger to receive bad news.
Her treatment of the old widower in the front row was particularly repulsive. Thinking she may have landed a direct hit, the man disabused her of the notion that his wife had had trouble walking before she died -- a reasonable and no doubt calculated assumption on her part. Having gotten it wrong, she dismissed him and shifted focus to the general audience as if the confusion was caused by mixed signals from "Spirit," and not the fact that she's a fraud.
Unfortunately, far too many people -- the bereaved, especially -- take this junk seriously because they desperately seek comfort and closure. Medium readings are also appealing because they assure the living that their loved ones aren't gone, but simply exist on another plane, and therefore they too will someday die in body but not soul. They will live forever with their loved ones. But there's just no evidence for any of that. If Caputo's success proves anything, it's not that she has a special power, but exploits one instead. And that is the power of wishful thinking.