The failure of clairvoyants to locate the missing Wellington man, Michael Kelly, or to know the manner of his death, will not startle many skeptics. No major missing persons case in the history of New Zealand has been solved with paranormal help, despite the fact that police have been deluged with clairvoyant tips over the years — from Mona Blades to Kirsa Jensen, Teresa Cormack, Luisa Damodron, Heidi Paakkonen or Michael Kelly.

Nor are we surprised that self-described psychics were called in by a desperate family. When all leads go cold, people are vulnerable to the suggestion that paranormal powers can help.

What ought to worry us is the media-generated atmosphere in which such delusion can flourish. Both the Dominion and the Evening Post published straight accounts of the clairvoyants’ visions of Michael Kelly’s “abductors” (See News Front). Kelly was supposedly robbed by two or three “rough-looking, tattooed Maoris,” about 26 years old. All the clairvoyants agreed on a description of their car. I’ll bet it was a Holden in need of body work.

No sooner had the Dominion published these psychic delusions than police phones started ringing hot with reports of suspicious-looking Maoris motoring about Wellington.

Both the Dominion and the Evening Post richly deserve a Bent Spoon for treating psychic fantasies as though they were news, but they’re not the only guilty parties. The Holmes show recently featured an item on a clairvoyant who was “helping” in the search for a toddler missing near the shore of Lake Wakitipu. Just as Michael Kelly’s family was told foul play was involved in his disappearance, so the mother of this little drowning victim has been given psychic visions implying abduction by a man. This psychic search also failed, but that fact didn’t make it onto Holmes.

Particularly upsetting in the Kelly case is that the clairvoyants were at last report still insisting another person was involved in the death, implying foul play. To the family’s anguish can now be added the burden of disquiet about the coroner’s findings.

Holmes, the Dominion, the Evening Post — why, even Sharon Crosbie gave at least one skeptic an attack of near-clinical depression on a recent morning when she provided fifteen minutes of unchallenged air-time to a visiting American “clairvoyant.” This huckster told Sharon that she got into the psychic business 25 years ago when she had a seven-hour conversation in French with her daughter, though neither of them had ever spoken the language before. Seems they simply “flipped back to the year 1654 in the south of France.” Sharon fairly giggled and gushed while the woman babbled on about akashic past lives and predicted “many, many changes on the planet … a lot of earthquake activity in New Zealand,” all because “we’re moving into a higher level of vibration.”

Let’s give Sharon credit: two days later she had the good grace to read on air a letter from Peter Lange excoriating her for the interview. Sharon’s an intelligent woman and, what the hell, we all have our off days. (Though the Press Association carried our official condemnation of the use of clairvoyants in police investigations, neither the Dominion nor the Evening Post chose to publish the story — guess they’re having an off month.)

It’s the continual tacit validation of claims to psychic power in gullible broadcast interviews and published articles that leads anguished, vulnerable families of missing persons to resort to clairvoyants. “There must be something in it — after all, I heard a woman on the radio just the other morning…”

But critical intelligence isn’t dead yet. The reliable Kim Hill recently interviewed Dave Allman, promoter of the Elliott Wave Theory, a form of share market voodoo that’s been around for a long time. Like Sharon’s psychic, Allman was a nonstop talker. When she could finally get a word in, Kim brought the interview to a close. “I was going to ask you if it’s an art or a science,” she sighed, “but I guess it’s a religion.”

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