Newsweek uncritically praises skill of Brazilian psychic surgeon—and touts other woo

I can only stand by helplessly as major magazines like National Geographic, and now Newsweek, tout spiritual woo, misleading people and, in the case of the latest Newsweek issue, even causing harm. Here’s their Special Issue on Spiritual Living, which Newsweek describes this way:

To live a spiritual life is to be better connected with the universe around you. This 100-page, special edition of Newsweek is your guide for all things metaphysical, from focusing the mind for meditation through yoga and more, to healing the body with crystals and essential oils. Featuring insight from notable names in the spiritual sphere including Gail Thackray, William Lee Rand and Brad Johnson, this is the issue for anyone looking to awaken their soul.

spiritual-living

Miracle crystals? Essential oils? Holistic foods? Angel numbers? Oy! But perhaps the worst is the article  “John of God, the Miracle Healer,” about a fake and quack of the first water.

John of God, or “João de Deus” is a psychic healer of great renown: Wikipedia reports that every week thousands of people stand in line to receive his numinous ministrations. That, of course, means he’s a very effective charlatan. Here are his methods, which have been debunked by numerous people including James Randi:

When called for a spiritual surgery by De Faria, patients are offered the choice of ‘visible’ or ‘invisible’ operations. If they select an ‘invisible’ operation (or are younger than 18 or older than 52) they are directed to sit in a room and meditate. De Faria also claims that spiritual physicians can perform surgery on the actual patient via a surrogate when the actual patient is unable to make the trip.

A very small percentage of people choose a ‘visible’ operation where De Faria operates without traditional anesthetic. Instead he says he uses “energized” mineral water and the spiritual energies present, the latter which are provided by groups of volunteers who meditate in a separate room called the ‘current room’. These practices such as inserting scissors or forceps deep into a nose and scraping an eye without an anesthetic or antiseptics have been scrutinized by medical authorities and skeptical investigators James Randi, who has called for De Faria to come clean and stop lying to the public about the existence of spirit and Joe Nickell have described these procedures at length as old carnival tricks.

See especially Randi’s takedown, which describes John’s “surgeries” as “carny stunts.”  Naturally, John of God has been touted by Oprah (see Orac’s excoriating remarks on her endorsement). Randi especially decries the forceps in the nosestunt, used to “cure” a variety of ailments. See for yourself:

Here’s a bogus eye-scraping operation, with Newsweek’s caption:

ap120223183936

Using a knife, John of God performs a visible spiritual surgery on a woman’s eyes. Some healings require only his hands, while others call for the use of tools. ERALDO PERES/AP IMAGES

Anyway, Newsweek‘s piece simply echoes the puffery of Gail Thackray, who describes herself on her website as as “spiritual educator, medium”. She also made a film about John of God, and experienced a life changing “conversation with God” while sitting in John’s prayer room. How objective is she in the piece? Well, judge for yourself from her words and this accompanying picture:

dsci0042-crop

Newsweek caption: “John of God poses for a photo with author Gail Thackray COURTESY GAIL THACKRAY”

And the Newsweek piece describes, completely uncritically, John’s miraculous “healings”. There’s not a word of dissent, not a peep from his many critics. There’s just stuff like this (these are apparently excerpts from a longer piece in the magazine, selected by Newsweek editor Trevor Courneen):

For all the unanswered mysteries the universe presents, few are incredible enough to earn the label of miracle. Hyperbole is often tied to bewildering occurrences and practices, but a closer look can often lessen their profundity. Though tirelessly explored and frequently experienced, the divine-spirit-induced healing work of John of God remains an exception.

“It is hard to believe, but when you experience this, it is profound,” says Gail Thackray, co-creator of the film John of God: Just a Man and author of the accompanying memoir. An insisting astrologer would initially push Thackray to Brazil where she would first pursue and meet the enigmatic man who heals others by becoming inhabited by spirits. Eventually, Thackray discovered her own purpose was sharing the healings of John of God with the rest of world.

and this:

Whether the guidance of God, divine spirits or varying otherworldly beings are truly enacting the healings, the results of John of God’s work have a way of speaking for him. The energies may not be seen, but in many cases, the healings are. “Many times he takes someone out of a wheelchair, and the ailments literally disappear in front of your eyes,” says Thackray.

and this ending:

With his staggeringly vast reach, the degree of John of God’s exceptional nature becomes a resurfacing question. Even those who acknowledge that energy flows within all of us acknowledge that there hasn’t been anyone on Earth quite like John of God in quite some time. “We all have the ability to heal on some level and can develop this,” says Thackray. “But some are born with or receive a very special healing gift. John of God is rare indeed.”

This is absolutely reprehensible: a complete abnegation of journalistic duty. Yes, journalists can write about this faker if they want, but they’re ethically obligated to point out the many debunkings. What we have, instead, is a completely uncritical puff piece, and one that’s dangerous. By encouraging the afflicted to seek out John of God, Newsweek is hurting people. This isn’t Bigfoot, Nessie, or alien abductions: this is the touting of ineffective spiritual healing, something that kills and injures people.

To add insult to injury, the article appear’s in Newsweek’s online “Tech & Science” section. That was pointed out by the reader who sent me the article, a reader who’s created an entire website devoted to taking down the Brazilian Faker: John of God: the CONand who has written a short piece on the Newsweek travesty.

Want more woo? Read the article from the same issue about “The healing power of Reiki.

55 Comments

  1. Joseph Stans
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    I don’t know. I consulted with a woman that looked like Gail Thackray and no sooner did she put her hands upon me, I felt a great energy surge. Every Thursday at 1600, $50.

    Not covered by Medicare, but she has a money back guarantee.

  2. KIA
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    the video clearly shows this quack copping a feel during the whole prceedure

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted March 7, 2016 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      I noticed that too.

      As for Newsweek, I don’t know how they have the cheek to call themselves journalists when they obviously care more about making money (I’m sure the issue will sell well) than telling the truth. And what does it say about the US in particular that this move is unlikely to damage the magazine’s credibility overall.

      • Posted March 10, 2016 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

        Is it the journalist’s and media’s fault. Or perhaps the people who don’t care so much about factual truth but want to be entertained. It’s really sad that major media news show like ABC’s Primetime Live, CNN’s AC360, Oprah have aired quasi investigative reports on john of god that look like puff pieces. And most people don’t bat an eye. It takes the Australian news show 60 Minutes to finally shine a light on how horrible this quack is.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted March 11, 2016 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

          People are definitely part of the problem. It’s been at least 25 years, for example, since I’ve bought a so-called “Women’s magazine” because of the sensationalization of the way they tel and especially name their stories. I initially stopped because I was sucked into buying one by a misleading story title on a cover and I was so annoyed at myself.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted March 13, 2016 at 1:12 am | Permalink

            Women’s magazines – the strongest evidence I know that women are totally unsuited for any intellectual task.

            (I think I’ll leave it to Heather to suggest what Men’s magazines are evidence of 😉

            cr

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted March 13, 2016 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

              Men’s magazines are evidence they frequently think with a part of their anatomy other than their brain. 😉

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted March 13, 2016 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

                That does, of course, depend on where their brain is located 😉

                cr

  3. Posted March 7, 2016 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Barnum would be proud!

  4. Posted March 7, 2016 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Here is some timeless wisdom from Deepak Chopra in his appearance in that film:

    ..followed by his latest sidekick enabler Rudolph Tanzi who explains why he has “no reason to disbelieve that some souls have evolved to the point of being, um, just helping mankind, souls that exist only as soul bodies in the actual world, to help us…”

    • Posted March 7, 2016 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      Sorry — formatting failure — film should start here at 2.45.

      • Posted March 7, 2016 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

        Yakaru,
        seems Gail Thackray has quite a questionable history herself. Her previous/other name is Gail Harris. Wikipedia states she makes lots of money from hard core pornography! Something about Barely Legal Girls. Some Spirituality! Unless this is all also a trick to make more money. Spiritual Money!
        https://lakishajj.wordpress.com/2015/04/05/x-rated-porn-czarina-shows-how-to-market-her-body-of-work-for-john-of-god/

        • Posted March 7, 2016 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

          Ironically, the porn industry is probably far less damaging than the faith healing industry. In any case, it would at least be entirely possible to run an entirely ethical and wholesome porn business, whereas faith healing is by its nature fraudulent exploitive, and demeaning of its customers.

          Nice work, incidentally, in covering this on your blog!

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted March 7, 2016 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

            Agree there. I’d sooner trust a pornstar than a faith-healer, all things being equal.

            cr

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted March 7, 2016 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

          Okay, there’s no reason per se why a ex-pornstar (with quite a good figure, my diligent researches confirm), shouldn’t have a serious and genuine message. (Though John of God is not such a message).

          But I’m just wondering how many of the ‘spiritual’ searchers reading that issue of Newsweak would consider her past appearances in ‘Virtual Desire’ et cetera or working as a publisher for Larry Flynt enhance her credibility.

          cr

          • Posted March 8, 2016 at 6:12 am | Permalink

            Does her shapely figure and charismatic personality affect us and make us sympathize with her ‘plight'( bringing the miraculous news of john of god to the world)? Will it affect our judgment to scrutinize her totally outlandish claims and ‘cut her some slack.
            The travesty is not really her making lots money from porn and so-called spirituality. But, rather dealing with her outright false claims:
            John of god cures 80% of his visitors…blatant lie! John of god endorsed by The Pope… complete fabrication!
            https://lakishajj.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/porn-czarina-gail-thackray-brazenly-claims-pope-endorses-quack-faith-healer-john-of-god/

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted March 8, 2016 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

              Well, her figure and her charismatic personality (assuming she has one, I haven’t heard her speak) doubtless do help to promote her message.

              But I was being sarcastic when I speculated whether her porn background would appeal to Newsweak’s readership. 😉

              cr

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted March 7, 2016 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

      I’m proud to say I’d never heard of Gail Thackeray or John of God before this.

      People who promise healing in this way are the scum of the earth imo. Good on the person who has dedicated a website to exposing John of God.

      And why does everyone have to wear white?

      • darrelle
        Posted March 7, 2016 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know how anyone wears white. I can’t wear white clothing more than once or twice before it ends up with a visible stain of some sort that I can’t get out. It then ends up sitting in my closet for years because I can’t bring myself to get rid of a nearly brand new shirt. But I am still dumb enough to buy white shirts every once in a while.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted March 7, 2016 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

          Sounds just like me! I do the same.

          I just tried on a new white top a couple of days ago. Luckily it didn’t suit me.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted March 7, 2016 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

            I have a number of hats which I wear for genuine (i.e. sunshade) reasons, rather than fashion.

            On of them is a white ‘Aussie hat’ and it is the most disreputable of the lot, with sweatstains and a few black oily fingerprints and salt splashes. My other hats are similar but the white one just shows it all. Naturally it is now a favourite of mine.

            cr

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted March 7, 2016 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

              I have clothes like that as well. They’re old favourites, so I don’t want to throw them out and I continue to wear them around home. Inevitably when I do, I get visitors whose eyes I see straying to things like stains and holes.

  5. Scott Draper
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    I’m curious as to where people think that journalism is going. It seems that the advertising model has broken down, given that the audience is split between so many purveyors. No one seems to have enough revenue to do a quality job.

    Will we eventually get fed up and commit to paying for subscriptions to quality journalism?

    • reasonshark
      Posted March 8, 2016 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      I’m just wondering where the investigative journalists are who take risks to reveal what most mainstream news outlets don’t care about. By this point, they seem to be the only ones worth bothering with.

  6. Posted March 7, 2016 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    If these magazines (see also the Time post right before this) can’t get such basic stuff right, imagine how badly they botch real news stories or analyses, which are often hard to check. It takes real work to get to the truth behind the news. We can be pretty sure that our media aren’t doing that work (with rare exceptions like the rogue reporters in Boston who uncovered the extent of Catholic pedophile protection) and are just feeding us what we want to hear nearly all the time.

  7. Posted March 7, 2016 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    I’m curious — what did National Geographic do in this vein? I’ve never seen an article by them similar to this one. Very disappointing if they did.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted March 7, 2016 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      I would also like to know.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted March 7, 2016 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      It is here

    • Jenny Hoffman
      Posted March 7, 2016 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

      Rupert Murdoch bought the magazine which has most of us scared. He then proceeded to fire a lot of the staff and there have been articles about religious crap. Finding Jesus or my favorite – something about the historical Jesus. But articles like that predated Murdoch and they tend to be few and far between. I’m watching though – fingers to eyes to NatGeo to eyes to NatGeo!

  8. Vaal
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    To “Newseek,”

    News.

    You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 7, 2016 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      You misspelled the title of the magazine.

      It’s “Newsweak.”

      • Posted March 7, 2016 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

        + 1

        • Lurker111
          Posted March 8, 2016 at 8:49 am | Permalink

          Anyone have an e-mail address for sending brickbats to Newsweak with? }:-(

  9. Randy Schenck
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Journalist reputation has been going down the crapper for many years just like political integrity and so on. Bill Moyers covers both and has for a lot of years. I guess today you could call it trending.

    • darrelle
      Posted March 7, 2016 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

      When he was current I used to think that Peter Jennings was lowering journalistic standards. I now look wistfully back to those days.

  10. Kevin
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    At some point, possibly already for many people, these types of articles are more damaging to mainstream religion than previously considered. People are so much more aware of the landscape of organized religion, woo, personal spirituality, and atheism and agnosticism.

    We are now living in an age when even the most religious have to content with the idea that they either know or have met many people who believe who nothing like what they believe. Stuff like this is just confusing to the already misguided.

    • Sastra
      Posted March 7, 2016 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

      I think what often happens though is that mainstream religions (like Christianity) either co-opt these free-floating forms of Spirituality and incorporate them into their own arsenal of beliefs in order to strengthen their faith — or accept them as the devil’s work and use them in order to strengthen their faith. I’m not sure that the variety confuses them: woo is woo and it’s the rare religion which doesn’t boast proudly of its own magic evidence. If they find the story persuasive and positive, then it must have been Jesus behind it really.

  11. Christopher Bonds
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Good grief! And trees were consumed just to print millions of issues of that crap?

  12. Derek Freyberg
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Another reason not to subscribe to Newsweek.
    I’ll look forward to Orac, of “Respectful Insolence”, or one of the “Science-Based Medicine” folks, giving us their take as well.

  13. Jenny Hoffman
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    No excuse for Newsweek and their Arrigo surgeon of the rusty knife stuff (from 70s or 80s?) and I don’t like any of NATGEO’s articles on “Finding the Bible” but it’s not new – they did that before Murdoch. I’m just trying to justify keeping the magazine. Have been subscribing all of my adult life – so like 30 – 40 years. I’m attached . . .

  14. Posted March 7, 2016 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    To add insult to injury, the article appear’s in Newsweek’s online “Tech & Science” section.

    What the actual fuh…?

  15. Wayne Tyson
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Whisky Tango Foxtrot?

    BULLSHIT! The most under-used word in the American language.

    WT

  16. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Well, we have known for some time that the decline in revenue for the various news magazines and newspapers has resulted in selling crap as news. Click bait, boob shots, and Bieber. News at 11.
    But even so, it is hard to believe a respected news magazine could sink any lower.

  17. Posted March 7, 2016 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    That sort of charlatan makes me really angry … the worst of the worst, preying on the desperately sick.

  18. Posted March 7, 2016 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Newsweek is published by and for Westerners, mostly Americans. I suppose that the authors and editors have decent health insurances and when ill, seek good doctors. Nevertheless, they seem to think that some faith-healing quack is good enough for the poor Brazilians. Where are the SJWs when we need them?

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted March 7, 2016 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      Supporting the right of people of colour to maintain their cultural beliefs in the face of arrogant scientists.

      The fact that colour is irrelevant, these beliefs were imposed on them by conquerors, and the scientists are right, is irrelevant of course.

  19. ploubere
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    Newsweek as we knew it stopped publishing in 2012. In 2014 it was bought by IBT Media, a primarily digital news operation.

    The original plan was to make 90 percent of its revenue from subscriptions. They are obviously publishing whatever content they think will have a market, and that doesn’t include respectable news, unfortunately.

  20. Charlize
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Recently, vaccine vilifier Bill Maher could be observed assuming a fellatious position with Charlie Sheen’s HIV Doctor Samir Chachoua the goats’ milk charlatan.

    http://www.salon.com/2016/02/03/bill_maher_gets_cozy_with_the_goat_milk_cures_hiv_quack_if_truth_is_dead_and_the_internet_killed_it_maher_is_part_of_the_problem/

  21. Posted March 7, 2016 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    This is reprehensible and Dangerous! And there’s much more truth that the Newsweek article hides. That woman in the posted john of god video “VISIBLE SURGERY Forceps up the nose” is Lisa Melman. This beautiful and talented woman was influenced by this same kind of media to forgo breast cancer treatments and have this quack perform his videotaped ‘up your nose treatment” with tragic suffering and Death. Oprah also shamelessly used her to promote this quackery to higher ratings. Too incredibly horrible but all too true.
    https://lakishajj.wordpress.com/2015/07/09/faith-healer-john-of-god-another-tragic-death/
    http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Nasal-Probe-Surgery-Video

  22. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    “To live a spiritual life is to be better connected with the universe around you.”

    I rather think I’m 100% connected with the universe around me. I can’t avoid it. Just like everybody else. And rocks.

    What the ‘spiritual’ are trying to do is *disconnect* themselves from the universe around them. An endeavour I would happily help them with as long as they promise not to come back…

    cr

    • reasonshark
      Posted March 8, 2016 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      Ye gods, that opening sentence! If I wanted to be better connected to the universe around me, I’d join an astronomy club, or mingle more with those bits of the universe that are people-shaped. Heck, if it’s just a reference to those “spiritual” moments when the sense of self is dampened down, I can watch a nature documentary with stunning photography, listen to Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” speech, or reflect on one of the great historic moments of humanity.

      Going to a quack for that “better connected” experience is like raiding a garbage can for fine dining.

    • Posted March 8, 2016 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      Right – if one is a dualist, then one’s mind is fundamentally different from everything else except other minds! That sounds like a distancing to me!

  23. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    From the cover:
    ‘Can you harness the power of healing energy?’

    No. Next question.

    ‘Your dreams – what they mean and how to control them’

    I usually find their content is directly related to something I’ve done or watched recently. They’re a mix of recent thoughts or experiences.
    Interestingly enough, I can control them to a limited extent. So far as I can recall, sometimes the dream is going in a direction I don’t like and my (sub?)conscious will quite deliberately steer it in a more appealing direction. Occasionally this happens with the ‘falling’ dream – on a narrow ledge on the edge of a precipice and my subconscious says ‘this is no good!’ and my viewpoint shifts to some much more reassuring location.

    cr

  24. jeffery
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    Pretty scary stuff, especially when you realize that the people who believe this crap will be electing our next President. I am wondering, though- if he’s such an accomplished “spiritual” healer, why would he need any kinds of instruments at all? For that matter, why would he need patients to come to him physically? After all, thousands of people claimed “healings” from Edgar Cayce by mail!

  25. Diane G.
    Posted March 7, 2016 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    Sob! Also, SOB!


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