All things foreseen

Outside editorial

Posted: Monday, February 25, 2002

This editorial appeared in Sunday's Los Angeles Times:

It's been really amazing to watch Miss Cleo, hasn't it? The Caribbean clairvoyant's late-night TV ad popped up amid pitches for incredible stain removers, precise vegetable dicers, easily cleaned rotating ovens and impressive breast enhancement creams that, according to the animation, work in seconds. For only $4.99 a minute, the Psychic Hotline's Miss Cleo could see things invisible to mere mortals. Right before our eyes she listened to one female caller and knew instantly the caller's boyfriend was fooling around with a co-worker. But that's not all. Miss Cleo also knew the caller herself had been fooling around. Incredible! The caller confirmed it. "Call me now!" Miss Cleo said. And thousands did.

Webster's defines clairvoyance as "the hypothesized ability to perceive things that are not in sight." But was it necessary for Noah Webster, the noted 19th century prig who foresaw the need for a popular dictionary, to be so skeptical? Anyone can be clairvoyant. Many, for instance, have predicted that a parent or spouse would be angry if they returned late or crashed the car. Some even predicted the precise words uttered upon delivery of that news.

Over the years some of us concentrated real hard and saw in the future's mists a new scandal coming to Congress. It had something to do with money or sex or both. Bingo! We were regularly right. Others saw Congressional investigations and predicted questions sounding more like speeches. Uncanny.

Many of us, even without calling the hotline and being stalled past the first free minutes to accrue a bill averaging upward of $60, also foresaw that eventually Miss Cleo and her off-camera employers would run into legal trouble. Now it's happened. Not because her predictions were off, but because Miss Cleo could not see that the Federal Trade Commission would find fault with free three-minute psychic readings that weren't really free because operators allegedly took too long to complete credit card paperwork. Seeing the future can take time, on the phone anyway.

Since cave days, humans (even Libras) have shown a powerful curiosity about the future, whether those insights emit from the Delphic oracle's obtuse observations or by analyzing pigeon innards, tea leaves, palm lines, ouija boards, Nostradamus, fortune cookies or weather and traffic reports. We're pleased the FTC is on this case. We see something else though. It's coming into focus now. We see large lawyers' fees and ample news coverage. Oh, and Miss Cleo will be replaced by TV ads for new music tapes and CDs, not available in stores. We foresee shipping and handling charges adding another $5.95, no, $6.95 to the advertised cost, with rush delivery also available.



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