Claimed Amanda Berry was dead
In an interesting coincidence, last week I read Jon Ronson's Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries. One of the chapters covered a cruise that featured celebrity psychic Sylvia Browne.
Ronson was scathing on the topic of Browne's utter lack of success. Browne once told a grieving parent of a missing child that her child had been sold into sex slavery in Japan, when in truth the girl had been killed the same night she was snatched. Another time, she told parents that their child was dead, when he had actually been abducted and imprisoned in an apartment in a nearby town. Shawn Hornbeck was found alive almost five years later… no thanks to Sylvia Browne.
Why is Browne's advice (and the advice of so many other psychics) so toxic? Because it can cause families to give up hope and stop looking. Which is exactly what happened in the case of Amanda Berry, whose mother consulted with Browne to help with Berry's disappearance.
In 2004, Sylvia Browne (a regular guest on the Montel Williams show) told Amanda Berry's mother, Louwana Miller, that her daughter was dead and that she (Sylvia) was in contact with her ghost. Louwana Miller died a year later of a heart attack; her friends and family say she died of a broken heart, due to her belief that her daughter was dead.
Of course, as we now know, Amanda Berry was not dead. She was one of three Cleveland women who had been imprisoned as sex slaves in the home of Ariel Castro. Maybe if Louwana Miller hadn't given up hope, maybe if she hadn't been told that her daughter was dead, she would have kept up the search. It's hard to say.
Last week Sylvia Browne issued a statement along the lines of, "Hey, my bad. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes." But Browne's bad psychic reading was more than a "mistake." It was a corrosive lie with severe real world consequences.
I find it interesting that Browne is trying to frame it as being similar to the mistakes made by lawyers, doctors, and other professionals. Browne is right that those professionals do sometimes make mistakes. And when they do, their clients sue them for malpractice.
I wonder, can you sue a self-proclaimed psychic for malpractice? It's true that, as Browne proclaims, "Only God is right all the time." But when Skeptical Inquirer ran an analysis of the 115 predictions she made on the Montel Williams show, they found that she had a success rate of exactly 0.00%. Browne may claim that nobody's perfect, but she does have a perfect failure record, that's for sure.