Back in August I tried to call Miss Cleo.
I wanted to talk with her about a bad moon rising. Mysterious sources, channeled through the Associated Press, had informed me that the television-commercial psychic with the Jamaican accent as strong as island rum was about to face serious legal problems. The State of Missouri was sore about the way she was peddling her sixth sense to the public, and it filed a lawsuit calling her a fraud.
Maybe she saw it coming, and that’s why she was out every time I phoned. Maybe she could feel the wicked mojo emanating from the Show Me State, and sensed there was bigger trouble on the horizon.
If she did, she was right. Now the feds are after the two companies the allegedly clairvoyant Miss C shills for.
On Friday, a federal judge ruled that investigators could not only peer into the phone-in fortune-teller’s crystal ball, but also take a close look at the companies’ business practices.
The Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit alleging that the firms scam callers into paying for services she advertises as being free, harasses patrons by repeatedly calling them at home, bills folks for things they never bought, and threatens to report them to collection goons when they argue.
Of course, the head of the companies, Peter Stolz, says the feds are wrong.
“To say we are being deceptive is just plain wrong,” Stolz said, adding that “99.999 percent of customers are happy with the service.”
With Friday’s preliminary injunction, the companies have agreed to take the mystery out of their pricing by telling callers up front what a glimpse into the future will cost them. The injunction will be in place until the court rules on the suit’s allegations.
So, you think it’s curtains for Cleo?
Open your mind. She already has a slick lawyer. I predict that she’ll get an even slicker Hollywood agent, and that her planets will realign. She couldn’t have asked for better publicity.
After a few pesky court appearances and the negotiation of a hefty fine or two, she’ll be free to pursue her true calling: mega-stardom.
She’ll read Letterman’s palm, then do Leno’s chart. She’ll trade in her turban for silky designer robes, and before we know it she’ll be starring in her own TV show.
Think I’m crazy?
Look at John Edward. On his syndicated show, “Crossing Over,” he supposedly speaks with the dead.
For an hour every morning, he stands in the center of a softly lit studio and makes people in his audience weep as he tells them that dearly departed Grandma, or Uncle Ted, or little sister Tess still remembers how much they love chocolate cake, and by the way, isn’t it time to buy a new car?
All I’m saying is there’s a market.
Miss C should use her down time to study Edward carefully. He’s a master of making skepticism work for him. He has invited journalists to watch him channel, and according to their reports his readings miss as often as they hit. Still, through the magic of editing he has become a daytime TV star.
Want to know what Edward’s psychic credentials are? He was a ballroom-dancing instructor.
Hey, Miss Cleo, give me a call and I’ll be happy to give you more advice, for the low, low price of $4.99 a minute.
Tanya Barrientos is a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Readers may write to her at: Philadelphia Inquirer, P.O. Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101, or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.