The arrogance of Sally Morgan

Update: in May 2014 an audience member at her Middlesborough show alleges that Sally Morgan spoke to the ghost of a woman who was actually alive… and in the audience.

The BBC have today June 20th, 2013) reported that Associated Newspapers has agreed to pay “substantial” damages to alleged psychic Sally Morgan after an article suggested she had “perpetrated a scam” on a theatre audience by using an ear piece that was feeding her information to then relay as though she had picked it up using her alleged abilities. In the article published on the BBC news website Brid Jordan, for Associated Newspapers, told the judge:

The Daily Mail withdraws the suggestion that Mrs Morgan used a secret earpiece at her Dublin show in September 2011 to receive messages from off-stage, thereby cheating her audience, which it accepts is untrue … It apologises unreservedly to Mrs Morgan for publishing the allegation. It has agreed to pay her substantial damages, together with her legal costs, and it has also agreed not to repeat the allegation.

This is an interesting, if not widely predicted outcome in this case, but what does it actually mean? I first found out this had taken place today when I saw a rather dramatic tweet from Ben Goldacre that claimed ‘the libel lawyers of the UK have decided in their wisdom that psychic powers are real after all’ and I saw many other angry tweets about how Sally Morgan was an obvious fraud and that it was ridiculous the courts has sided with her. It made me chuckle because most of the people making these statements were self-proclaimed skeptics and rational thinkers who ought to know the importance of evidence and how evidence actually works. 

Ben Goldacre's Tweet

On Monday 12 September 2011 a woman called Sue phoned the Liveline show on RTÉ Radio 1, an Irish radio station claiming that as she sat in the audience at a Sally Morgan show at the Grand Canal Theatre in Dublin she had overheard a person in a lighting box feeding information to Sally Morgan who was on stage. She heard a person saying things that she alleged were then repeated on the stage by Sally. The theatre’s manager, Stephen Faloon, claimed that the voice was actually the voices of two members of staff working for the theatre, not someone supplying information to Sally. Sally Morgan Enterprises also denied that the medium was being fed information during the show. In a statement on her website at the time, Sally ensured her fans that the only device she wore on stage was a Radio Microphone so that the audience could hear her.

Although the use of an earpiece to receive information from backstage has often been used by psychics in the past – most famously by Peter Popoff who was exposed to be using such a method by James Randi (you can watch a video here for more details on this) – there was no physical evidence that this had taken place during the Psychic Sally show in Dublin or elsewhere. This is why, when newspapers printed stories making the allegation of this happening they were in the wrong – even though it appeared that this was what happened, and even though a video emerged some time after the allegations made in September that showed Sally Morgan removing an earpiece after leaving the stage during one of her shows. The footage was from a documentary series called ‘The Psychic Life of Sally Morgan’. A still from the video can be seen below.

Sally Morgan earpiece Still

It seemed to be pretty damning considering Sally’s previous assurance that she only used a Radio Microphone during her shows. However, in response to this, Sally explained the earpiece was used purely for stage direction and although this is a little odd, (it’s very rare that performers of a stand up show use earpieces for stage direction), it certainly isn’t implausible, and it certainly isn’t evidence that she does cheat through the use of an earpiece. At this stage I had just accepted that this was one of those things we would probably never know the truth about. When I had emailed James Randi to see whether he felt it was worth trying to detect the feed from the alleged earpiece as he had with Popoff, he pointed out that if she had been using an earpiece during the Dublin show as alleged, she certainly wouldn’t be now… oh, and trying to detect such a feed in probably a bit illegal too.

The incident in Dublin brought a lot of skeptical attention to Sally Morgan – on daytime television, on the radio, in the newspapers. It has created a lot of dialogue within non-believer and believer communities alike, it led me to create Project Barnum, and I believe it led the Merseyside Skeptics Society to form their annual Halloween Psychic Challenge with the help of Simon Singh and Professor Chris French, which they extend to Sally Morgan and other psychics each year.

In 2011 when the initial accusations were made after the Psychic Sally show in Dublin, the Merseyside Skeptics Society ran their first Halloween Psychic Challenge and the invitation was extended to Sally Morgan but she declined to take part, and according to this article in The Guardian her lawyer told Simon Singh

You well know that we all have far more important things to do than take part in this or any other ‘test’ at this point. She will not attend at Liverpool or at any other time.

This is an attitude that Sally continues to hold every time it is suggested she allows her alleged abilities to be tested in controlled conditions. Unlike dozens and dozens of self-proclaimed Psychics before her who’ve had the guts to stand by their claims, she refuses to allow her alleged extra sensory abilities to be tested and behaves as though she is above the Burden of Proof that lays with anyone making a claim. She is not above the burden of proof.

This is the arrogance of Sally Morgan.

After today’s result in her legal case, where Sally Morgan sued Associated Newspapers for making allegations about her without the evidence to back them up, her continued refusal to provide evidence to back up her claims to be Psychic is hugely ironic and indicative, I think, of just how seriously we should take Sally Morgan, the self proclaimed psychic. Which is ‘not very’, in case you were wondering.

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14 Comments on The arrogance of Sally Morgan

  1. Excellent analysis. All this court case has resolved is whether Morgan used an earpiece to deceive her audience, and the courts say she did not. On the other hand, it has proven nothing about her abilities, real or otherwise.

  2. susan ewington // 20 June, 2013 at 5:49 pm // Reply

    I must admit I was angry when I saw on Twitter that she had won the case but it’s hard not to be when people like her receive substantial amounts of money for their poor little hurt feelings..As you say she is arrogant and very lucky she can’t be forced into proving her “talent”, to prove her case, now that would be interesting .

  3. I thought the Mail – and all the rest on the bandwagon – were stupid to say what they said at the time.

    Even IF she were constantly wearing an earpiece on stage, you still have to prove that she uses it in her performances, and earpieces on stage today are very very common, the old days of relying solely on fold-back and monitors is going. How often do you see TV presenters, even top-class interviewers, being prompted by the director? “Ask him about the donkey in his apartment….”

    Many entertainers today are getting away with ‘live’ performances, while miming to a backing track, I guess the mainstream skeptics want them to carry a ‘This act is a recording’ disclaimer, so that folks expecting a truly live vocal performance, get one.

    Many skeptical folks want real tangible proof that psychics can do what they say they can, but many of the same folks are willing to take mere anecdote as proof that they can’t – double standards anyone?

    As a true fence-sitting skeptic, I have no proof God doesn’t exist or that psychics can’t do Facebook with the dead, we can’t say such things do not exist as an absolute. Sure, we have no proof for them being true, but that is all the evidence says. Saying that God or psychic powers do not exist, comes with a burden of proof, as much as saying that they do. Why can’t most skeptics understand this?

    Here’s the thing for me, if psychic trickery is so common, shouldn’t that make it easier for skeptics to prove?

    For me psychics are just entertainers and counselors, I have known folks who got through very dark times by ‘believing’ but eventually they cotton on and get on with life. True some people may get harmed along the way, but that is life, mainstream medical interventions will kill more people this year than all the woo-woo combined, do we stop surgery? Every time someone goes under general anesthetic they are taking a risk of not coming out of it, it was one reason why I wouldn’t have surgery for a condition I had for years, the fear of dying outweighed the pain – I have had a relative that died under GA.

    I think the whole anti-psychic thing is illiberal, maybe we should be forcing people to stop smoking and drinking – both kill more people than psychics do; and both are voluntary informed decisions.

    I hate the opportunism of fellow skeptics who select the odd case of someone harmed by paranormal beliefs, and forget the benefits of a shoulder to cry on, when our own doctors and nurses don’t give a shit. The “Where\s the harm” statement smdh They don’t say that modern medical intervention is harmful, despite the fact that thousands of people’s lives will be harmed this year by unsuccessful surgery or wrong drug administration.

    I see the irrational thinking, the belief in anecdote, that too many fellow skeptics have and am SO glad I keep away from them…. I will never get to a SiTP with people like that running the show…

    Anyway, the tealeaves are telling me to go and have something to eat…

    • …we have no proof for them being true, but that is all the evidence says. Saying that God or psychic powers do not exist, comes with a burden of proof, as much as saying that they do. Why can’t most skeptics understand this?

      Although I understand where you are coming from I do have to disagree with this point. I think it was Christopher Hitchens that said ‘that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence’. You cannot prove a negative, if you could then you’d surely be able to prove to me that there are not unicorns?

      Here’s the thing for me, if psychic trickery is so common, shouldn’t that make it easier for skeptics to prove?

      Perhaps you missed the link in this exact blog post that demonstrates a skeptic – James Randi, in fact – proving that a Psychic was actually a trickster? This isn’t an isolate incident either. There are many, many examples of this happening time and time again.

      I think the whole anti-psychic thing is illiberal, maybe we should be forcing people to stop smoking and drinking – both kill more people than psychics do; and both are voluntary informed decisions.

      I’m not so sure there is an “anti-psychic” thing, so much as an “anti-bullshiting vulnerable people” thing, actually. I have no issue with psychics if they’re not using trickery to con people out of their money, personally.

  4. David Cohen // 21 June, 2013 at 10:13 am // Reply

    Proving that Sally Morgan is using a radio link are not beyond the bounds of possibility. Newspapers that take great delight in showing that many of our politicians have their snouts firmly pressed in to the trough of easy cash could take this on.

    Unless someone could get to the actual transmitting device to ascertain on what frequency it transmitted, one would need a battery powered spectrum analyzer to search for the frequency in use. To smuggle in a device such as the Tektronix SA2600 could prove difficult enough but to use it, unnoticed, in the auditorium would be difficult! Possibly the signal from a very low power device could be detected/monitored from outside a building – it could be worth a try; and such expensive pieces of kit can be hired on a daily basis from rental companies.

    However, assuming one could get sight of the offending transmitting device it would be possible to purchase a similar product and just record the activity taking place during the show along with a recording of the show itself made secretly in the auditorium.

    If the Daily Mail were to attempt a sting and come up with convincing evidence then, not only would Mrs Morgan have to repay the “damages” but her claims would be shown to be what they are ……( ).

    It’s my opinion that all stage psychics are not what they seem – some may believe they have ‘powers’ but, as Derren Brown, and others, have shown, it isn’t necessarily so.

    If I were performing in, say, Wigan then I would Google for local newspaper reports of suicides, road crashes etc. There would be a large chance a bereaved relative would be in my audience and if I came up with a statement like …. “I’m getting the name Simon, and I can see a red car wrapped round a tree” then anyone claiming that event would be mightily impressed. However it wouldn’t be easy for me to remember all the details so a radio feed would be very useful.

    It amazes me how gullible the average person can be. When psychics says something like “I have your uncle Joe standing beside me” why don’t people ask the performer simple questions like …. “OK, then tell me his surname” or “What football team did he support?” or “What was his shoe size?”. Unfortunately people just want to believe in the unbelievable ….. hence religion!

  5. Roy morley // 2 July, 2013 at 8:34 am // Reply

    It’s all rubbish
    She can no more talk to the dead as
    Farther Christmas is real I’ve been to her show
    They are planted in the audience and she is told by that
    Ear peice where they are then given info about them
    Example I stood up at one of her shows she nearly
    Crapped her self as I shouldn’t have stood up
    That proved to me that night she was full of bull
    Bout time she got outed as a fraud challenge her to the James randi
    Test million dollars if she passes

    • Hi Roy,

      Thank you for visiting my blog. I’m not overly convinced she is psychic either. Having never been to one of her shows and only seeing bits of them as edited for television it’s hard to imagine what she is truly like live, so your experience is quite interesting! I think Sally has been invited to do numerous tests, including ones in the UK which would be easier for her, but she refuses.

      Yet although I am not convinced she is psychic and she doesn’t seem willing to provide robust evidence I’m not comfy with the fraud label. Perhaps she is a fraud, but until I know for sure I’m personally not going to use that word.

  6. I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen this piece, but it’s amusing and makes a good case for why Sally Morgan probably isn’t psychic. Unless dead fictional characters played by people who are very much alive count that is… :)http://psycicornot.wordpress.com/

  7. Q for all ,,does anyone not understand that testing of Mediumship in controlled situations is like asking anyone to repeat the same meeting with different people over and over again ,, try it can you have a conversation with one person and then go have the same conversation with another person and it be verbiatum ( of course without any prior knowledge or sharing ) Just as all will meet many people throughout your day Mediums and Psychics (yes there is a BIG Difference between the two!) meet and talk to many Spirit and people throughout there work ,, NO Scientific test or controlled experiment can repeat interaction such as this ,,,,, Even a Tarot reading using the same deck with different people comes out with different Readings for each person! The evidence given by psychics and mediums is as personal as your hair colour or fingerprint ,, Yes there are those out there who aim to deceive AS THERE ARE IN EVERY PROFESSION! drs without qualifications lawyers who fake their degrees , Come on people stop judging just because others do something different that you maybe don’t fully understand and listen to the evidence ,,,, I’m not backing nor degrading Sally Morgan here I don’t know the details well enough to judge Neither to most who’ve responded ,,,this was not about is Sally psychic it was about did she cheat? ,,and im sorry but aint it true every performer uses some form of mic and earpeice on stage ,,,, do we challenge mick jagger is having the songs relayed to him in his earpiece ,,In large audiences is a requirement ,, But I am a Medium and I’m Tired of psychics and mediums being judged because other don’t understand the job they do ,,,, and as for testing ,, all professions have their ruling bodies and standards to maintain as do we , and for us without the evidence the job just is not there! If you want the Real Thing then Learn what that is in any job If you want to know can it be done Try Doing it ,:)

  8. roberta ferguson // 31 October, 2013 at 8:09 pm // Reply

    This woman really is arrogant ! I have just watched her on Celebrity Come Dine with me and she was horrible to Alex Reid. She made a big thing about her boob job and her now flat stomach after extensive surgery. She is all about being a ‘celebrity’ now and it shows by her extensive makeover and the assumption that when she speaks hers is the only correct opinion. I cringed !

  9. ok ive been to see a few mediums i always got to the ones you don’t pay so they have nothing to gain, i read a few of sally s books which were entertaining so when i saw she would be at my local theater i bought tickets for me an my partner. What a fraudulent old mare she was awful she got things wrong she gave general advice like a friend rather than it being a message from a passed over loved one and the rest she bluffed by “miss hearing” and never answered questions and i did notice that the people she was targeting were people whose dearly departed deaths would have been publicized it would take much to get a few names of the people who bought tickets and google them….. very disappointing though my partner enjoyed explaining her performance away!

  10. I recently seen Sally Morgan in the usher hall in Edinburgh and though she was a complete fraud she claimed to be speaking to the dead all of which seemed to die violently or tragically and got no validation from any of the audience. She ran about the stage dramatically and prayed on the vulnerable. Please do not go to her shows or buy her merchandise as you are paying for her tummy tuck,face lift, botoxand glamorous life slyle. She is just show woman

  11. ann. prince // 29 May, 2014 at 1:29 am // Reply

    Genuine mediums do not ask questions, they are told to allow spirit to give their information. They do not allow ppl to give them their history. What you see on these big shows especially the S.M show is wrong as well. Mediums worth the salt do not ask ppl to put notes or photos from the audience. Her cantering about the stage. is infantile. using baby voices supposedly bringing toddlers through. What I have seen about mediumship standards today is little more than psychism

  12. If SM was really a medium, why does she not ask the fundamental questions:
    What is life about? Why are we here? What is God? Where do we go? and, give us the answers to these extremely important questions, and really contribute something to humanity, rather than just taking, money.
    Therefore, I would suggest she is not real. It is very simple, logically speaking.
    All the spirits SM talks to are in heaven and sending their love. How about a bit of variation and depth?

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