Debunking the Uri Geller New York Times Story

Why are magicians so frustrated? Here's mentalist and psychic debunker Dustin Dean's response.

A bent spoon with a snapped point against a black background
A broken version of NYT's article header.

If there is one positive thing I can say about self-proclaimed Psychic and Mystic, Uri Geller, is that after all these years he still has a knack for showing up in news and media when you least expect it.

A huge backlash ensues in the magic world and the public eye about Uri Geller and his longtime feud with magicians. A man whose fame was most prominent in the 70s for his claims that he could bend spoons with his mind.

The current drama isn't about his most recent stunts, like when he made an ominous and vague warning to Vladimir Putin, predicted an alien invasion, or claimed to bend and free the ship in the Suez Canal with his mind.

No - the newest drama comes from an article written by amateur magician David Segal for The New York Times. The op-ed is titled The End of the Magic World's 50-Year Grudge. The piece was a full-page cover of the printed newspaper, according to a post shared by Uri himself.

New York Times Article: Screenshot

Part 1. The NYT Story

The article paints a picture of Geller as a genius mastermind who beat the system and made a ton of money. It praises him for what he has supposedly done for magic and society as a whole.

Unlike a lot of self-help gurus, yogis and crackpot messiahs who rose to prominence in the early-1970s age of weird, Mr. Geller endured and his cultural impact proved both singular and lasting.

The article claims that the grudge between magicians and Geller is over and that the sceptics have "lost" a meaningless war.

Small wonder that the anti-Geller brigade has laid down its arms and led a rapprochement with the working professionals of magic.

To support this conclusion, David Segal references a new book written by Australian Magician and Psychic Skeptic Ben Harris. The book was made for magicians and published by Vanishing Inc. Bend it Like Geller exposes techniques and methods for spoon bending thought to be used by Geller.

Its author, Harris, has noted publicly that the book does not praise or promote Geller and his scams. David Segal chooses to represent the book very differently in his NYT article, writing:

The book celebrates Mr. Geller as a brilliant and highly original magical entertainer. Which represents a significant change of heart for Mr. Harris, who was once among Mr. Geller’s most avid debunkers.

If you only read Segal's article, Ben's new book is evidence of a change of heart from the former sceptic. But while Harris and Geller certainly are no longer enemies, his book, Bend it Like Geller, does not shy away from exposing the simple tricks Geller is thought to be using.

I spoke to Harris, who has become a friend through my work of psychic debunking. He had this to say:

My book, BEND It Like Geller, is about the history and evolution of bending spoons. It is a researched collection of TRICK techniques. This was not made clear in the NYT piece.Vanishing Inc did not promote a book about Geller, they published my book, BEND It Like Geller. It is an expose of methods for spoon bending. It is not a Geller biography, it is a skeptical work.

Harris goes on to add some background on the New York Time article:

What was supposed to be a story about my book and a celebration of spoon-bending's allure to the modern magician for over 50 years, turned into something else. But, that's just the way the cookie crumbles. Segal wrote a confronting piece. It's his job. The fallout is the result.

The New York Times article later compares Geller's psychic abilities to the world of AI and deep fake technology.

Mr. Geller’s bent spoons are, in a sense, the analog precursors of digital deep fakes — images, videos and sounds, reconfigured through software, so that anyone can be made to say or do anything.

The claim is made that Geller's possible trickery pales compared to what is possible nowadays with modern technology.

Now that fakery is routinely weaponized online, Mr. Geller’s claims to superpowers seem almost innocent.

There's a total lack of empathy and understanding of how dangerous claims of genuine psychic powers can be. You can read Segal's full article here.

Part 2. Who am I to Judge?

So why is there so much backlash within the magic and psychic debunking community about the New York Times article? Has the feud between the magic community and those, like Geller, who claim to have supernatural abilities ended?

And who am I to be writing a reaction piece to this?

I'm Dustin Dean, and I'm a full-time Mentalist. I am no stranger to treading the line between "real" demonstrations of psychic ability and simple trickery. However, I advocate for disclaimers and being as truthful and honest in my work.

I never want my audiences to leave thinking I used genuine psychic abilities. Magic and Mentalism can be both mighty and very fooling. I believe it is our responsibility to present carefully and not steer anyone down a path of intentional misinformation.

I have seen the harmful effects of misinformation being used firsthand in my work debunking psychics. Over two years ago, I started creating content on TikTok debunking Uri Geller and many other psychic, paranormal, and supernatural claims.

My account began to go massively viral. I gained an audience of over half a million followers and over 100 million overall views. I get hundreds of messages and comments daily from followers who psychics have duped, and many feel they have been scammed out of their hard-earned money.

I even used my national television debut on Penn and Teller: Fool US as an opportunity to expose psychic powers. Hell, I offer a $10,000 prize to anyone who can demonstrate their ability under my conditions. It may not be as grand as the Amazing Randi's Million Dollar Prize - but the goal is the exact same: to find evidence of actual psychic phenomena… if it exists.

You might wonder, "Why not just do what Geller did and fool people into believing what you do is real instead? Make millions?"

I would be lying if the thought never crossed my mind. I watched videos of Geller and many self-proclaimed psychics gaining massive popularity and riches.

It seems like it would be so easy! But is it?.. YES.

As an experiment, I started creating TikTok pages, each making different supernatural claims. Within three days, an account I made of a fake psychic medium reached over 2 million views and 20,000 followers. Easily enough to monetize if I was into conning people out of money. TikTok has since removed the page, but I still have some photo evidence.

I also made a fake haunted doll page which was an even bigger success with over 200k followers within two weeks and a whopping overall view count of over 20 million.

In contrast, it took my personal TikTok account over two years to get anywhere near that amount of success.

After a short time, I revealed that those accounts were fake. Even though it is much easier to take advantage of the fact that many people WANT to be fooled and live in a world of conspiracy, I cannot, in good conscience, pursue that.

Part 3. My Collected Thoughts

Not only do I believe the grudge magicians hold for Uri has not ended, it is stronger and more important than ever in a world of misinformation.

I've encountered spiritualists who, as an argument, use Geller's history with the CIA and the Stargate Project as evidence that telekinesis is real. This perpetuates a never-ending cycle of misinformation and further supports conspiracy theories and the decline of education. A mark against science that can never be erased, thanks to Mr. Geller.

It would seem that in Segal's mind, there are levels of morality when purposefully lying and deceiving to either cause harm or make personal gains at the expense of science, reasoning, and the well-being of others. Segal writes:

“Get fooled by a spoon bender and you’re likely to end up with a smile on your face. Get fooled by a pernicious deep fake and you might end up believing that video posted last year of President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine appearing to surrender, or something else that is false and noxious.”

He goes on to state that,

“[Geller] never went into faith healing, nor did he charge enough to leave many with a case of buyer’s remorse.”

However, this is entirely untrue.

Faith healing is a controversial practice, even for those with religious beliefs, as it often uses simple psychology and trickery to present the lie that they can heal people's genuine medical conditions.

The practice can provide false hope, cons people out of their life savings, and even worse, disuade them from seeking genuine medically recommended treatment. It's something that many mentalists, including Derren Brown, are adamantly against. Brown has many specials tackling the subject of fake psychics and faith healers.

Geller has participated. While not using the typical Christian faith associated with faith healers, Geller claims he can heal multiple afflictions using his mind powers.

An article published on Uri Geller's website supports his claims that he can use the power of prayer and his psychic abilities to heal disabilities and pain. He also even authors a book titled, "Mind Medicine: The Secret of Powerful Healing." Some of the conditions Geller claims to have possibly helped heal are Blindness, broken limbs, speech disabilities, and even cancer. I wonder if there are any peer-reviewed studies to back up these claims.

This is where the heart of the whole issue lies: is a man considered a genius for finding a way to make massive amounts of money no matter the expense? I don't believe it takes a genius to use party tricks to take the path of least resistance and become an exploiting conman for personal gain. However, it takes a genius to find a way to entertain and gain fame ethically and honestly.

Those with the skills and know-how to do what Geller has done but choose not to and expose the truth are the real geniuses. People like James Randi weres only given a passing glance in Segal's article.

Perhaps the only thing that's calmed down in the 50-year feud is Geller's response to being called out for his false claims. In 1991, Geller filed a $15 million lawsuit against Randi over slander for his statements that Geller's powers were the kind of tricks that "used to be on the back of cereal boxes when I was a kid". The court dismissed the case, and Geller later settled the case for $120,000.

Now that I write this article as a new father, with my 3-month-old lying by my side, I cannot fathom how Geller can live with his past on his conscience. How can someone tell their children: "You see, the way to success is just to lie, deceive, get rich even if it means causing harm."

Is that what you would teach your children? I know I won't. And my son certainly won't grow up writing articles praising someone who does.

So, no, the 50-year grudge is not over.