CUCKOOS AND COCOA PUFFS by Carol Krol [originally published in Skeptical Eye -- Vol. 8, No
CUCKOOS AND COCOA PUFFS
by Carol Krol
[originally published in Skeptical Eye -- Vol. 8, No. 3, 1995, a
newsletter published by the National Capital Area Skeptics (NCAS),
a local activist group based in Silver Spring, MD The next issue of
"Skeptical Eye" will publish letters from Phil Klass and Barry Karr
taking issue with some of Randi's comments about CSICOP.]
After years of battling spoon-bender and self-proclaimed psychic
Uri Geller, James "The Amazing" Randi finally has reason to
celebrate. So do we. The well-deserved personal triumph of this
noted magician, author and skeptical rabble-rouser is clearly a
triumph for the skeptical community as well. "This is a total
victory against Geller," says Michael Kennedy, Randi's New York
Three judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
issued a decision in December, 1994, siding with a lower court
judge, that ordered Uri Geller to pay sanctions to CSICOP (The
Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal)
in a 1991 lawsuit brought against both James Randi and CSICOP. In
the opinion, written by Judge David B. Sentelle -- who was joined
in the decision by Judges Patricia M. Wald and Judith W. Rodgers -
- he states, "Since Geller's rise to prominence in the early
1970's, Randi has set about exposing various Geller feats as the
fraudulent tricks of a confidence man." The editorial nature of
this statement, along with Sentelle's subsequent reference to
Geller's "litigious history," can be seen as particularly
significant in light of the fact that the decision by the court
was based on a series of technical findings rather than on the
merits of the case itself.
Geller was originally ordered to pay $149,000 to CSICOP to cover
the cost of CSICOP's legal fees. He made unsuccessful attempts to
overturn the sanctions award, and a final settlement was reached
in January. Geller has paid the first $40,000 of up to $120,000
as part of this agreement. He has agreed to pay a total of $70,000
over the next three years, in addition to the first $50,000 of any
sums he might recover in a new action he is bringing against his
As we go to press, Randi and Geller have hammered out a final
agreement as well. "Everything is completely settled," says
Michael Kennedy. "It is a global settlement of all disputes."
Kennedy adds, "...Geller has dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice
rather than appear at a continuation of the deposition of his that
I was taking wherein the court ordered him to perform minor
miracles." The confidential settlement covers all potential
actions in the future undertaken by either party.
In 1991, Geller filed this $15 million suit against James Randi and
CSICOP, claiming that Randi was speaking as an agent of CSICOP and
alleging that Randi had defamed him by comments made to the
International Herald Tribune. Randi's exact comments were that
Geller "tricked even reputable scientists" with tricks that "are
the kind that used to be on the back of cereal boxes when I was a
kid. Apparently scientists don't eat cornflakes anymore."
Legal battles with Geller are hardly novel to Randi. Geller has
hounded Randi for the past several years with lawsuits that span
the globe, from Japan to Florida to Hungary to New York. The Japan
case in particular would almost make for good comedy.
Randi had granted an interview to a Japanese reporter who spoke no
English. There was an interpreter present, and the reporter began
asking Randi a series of questions, some of which involved his
opinion of Uri Geller. "The spoken Japanese language and the
written Japanese language are NOT the same thing," Randi explains.
"Characters must be looked at in context to figure out the
meaning." At one point, Randi told a story about a supporter of
Geller's, Wilbur Franklin. A classic game of "telephone" ensued,
and the quotes on the page were quite different from his original
"Wilbur Franklin, a parapsychologist, was a diabetic who gave up
insulin and went to a faith healer and eventually died," says
Randi. "I said Franklin had a way of shooting himself in the foot,
because every time he would make a statement about Geller, it would
turn out to be not so. And I said he sat down at his typewriter
and this time he shot himself in the head, because he wrote in a
magazine article that he would stake his entire personal and
professional reputation on the reality of Uri Geller's phenomenon.
That's shooting yourself in the head; that's not shooting yourself
in the foot. The way it got translated was that 'Wilbur Franklin
found out Uri Geller was a fake and shot himself.'
"Then they asked me whether I thought Geller knows that what he is
doing is a trick. I said there's no other way that it can be done.
You have to be conscious of what you do when you do trickery. I
said the reason for it is that Geller doesn't have any sense of
what he does to people when he performs these tricks and tells them
that they're real. He has no social conscience was my final word.
That came out in Japanese as 'Uri Geller is a loathsome social
Randi would have been able to prove that he had not made the
published statements, since the publishing company had the original
tape recording. However, he could not afford to go to Japan, nor
pay a lawyer, for the duration of the trial. While Randi
communicated all of this in writing to the Japanese court, he
received no response, and the case went to trial, whereupon he was
convicted of "insult" (as opposed to libel). Randi was ordered to
pay $2,000 U.S.; ultimately, however, since the charge of "insult"
is not recognized by American law, he was not compelled to pay
Geller. The global settlement recently negotiated by Michael
Kennedy, in fact, resolves this case as well. These issues were
re-visited due to the communication difficulties between the
Japanese lawyers and Randi.
It has been a long, difficult, expensive process for Randi.
However, he's garnered tremendous support from a variety of people
-- from good friends to total strangers on the Internet. "The
support I got was just incredible," says Randi. "I could not have
expected this kind of reaction. People were exceedingly generous
from the very beginning. Those checks just started to pour in.
Every last one of them are saints as far as I'm concerned."
It wasn't just money pouring in either. "If I needed any kind of
information, all I had to do was get on-line," says Randi. "For
example, look at the Cocoa Puffs box." Randi had been fishing
around for an example of a trick printed on the back of a cereal
box. He decided to find out if anyone in cyberspace could help.
"I just said, 'Anybody got any examples?,' and this guy replied
that he had a friend in California who collects cereal boxes as a
hobby," says Randi. "The guy immediately came up with a photocopy
of [a trick on the back of] a Cocoa Puffs box and said he would
send me the original box if I needed it. Bang! Just like that.
I got my answer within 48 hours. And I got so many offers from
lawyers all over, offering help with references and so forth."
Though they were initially named as co-defendants by Geller, Randi
and CSICOP fought their legal battles separately in the 1991 suit.
As an executive council member and one of CSICOP's founders, Randi
constantly promoted the group and spoke on their behalf. "[CSICOP
Chairman Paul] Kurtz cut me loose from the very beginning. He told
the insurance company that I hadn't been working on behalf of
CSICOP when the 'dreadful act' of telling the truth about Geller
was actually uttered. And of course I was. That was part of my
Although Randi was compelled to defend himself without CSICOP's
support, he concedes that it may have benefitted him to pursue his
own legal battle with Geller. "It may not have been very wise for
me to accept CSICOP's lawyers," says Randi. "For instance, they
might emphasize certain things in CSICOP's favor that might not be
in my favor. And CSICOP obviously recognized that they had
CSICOP ran an advertisement in the _Skeptical Inquirer_, appealing
for contributions to help fight the 1991 case. Randi's name was
mentioned in the advertisement, and he feels this was misleading
to the skeptical community. "CSICOP did me a disservice by running
that ad with my name attached to it. I got a lot of response from
people, especially on e-mail, who thought they were contributing
toward my defense as well when they sent checks to CSICOP. Not one
cent that was ever given to CSICOP defended me except, I believe,
in two cases where the check itself was made payable to CSICOP and
Randi. Otherwise, it all went to CSICOP."
Randi is in in good company when it comes to being sued by Geller.
"Litigious" indeed. Geller has sued Timex, the watch company;
Prometheus Books and Victor Stenger (an author for Prometheus);
and Michael Hutchinson (a book distributor in England), to name a
few. His beef with Timex arose from a commercial they ran which
featured a "psychic;" Geller claimed the "psychic" looked like him.
The "psychic" tries to stop a Timex watch, but can't do it. It, of
course, keeps on tickin'. The case never went to court.
So what now? What's left after years of battling Geller?
"Nothing," says Randi. "Just me going after the insurance company
for the money." Legal counsel in Baltimore are currently reviewing
the possibility of recovery of at least a portion of Randi's
Randi concludes, "The bottom line on this whole Geller thing is
that I didn't yield an inch. I didn't back up once. I never gave
him the satisfaction of ever seeing me flinch, ever. Any time that
he really threw the gauntlet at me, I hit him right back."
Randi's legal battles with Geller are finally over. That's the
good news. The bad news is that his legal costs are still sizable,
and any and all contributions are welcome.
Contributions to The James Randi Fund may be sent to:
The James Randi Fund
3555 West Reno Avenue, Suite L
Las Vegas, NV 89118
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank