Nineteen ninety-six was an interesting year. Rush Limbaugh became the Republican nominee f

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Nineteen ninety-six was an interesting year. Rush Limbaugh became the Republican nominee for President; Roseanne killed off her popular TV character; cures for baldness, arthritis, and AIDS were announced; and Michael Jackson had a sex-change operation. If you don't remember those headlines, you're not alone. They didn't happen. But those are some of the events that were supposed to occur in 1996 according to the top psychics who reported their predictions a year ago in the supermarket tabloids such as the National Enquirer, the Sun, and the ever-wacky Weekly World News. As in previous years, their batting record for forecasting major unexpected news events for the coming year was abysmal. Here's a tabloid-by-tabloid rundown of the year that should have been, according to some of the world's best "psychics." The National Enquirer: Jay Leno will lose his Tonight Show job to Johnny Carson. O. J. Simpson will become a minister after confessing during testimony in a civil suit that he killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Good Morning America hostess Joan Lunden will become engaged to Shaquille O'Neal. O.J. attorney Johnnie Cochran will be hailed as "the new Bill Cosby" when he plays a defense attorney in a TV comedy that becomes "a smash" hit. Barbara Walters will be kidnapped by Middle East terrorists, "but will be freed after ABC agrees to let the terrorists air their views on a three-hour broadcast hosted by Barbara." The Globe: O. J. prosecutors Marcia Clark and Chris Darden will marry; meanwhile Simpson will join a monastery. Susan Lucci finally wins an Emmy but breaks a toe when she drops it on her foot. Angela Lansbury will devise "a dramatic departure from Murder, She Wrote by casting herself as the show's final victim." The National Examiner: Michael Jackson will undergo a "complete sex change and insist that everyone call him Michelle. . . . His wife, Lisa Marie, will stick by him and they'll develop an even closer relationship." Rush Limbaugh will quit his career as a conservative political spokesman to star "in a remake of the series Jake and the Fat Man." Comic actor Jim Carrey will get an Oscar after his face freezes in a twisted expression. Nuclear missiles will be used to break up a giant asteroid found to be hurtling toward Earth. The Sun: An American astronaut "will give birth to a healthy baby girl during a six-month mission aboard the Russian space station Mir." Rush Limbaugh will be the Republican nominee against Bill Clinton, picking Sonny Bono as his running mate. The South Pacific island nation of Tonga will land and then strand people on the moon. The U.S. will rescue them. The American and National leagues will be disbanded after another baseball strike and NFL owners will sell their teams to the players. On the medical front, 1996 was supposed to be the year that Star Trek star Patrick Stewart discovered an herbal cure for baldness, actor James Garner discovered a cure for arthritis that people could make in their own kitchens, and a miracle cure for AIDS was found. The prize for the most embarrassing prediction goes to Mystic Meg, a psychic for the Globe. In the January 2, 1996, issue she said, "Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin reunite for an emotional reunion on TV." Martin died in December of 1995, around the time the prediction hit the newsstands. The psychics' horrible batting average isn't surprising. They've gotten very few hits since I began saving their predictions around 1980. What continues to be surprising is that the tabloids keep carrying the predictions of the same psychics year after year. Any professional ball player who missed as often as these folks would have been sent to the showers. A year ago, in response to a similar analysis, National Enquirer executive editor Steve Coz told a reporter from the Dallas Morning News that the list of predictions "isn't something to be critiqued" because "it's a fun read, and it's meant to be taken as that." Okay. But in the same interview, Coz said the predictions are published to tell readers, "Here's what you can look forward to." In short, the Enquirer tries to have it both ways by trying to build up the credibility of their psychics when they publish the predictions, yet billing the predictions as entertainment when the editors are forced to confront the fact that they keep quoting psychics whose predictions, year after year, have failed. So what's in store for 1997? According to the tabloid psychics, it will be the year plastic surgeons discover a way to give dogs the faces of movie stars, Tammy Faye (wife of disgraced tele-evangelist Jim Bakker) is appointed ambassador to Israel, Americans get a $1,000 tax deduction for every career criminal they kill, scientists discover how to communicate with the dead, time travel becomes as affordable as a Disney World vacation, and Madonna makes a successful run for U.S. Senate. About the Author Gene Emery writes the Skeptical Inquirer's Media Watch column.

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