Dateline: 8 August 1952
Source: US News & World Report (USN), pp. 13 - 15
"Amazing and mysterious things are happening in the skies over the United States... After five years of 'saucer' reports, the Air Force still is unable to explain, with conclusive information, one out of five strange sights over the United States. It claims to have solved four out of five reports of fireballs and 'flying saucers' by proving they were such things as planes, balloons, missiles, lights - and several hoaxes."
So said USN, perhaps America's most serious weekly newsmagazine, in a major, three page article on the Flying Saucer (or, as we would say today, the UFO phenomenon), just two weeks after the famous Washington sightings of July 1952, and the subsequent US Air Force press conference that resulted.
To ETH proponents today who long for press coverage, be careful what you wish for. Despite noting that "Strange sights are being seen in the skies - really seen" and that "objects are being picked up by radar that cannot easily be explained," USN concluded that "Men from Mars or other planets are definitely not cruising around above the U.S. No little pixies, flitting around in 'flying saucers,' are surveying beachheads to land explorers from another world." They also stated, categorically, that "space ships are not cruising around, tricking pilots, radar operators, and plain citizens with unknown rays."
Now, I'm not convinced that the ETH is the correct explanation for the UFO phenomenon (or even one of many possible correct explanations), because the evidence is, despite the protestations of today's ETH proponents, not conclusive. But I would never go so far as to dismiss it out of hand, as USN did back in 1952. It is a valid, working hypothesis, despite USN's claim, fifty-three years ago, that the "U.S. isn't being spied on by outlandish contraptions in the heavens."
USN offered a drawing to help people understand what was going on (below):
Of the twenty per cent that were still unidentified, they blithely stated that "there is a sound, reasonable explanation for most of the rest."
"Science and the experts are getting to the bottom of a big and persistent puzzle," claimed USN. The answers would be coming soon.
So... where are they - not only for those unsolved cases back then, but all of the unsolved cases since?
Those who claimed back then - like Donald Keyhoe - that the answer (aliens) was clear were wrong to do so. It was not. But those, like USN, who claimed the same thing, but with a different answer (not aliens), were wrong as well.
The truth is that they didn't know the answer. They believed in an answer, on both sides.
When that happens, the real search for the truth suffers.
Ca plus ca change, ca plus ca meme chose.