Friday, March 31, 2006

Mainstream Media, or Mainstream Morons? Sometimes It's Hard to Tell

I'm not a proponent of the "Roswell as a crashed alien spacecraft" theory, but to label the Roswell Incident as a hoax, which is what a reporter for the Indianapolis Star did yesterday (as reported here, in the Detroit Free Press), is just ridiculous.

From the article, which was about the 10 greatest hoaxes:

"No. 3: Roswell, N.M.
It's 1947, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union is on in earnest, and a rancher in Roswell, N.M., finds some debris out on the range. Obviously, a flying saucer had crashed. According to Infoplease, what lent credibility to the reports of a government cover-up was the fact that there probably was a government cover-up, but of high-altitude spy balloons, not flying saucers. For years, people reported seeing flying saucers, and in the 1990s, TV's "The X-Files" propelled the myth to new heights."

I defend the media to ufologists on a regular basis (it ain't easy considering Fox "News"). But guys like this writer, who don't even understand what a "hoax" is, just make it harder and harder.

Of course, he also gets his facts wrong. For example, he assumes that Roswell was widely known at the time, and in the decades following, and led to all of the UFO sightings. This is just plain wrong, as the Roswell story was quickly squelched (for what reason is still the subject of intense debate within ufology). It also happened after the Kenneth Arnold sighting, which is when the flying saucer era really took off (no pun intended) - it wasn't until the late 1970s that Roswell re-surfaced in the public consciousness.

As for the government cover-up stuff, Donald Keyhoe and others were working that side of the street long before Roswell hit the big time. Heck, even Stan Friedman was convinced of a cover-up years before he ever heard of Roswell.

But it gets worse.

From there, the reporter uses his "Roswell hoax" angle to besmirch ALL UFO sightings.

Good grief.

FYI - I'm sure that the United States Air Force crew members involved in the RB-47 case weren't thinking of Roswell in 1957. Nor was Kelly Johnson et al thinking of Roswell in 1953. Nor were the fishermen and other witnesses of Shag Harbour (including a pal of mine who saw "it" fly over Halifax on its way down the shore) thinking of Roswell in 1967. Nor was... well, you get the idea. The list is, literally, endless.

As for the X-Files propelling the "myth" to new heights, that may be true, in the sense that the show was very popular for a while, but the X-Files was inspired by the UFO phenomenon, and the cases, and yes, even the conspiracy theories, not the other way around. One should always try to avoid confusing fact with fiction, and reality with fantasy. The reporter's version is roughly akin to saying that The West Wing inspired John Kerry's run for president in 2004. On the other hand, given the level of intellectual acumen the reporter has demonstrated so far, perhaps he believes that there really was a President Bartlett? Who knows?

Time to send ABE AAMIDOR, the author of the article (I hesitate to use the word "reporter"), back to the court-house beat, where he can fill his days writing little snippets about which hooker just got caught with which city council member. He might - might - be able to handle that.

In the meantime, he should buy a dictionary and check out the definition of the word "hoax".

Here's a push in the right direction, courtesy of the Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language:

"Hoax n. 1. a humorous or mischievous deception, esp. a practical joke. 2. something intended to deceive or defraud."

Assuming that Abe actually exists (I'm willing to admit that there is a possibility that "Abe Aamidor" is just a group of monkeys banging away at typewriters), he might want to pick up a copy of Dick Hall's The UFO Evidence, and The UFO Evidence, Vol. II.

Nah - that would require him to do some real reporting.

All of which leads us to the real Q & A of this little story...

What's the true number one hoax here?

That Abe Aamidor is a competent journalist.

Paul Kimball

13 comments:

MKJessup said...

I think the article is indicative of how little real interest the media ever had in UFOs. Or, it may show what an insulated little world we (people interested in the UFO phenomenon) live in. We've been so wrapped up in our petty conspiracies that we never noticed that the rest of the world moved on.

Here's another article in the same vein from the London Times:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,6-2111848,00.html

Whether perceived or actual, this loss of interest may actually be a good thing. It might allow serious researchers to resume their work without the sideshow atmosphere of the last several years.

MKJ

LGW said...

It's evident more and more that certain media types are nothing more than automatons for the great corporate powers. Many reporters have no voice. They think they are telling the story, but in the end, they are telling what they are TOLD to tell. And so things like this---calling ROSWELL a hoax---is nothing new. No one can prove nor disprove Roswell. Hey, people are still trying to put the pieces together on the Holocaust. Does that mean the HOLOCAUST DID NOT HAPPEN???
The fact of the matter is simple...to eliviate the mass integration of false information in the media, a new generation of truth seekers is required.
A new legion of media types who know that there is a conserted effort from the highest echelons of information expansion, to dumb down the masses and in turn put themselves on pedestals.
I hope there is such a movement soon. Young, brash reporters and newscasters telling it the way they see it without fear of retribution, for their sake and ours.

LGW

Howard Sux said...

You're a very intelligent bloke, Paul, so I'm confident you'll be able to answer this better than anyone else: Has anyone ever said or done anything hurtful to you, after you've described them in the fashion in which you've described the journalist who wrote that article? For example, you questioned his intellectual acumen, hesitated to give him his professional title, imagined him in a deadend job, questioned his competence, his literacy, even his existence. Have you ever described someone else like that and suffered some hurtful treatment from them as a result? Do you ever find yourself elaborating someone's faults at greater length or to a greater degree than you had originally intended? I would imagine someone with your creativity and language skills could develop some epic descriptions.

Old Gary said...

I agree with you, Paul. That reporter is more tabloid style than newspaper style. That is the direction all news organizations are taking lately.

Paul Kimball said...

Howard:

What can I say? I have a low tolerance for fools. :-)

Look, I've made mistakes, and when I do, I expect to be called on them. If they're really stupid mistakes - you know, basic errors of fact and the like from a reporter - then I expect that some people are really going to call me on them, if you know what I mean. Sticks and stones and all that.

I'm sure Abe is a wonderful fellow - nice to dogs and children, a loyal friend, good husband, salutes the flag... whatever (actually, I'm not sure of that, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt). But, if you're going to take on the job of a reporter, or a news columnist, then it behooves you to get the basic facts right when you're writing a story. If you can't, then you should be looking for another line of work. Honestly. Or offer a written correction. Like I said, everyone makes mistakes.

I don't expect a written correction or apology from Abe, so the "other line of work" option seems apropos.

Like I said, I regularly defend the so-called mainstream media to my friends in ufology, most of whom think it's all bollocks. So when someone like Abe comes along who seems to prove them right, you can understand how it would annoy me. It makes it harder for me to defend the very institution his lousy reporting demeans.

Paul

Paul Kimball said...

LGW:

Of course the Holocaust happened. It's beyond dispute, as any good historian (as opposed to someone like David Irving) will tell you. There are facts in this world.

The Roswell Incident, for example, is a fact. The problem is that we don't know what happened for sure - was it a alien spacecraft, or some sort of top secret government project (I favour the latter explanation, for the record)? The one thing it wasn't, however, is a hoax. And certainly UFOs aren't a hoax, whatever they are (although some individual UFO cases, like Aztec for example, were indeed hoaxes).

There isn't some grand conspiracy here, however, to dumb down the media, as you suggest, from a shadowy upper echelon group of some sort. It's just one reporter doing a lousy job.

Alas, it happens.

Paul

Howard Sux said...

That's an answer - but along with the platitudes you've pitched about the reporter (and then taken back), it's not an answer to any of the questions I've asked. Is evading the question one of those aspects of the media you defend to your friends?

Paul Kimball said...

MKJ:

I agree that there is probably little serious interest in UFOs amongst the mainstream media. But what are they going to report? Despite the claims of the ETH proponents, there is no definitive answer as to what UFOs may or may not be. Those aren't the kind of stories that make it onto the front pages, espcially in a world where there are more urgent, pressing stories of immediate concern (wars, hunger, politics, etc). If I was running the NY Times, I wouldn't report on UFOs either.

However, on those occassions when they do actually report on UFOs, I think they have a duty to take the subject seriously, assuming they are a serious media outlet (as opposed to, say, The Weekly World News or some other tabloid). That's the problem with much of the reportage re: UFOs - it's glib, and more suited for the entertainment pages.

The failure of the media isn't that they don't report on UFOs - the failure is that when they do, too often it takes the tone of this article by Aamidor.

Paul

Paul Kimball said...

Howard:

Well, the call me obtuse, because I'm not exactly sure what the question is that you're asking. Perhaps you could refine it to a simple one-liner for this poor pleb? :-)

However, to take one question that is specific:

"Do you ever find yourself elaborating someone's faults at greater length or to a greater degree than you had originally intended?"

Of course. I'm sure we all have, at one time or another. I've been on the receiving end of people who I'm sure went further than they intended.

An example that pops to mind right off the top of my head was my critique of Rich Dolan's UFOs and the National Security State almost a year ago, which focused almost solely on some of the (considerable) flaws, without giving credit to Dolan for the good stuff that was in the book. I regret that.

Dolan, however, survived - as I'm sure Aamidor will, and as I did when the National Post, one of Canada's two national newspapers, slammed one of my films a couple years ago, in an article that covered two-thirds of a page.

Paul

Paul Kimball said...

Old Gary:

Yes, some news organizations do seem to be headed in the tabloid direction, but I think it has always been thus. I think we just have a rose-coloured view of journalism in the past that doesn't exactly match the reality. After all, it was journalists, working for media moguls, who basically dragged the United States into war in 1898 with Spain. Today's bunch, in my opinion, have nothing on them!

I watch the BBC News whenever I'm home at 7 pm, because for the most part I think they get it right. In Canada, I watch both CTV and CBC, for the same reasons. Of the US networks, there are some that are good, and some that are not so good, but I find it depends a lot on the show, and the individual reporter. I'm still a 60 Minutes fan.

As for newspapers and magazines, I've subscribed to The Economist for years now (courtesy of my fiance, who gets it for me for Christmas). In Canada, I read the National Post, a conservative paper, and find the reporting and commentary usually well-written and accurate. In the United States, I usually pick up the NY Times when I'm on the road, for the same reason that I read the post, only from a different political perspective.

At the end of the day, however, I think we probably get the media that we deserve. For those who want trashy, tabloid stuff, there's plenty out there. For those who want more serious, thoughtful reportage, it's there too, in the mainstream. It's all a question of where you look, and what you're looking for.

Paul

Mac said...

If you think ignorance and basic confusion reign when it comes to crashed UFOs, try possible artifacts on Mars. Oy!

AJG said...

As a former resident of the Indianapolis metro area, I would like to sincerely apologize for this story.

Paul Kimball said...

AJG:

I'm sure, covering certain subjects, that Aamidor isn't a bad reporter, or at least not THIS bad. Who knows? Maybe it's not his fault? Maybe his editor told him to write a glib fluff piece. Probably not, however.

Still, it does make me pine for the days of J. P. Cahn, who exposed a REAL UFO hoax (Aztec).

Paul