Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Media and the Early Days of the UFO Phenomenon - Part I

Today, the mainstream media, with some exceptions that prove the rule, tends either to ignore the UFO phenomenon, or to relegate it to the lifestyle or pop culture section of newspapers or television news broadcasts, as opposed to the news section itself, or perhaps the science or editorial sections.

Leaving aside the tricky question of why this is the case, let me simply observe that it was not always so.

In the early years of the UFO phenomenon, the media took it very seriously (which is different from saying that they necessarily accepted that UFOs were "flying saucers" from another planet). For example, "These Flying Saucers" appeared in the 14 April, 1950 issue of The Spectator, at pp. 489 - 490. This article by Robert Waithman asked some questions that are still pertinent today.

Excerpts follow:

"... Hundreds of reports have come in. They did not stop coming in when the Air Force announced that there were no Flying Saucers and that its project was being abandoned. They have not stopped coming in during the last week or so since the White House and the Defence Department put out the latest denials. And now we shall have to proceed with great caution; for these denials have implications which do not yet appear to have been fully examined in this country, and the implications are going to carry us very far, unless we watch out, and possibly whether we watch out or not...

The serious trouble, warning of which was conscientiously given several paragraphs ago, is now coming uncomfortably close. When the White House and the Department of Defense say that no Government department is making or Flying Saucers ('We are not denying this because of any development of secret weapons, but purely because we know of nothing to support these rumours,' said Mr. Charles Ross, the President's Press Secretary), it could amount to a piece of official prevarication - as it would be, for instance, if some private concern or some part of the aircraft industry were doing the work - and it could be a plain lie. But it seems easier to believe that it is neither. Since the President and the Department of Defense would be in serious difficulties with the electorate in the future if they were ever proved to have deliberately misled the people in this case, it is easier to believe that Flying Saucers are not being produced here and are almost certainly not being produced with American knowledge in Russia - or, for that matter, in Britain either.

The implications of this readjustment of belief are plain; and we shall have to go plunging on, with scarcely a pause to mop the beads of perspiration now gathering on the forehead. We shall have to start the easy-stage exercise again; and now we are down to two simple alternatives. One: there are no Flying Saucers, and all the reports are false. Two: there are Flying Saucers, and they come from another world in the infinite universe. Of course there are no Flying Saucers: they are tricks of the imagination or leg-pulls. Those who can should accept alternative one and drop into a dreamless and enviable sleep. Those who can't had better consider at least an outline of the argument for alternative two, which has cropped up here in several literate forms during the last few months.

It begins by asking whether anyone can dismiss from his mind altogether the possibility that a race of beings, one or more centuries further advanced along the scientific path than we, have found the answers to the questions we are now beginning to ask. We are talking about an earth satellite vehicle, rockets and radar experiments with the moon. Suppose they - the other beings - had got far beyond that? Suppose they had got to the point of sending remotely controlled or manned 'observer units' to and from the earth. Well? For at least two centuries there have been reports of unexplained objects in the skies. If they have lately become more frequent, it may be because the far-away beings have made recent progress, or because our atomic explosions and high-altitude rockets have attracted their attention. You see why it would have been better not to go on. The whole thing gets worse from this point. It is not onlt that - as anyone who looks back into the files can discover - the first official statements issued on the U.S. Air Force's 'Project Saucer,' which began in January, 1948, revealed much uncertainty and on one occasion went so far as to say that these phenomena were not a joke. It was much later that, without any adequate explanation of much of the material that had been gathered, the official line was changed to the present brusque 'all bunk' policy. The question whether the Air Force has come into possession of information which it isn't prepared to launch upon an over-excited world has not surprisingly occurred to a number of people here.

'Project Saucer' was resoundingly declared to have been closed last December. But it has been reported, apparently reliably, that Air Force intelligence officers have been flown to the site of airfields and airports where pilots have sighted 'unidentified flying bodies' within the last few weeks and have submitted the pilots to thorough interrogation. And it is not only that either. I know a man who says he is a friend of such a pilot. He says that when the Air Force men reached the airport they went over the pilot's plane with a Geiger counter, which is an instrument that detects any sign of radio-activity. The man I know demands to be told why, if they feel as certain about the non-existence of Flying Saucers as they're supposed to feel, they go on fiddling about with Geiger counters. I haven't been able to give him any really convincing answer."

Paul Kimball

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