Thursday, July 07, 2005

Larry King Live - The UFO Phenomenon

Last night CNN's Larry King (below) focused in on the subject of the UFO phenomenon - at least as much as a one hour program, with repeated commercial breaks, six guests, and lengthy calls from the viewing audience, can really be said to "focus" on the subject. For all that, it was an interesting discussion that undoubtedly reached a fairly large audience. What impressions would they have taken away afterwards?

Well, I suspect that the lasting impression would have been: "Hey, that Rob Swiatek guy, and that Dr. Bruce Maccabee - they seem pretty reasonable, and made some sense."

Indeed, that would be my read as well.

In my experience, both men (each of whom I've interviewed) always come across as intelligent and reasoned, and the Larry King show last night was no exception. Swiatek in particular was the epitome of everything that the Ufological "Third Way" I advocate should be - to paraphrase: "yes," he said, "UFOs are real, but, no, we can't say for certain that they are alien spacecraft, although that is one plausible theory." Exactly what I would have said had I been on the show, and a position that I suspect resonated with the majority of the people watching.

Both he and Maccabee were also on their game when it came to the various photos that Swiatek brought with him (including the famous Trent photos taken in McMinnville, Oregon in 1950). Maccabee managed to explain how these photos had been scientifically analysed in a way that most in the audience would have been able to understand, without being boring, in a short time span (maybe thirty seconds), which is no mean feat. They are both capable proponents for the proposition that the UFO phenomenon is an objective reality.

MUFON's John Schuessler came off fairly well, too - although he over-egged the pudding when he stated that MUFON has received hundreds of thousands of UFO sighting reports. He would have been far more effective if he had left that part out (how many of those reports were credible, John), and focused on a few particular cases that clearly demonstrate the UFO phenomenon is real. Nevertheless, he made his overall point effectively, and came across as both knowledgeable and reasonable.

On the debunker side, SETI's Seth Shostak came out of it a lot better than Susan Clancy (more on her in a moment). Dr. Shostak strikes me as a guy with whom I would like to have dinner, a few drinks, and a long conversation. He's both intelligent and clever, which makes him perfect for this kind of television appearance. Some of his comments even made sense. However, he simply had no real answers for the basic questions that King and the pro-UFO guys raised (like the photos), at which point he would just retreat to the mantra, "well, they just aren't coming here, because if they were we would know about it." Still, at least he was easy to listen to, and was polite and respectful of the other guests, even as he disagreed with them. And he struck a chord with me when he said that exploring our oceans is as important as the exploration of space.

If only the show had stuck with those four guests, things would have been fine (not to mention a little less hectic). But because it's America, where you can't discuss the UFO phenomenon without including the subject of "alien abductions," Budd Hopkins and Dr. Susan Clancy (proponent and debunker, respectively) were also on the panel.

Let me tell you - if you think the "abduction enigma" has nothing to do with aliens, you would have watched the show in mounting horror. Clancy was simply horrible. She seemed confused more than once - King even called her on it at one point, when her response to a question consisted of a three or four second pause and then an "Umm..." at which point King said something like, "C'mon Susan - Ummm?" At least Shostak is polished; Clancy, who is no doubt an intelligent person, was clearly out of her element on television.

Clancy was also unable to answer a number of questions that were directed at her, such as how the abduction victims get the scars and other marks on them (she explained away some, but certainly not all), and why not all abduction reports occur in bed (which undermines the "sleep paralysis" explanation). However, she did score one major point when discussing the photos. She noted that they were all saucer shaped, but that the original sighting by Kenneth Arnold, which started it all, was not of saucer shaped craft. Rather, his description, which was misinterpreted by journalists, talked of objects shaped like crescents that moved like saucers being skipped over water. This is an important distinction. Still, that was about it for her, in an otherwise dismal performance.

It would have been much more interesting to include Kevin Randle as the abduction debunker, particularly as he is pro-ETH, and he and Budd Hopkins seem to have a great deal of antipathy towards each other, which would have made for interesting television.

Speaking of the ubiquitous Budd Hopkins... I'm not a fan - never have been, never will be. He has the look of a zealot about him, and comes across as a true believer that will brook no dissent. He is a "Roswellian" in the truest sense of the word, and the antithesis of someone like Swiatek. Having said that, however, he certainly came across better than Clancy on abductions - he raised some interesting points, even as he left me unconvinced that the abduction phenomenon is caused by aliens. Personally, I would have left both him and Clancy off the program, but Larry King Live talking about the UFO phenomenon without discussing "alien abductions" seems to be impossible, so I guess we're stuck with it.

Overall, Swiatek rates an A for his appearance, Maccabee an A-, Schuessler a B, Shostak a B- (for being erudite if nothing else), Hopkins a C, and Clancy a D- (would have been an F, but the Arnold point saves her from a complete failing grade).

All in all, it was an interesting show, where all of the participants spoke to their core audiences. However, only Swiatek, Maccabee and, to a slightly lesser extent, Schuessler, also managed to make a reasoned appeal to those people watching who might have been either unfamiliar with the subject, or undecided.

In those terms, count it as a "win" for ufology.

Paul Kimball

Note: The transcript of the show can be found at:


Kyle said...

Paul -

I have to agree with your assessment.

Hopkins has never impressed me, either.

I was already familiar with Clancy from previous shows...particularly the Jennings Special... She didn't come out so hot in that one either.

Bruce Maccabee is a nice, respectful chap. Some of his "analyses" are suspect however. I have challenged him before...on the "red fireball" photo from someone's backyard. It was an obvious lens flare, but he refused to even consider it. I provided samples of lens flare and even an enhanced version of HIS photo to support my claims, to no avail. Even his claims about how lens flare affects overall scene lighting were patently and demonstrably false. But he sticks to his guns...bullets OR blanks. *S*

I still feel that he's competent, but that his beliefs can cause some scientific "myopia".

His comments on the McMinnville photos were interesting in that I've not seen conclusive data to indicate that they were genuine. A lack of strings does not necessarily mean the object is real. And size and distance cannot be absolutely determined from a static 2-dimensional image, no matter what anyone says.

A camera does not depict reality except through the compound distortions of light, lenses, camera mechanics, and atmosphere. Any conclusions drawn solely from a photograph are conclusions based on a series of distortions...i.e., inconclusive.

But yes, overall a positive for the Ufological community, if for no other reason than Clancy looked so foolish in comparison.

And Shostak's comments on the oceans were prompted by King. He could have little-afforded to say that oceanic research was not important. I don't however believe he was talking about UFO or ET research. Yes, he is a clever dude, indeed. *S*


Paul Kimball said...


No, Shostak wasn't talking about aliens underwater. His comment was in response to a viewer's question about whether aliens were underwater (as I recall it), but he then went further, when prompted by King, to say that underwater exploration is important, a point with which I agree, even though it has nothing to do, for either Shostak or myself, with the UFO phenomenon.

And, yes, Clancy was horrible. Unfortunately, this made Hopkins look good by comparison.

Oh well - as I said, I would have left them both off.


RRRGroup said...


Nice recap, but let me be gauche and say what you miss...

Esthetics (impressions) are what the hoi polloi (and everyone else actually) is impressed by -- how one looks.

Unless one is a genius (Einstein) or has the archetypal wise old man look (Jung, Freud), one cannot hope to win over spectators (viewers in the case of King's show) by looking bedraggled and foggy (Schuessler) or wild-eyed (Swiatek) or frog-faced (Hopkins) or just slightly mad (Maccabee).

Shostak and Clancy were handsome, neat, and it didn't matter what their argument was. Persons remember the image, the impression, which is paramount in television, and explained by McLuhan quite clearly.

You are impressed by what was being said. But the great unwashed is not so rational.

The psychology of presentation is not an art that ufologists has mastered. Thus, their message is overlooked, dismissed, generally.

This may not be how it should be, but it is the reality.

Again, nice recapitulation, but misses the point: this was a television show; the panel was scruffy, except for Clancy and Shostak.

They won by psychological default.

Sorry, chum...

Rich Reynolds

Paul Kimball said...


I know something about television...

And I have greater faith in the intelligence of the "hoi poloi" than you do...

And a person who sounds like an idiot (Clancy) or who ducks every second question (Shostak) is still the loser, no matter how good they might look.

Besides, I'm not sure what show you were watching, but Clancy is no Angelina Jolie, and Shostak ain't Brad Pitt.


RRRGroup said...

I meant that Clancy and Shostak, compared to the other panelists, didn't look as freaky or shopworn.

The both spoke energetically, even the halting Clancy, while the UFO boys were subdued, which didn't match their weird appearance(s).

But chacun son gout.


Paul Kimball said...


Sorry - we just have to disagree. Clancy went beyond being a dud - she was a disaster. Like I said, she may be intelligent, but you wouldn't know it from this appearance.

Shostak was glib, but glibness doesn't win you debates.

I do agree, however, that it is time for ufology to find some younger spokespeople. Look at my Top 10 list - 4 are dead, Friedman, Sturrock, Moseley, Hall, Maccabee (and Klass) are all over 70, and Vallee is about 65. Even Clark and Sparks are in their 50s. Where are the 30 and 40 somethings? Where is the next generation? If new faces don't come forward, and soon, it will be no wonder if the "younger" folks start (continue??) tuning out.


RRRGroup said...


I agree, as you know. Maybe Spielberg's "War of the Worlds" will spark a few "youngsters" into submission to the UFO phenomenon.


Paul Kimball said...


I doubt it.