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'The Missing Times: News Media Complicity in the UFO Cover-up' - Excerpts from the book

Terry Hansen

original source |  fair use notice

Summary: Following are a few brief excerpts from the book, 'The Missing Times: News Media Complicity in the UFO Cover-up.'

Terry Hansen

author's bio

Following are a few brief excerpts from The Missing Times. (End notes have been deleted.):

From Chapter I, Parallel Universes:

Some observers have speculated that the UFO phenomenon is virtually a creation of the news media. In this decidedly elitist view, small-town editors anxious for something interesting to report, write up the colorful accounts of mostly unreliable local citizens. These accounts then give rise to a UFO mythology as they percolate throughout society. Journalism Professor Herbert Strentz, in his 1970 study, found that the evidence did not support such a simplistic interpretation, however. "The press had played a major role in creating and sustaining public interest in flying saucers from 1947 through 1966 but it cannot be concluded that the press was solely responsible for existence of the phenomenon," he wrote. He cited Air Force reports as evidence of a real phenomenon as a source of the press coverage.

An essential point to grasp about all this is that the U.S. news media today present two fundamentally different pictures of reality. I like to refer to the poles of this conceptual dichotomy as official reality, represented by the elite national and big-city news media, and folk reality, portrayed by the local or small-town news media. The elite news media present a view of reality dominated by officially acknowledged and often predictable occurrences -- plane crashes, political scandals, elections, wars, diplomatic negotiations, business news, stock market trends, sports, etc. Serious reporting of anomalies such as UFO sightings is essentially missing from this picture of world events. Meanwhile, a very different set of events often comprises the local news picture. The local media present life as ordinary Americans experience it, complete with the unusual events that we have come to call UFO encounters.

UFO author and investigator Barry Greenwood described the difference between local and national coverage of the subject this way: "The local media, when they deal with the subject, tend to be more open-minded. The higher up you go in the journalism hierarchy, the more skeptical [reporting] becomes. That's a trend that is extended way back into history."

Interestingly, the reports that find their way into the local media are just a fraction of the total number of UFO sightings taking place. Strentz, in his survey of UFO press coverage, found that fear of ridicule was the second of nine possible reasons offered for not reporting a UFO sighting to the press. This was evidently a well-justified fear, since 18.4 percent of newspaper reports studied showed evidence that the witness was ridiculed or harassed for making his or her report public.

Public-opinion polls have shown an accelerating divergence between what the American public says it believes about UFOs and the world view presented by the elite news media, that is, between folk reality and official reality. Despite the tendency of the elite news media, particularly in recent years, to avoid coverage of the UFO issue, Americans show an increasing skepticism about the official version of reality they present. A Time magazine / CNN poll released on June 15, 1997, revealed that, of the 1024 adults polled, fully 80 percent said they believed the U.S. government was hiding knowledge of extraterrestrials. Sixty-four percent of the respondents said they thought aliens have contacted humans, half said aliens have abducted humans, and 37 percent said they thought aliens had contacted the U.S. government. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Consider what this means: The American public overwhelmingly accepts that human society is already in contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life. Meanwhile, the elite media continue to preach the official view that extraterrestrial life, while it might exist somewhere out in distant space, remains a purely theoretical concept. The massive body of UFO evidence is completely disregarded as being relevant to the question. So, while the elite media continue to preach the same old official sermon, most of the congregation has already left the church.


From Chapter II, Sources of Silence:

With the start of the secretly planned and executed Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb, a whole new censorship era began to flower. In the wake of well-publicized concerns about Soviet nuclear espionage, the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 was passed. This law introduced the concept that certain kinds of information were "born classified." Automatic classification soon became institutionalized and it remains so today.

The overt and formal censorship that had taken root during World War II also gradually transferred its focus from atomic energy to other fields of scientific endeavor, all the while becoming progressively more convoluted and pervasive. Increasingly, the main target of such censorship programs seemed to be the American public itself, since in many cases the information the government was trying to suppress was already well known to foreign adversaries.

Articles and books about atomic energy now became targets for the new breed of censors who often seemed to operate out of blind zeal to control scientific knowledge itself. An article by Hans Bethe, a prominent physicist and Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) consultant, was scheduled for publication by Scientific American in its April 1950 issue. After the issue had gone to press, the AEC sent a telegram to the publisher asking for censorship of certain technical details. Reluctantly, the magazine agreed and a mutilated version of the article later appeared. The AEC also insisted on destruction of the original press run, sending a security officer to see that all issues had been burned.

As Senator Daniel Moynihan put it in a recent review of the festering secrecy issue, "From the onset of the atomic age there had been a tension between the defense establishment (generally defined) and the scientific community over the nature of secrecy in science. From the time of the Smyth report and the arguments of Bethe and others as to the inevitability of a Soviet H-bomb, the level of irritation between the two camps was not inconsiderable. The scientists had said that the United States could not hide nature from Russians. Now an argument arose about the disutility of trying to hide nature from Americans."


From Chapter III, A Brief History of Lies:

Toward the end of the war, propaganda found new uses as the massive, top-secret Manhattan project progressed toward its awful conclusion. The testing of the first atomic bomb in New Mexico on July 16, 1945, created an unusually bright light, visible at a distance of some 125 miles. This astonishing event was successfully pawned off on the press and public by a Manhattan Project press agent as an ammunition dump explosion that had caused no loss of life and little damage to property.

Still later, the U.S. government lied to the public about the atomic bomb's terrible biological impact. Wilfred Burchett of the London Daily Express was the first to report the effects of radiation sickness after the Hiroshima bombing in a story from which the more horrifying details had been cut. "The American authorities reacted quickly," wrote Phillip Knightly. "Army press relations called a conference in Tokyo to refute Burchett's account. There was no such thing as radiation sickness, the spokesman said." Burchett was accused of falling victim to Japanese propaganda. Meanwhile, in the United States, Major-General Leslie R. Groves, head of the Manhattan Project, flatly declared, "This talk of radio-activity is so much non-sense."

As explained in the previous chapter, the legacy of World War II and the still-dawning atomic age was one of institutionalized and ever-expanding secrecy. The censorship that had become a permanent fact of American life made both the news media and public more vulnerable than ever to propaganda, anticommunist and otherwise.

One of the more aggressive uses of post-war era domestic propaganda was to support the growing nuclear energy establishment. Here again the U.S. news media cooperated from the beginning. Faithfully relaying the military line, the elite news media portrayed the 1946 atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll, known as Operations Crossroads, as essentially benign and well-intentioned. When President Harry Truman announced plans to develop the H-bomb and create a U.S. testing ground, the U.S. media applauded.

Three of the 1953 "Upshot-Knothole" series of nuclear tests in Nevada exposed the population of southern Nevada to high levels of radiation. Townspeople in St. George were told to stay indoors, roadblocks were set up, and vehicles were washed down in an attempt at decontamination. The Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) told the press that radiation had not reached a hazardous level, although thousands of sheep died within weeks of the three "dirty" explosions.

In its zeal to sell the bomb to the American public the AEC consistently downplayed the health hazards of radioactive fallout near the Nevada test site, telling people at one point that "fallout can be inconvenient, but your best action is not to worry."

Noted journalists including Walter Cronkite, Dave Galloway, John Cameron Swayze, and Bob Considine came to Nevada to witness and report on the nuclear bomb tests from a small hill about ten miles from ground zero. Their accounts focused on the spectacular visual effects of the bombs while consistently praising the U.S. government for its successes. They also repeated the AEC's false claims about the absence of radiation hazards from the tests.

A factor that contributed to the AEC's power during the era of atmospheric atomic testing was the lack of public knowledge about radioactivity. The American news media played a key role in keeping the public ignorant. As one scholar put it, "The generally supportive attitude of the press tended to inhibit the dissemination of information that questioned the validity of AEC claims, and the government's control over classified information had not been eroded by the Freedom of Information Acts. These obstacles to accurate information flow were compounded by AEC sponsorship and distribution of dozens of official reports which supported its own position about the safety of testing. Scientists who disagreed and suggested a possible link between fallout and cancer were either repressed or summarily dismissed as disgruntled or disloyal."


From Chapter V, Editing History:

In 1954, airline companies were urged at a meeting in Los Angeles to forward these official intelligence reports in response to a dramatic increase in UFO sightings. (At that time, UFO reports were said by one military official to be coming in at the rate of 5 to 10 a night from pilots.) Many airline pilots who had UFO sightings were not happy about being silenced by military security regulations. As Aldrich put it, "In 1958 John Lester of the Newark Star-Ledger started a petition on which airline pilots who reported UFOs could register their displeasure with not being able to talk about their UFO sightings because of possible violation of [the] security provision of JANAP 146."

According to an article about the protest by reporter Lester in the December 22, 1958, Star-Ledger, a group of 50 airline pilots, each of whom had reported one or more UFO sightings, blasted the Air Force censorship policy as "bordering on the absolutely ridiculous." The pilots said they all had been interrogated by Air Force officials following their UFO sightings and had become disgusted and frustrated with Air Force methods. As one pilot reportedly put it, "We are ordered to report all UFO sightings but when we do we are usually treated like incompetents and told to keep quiet." Another said he was disgusted when the Air Force told him the object that had paced his aircraft for 15 minutes was a mirage or a bolt of lighting. "Nuts to that," he said. "Who needs it?" An additional 400 airline pilots later added their names to the protest petition, though with little effect.

Thus, although JANAP 146 was not intended as a censorship tool, it had that result because many commercial pilots in the 1950s filed official UFO reports and consequently these reports became classified and remain so today. What is less clear is the long-term effect that JANAP 146 had on airline-company policies about reporting UFO sightings to the press. According to Aldrich, "If pilots can't talk about sightings then there had to be an effect."

There seems to be little doubt that, in 1958 at least, the major airline companies were under pressure from the U.S. Air Force to keep their pilots silent about UFO sightings. Reporter John Lester of the Star-Ledger reported that protesting airline pilots had asked that their names be withheld from publication because their employers, "at Air Force insistence," had directed them to say nothing to the news media. One pilot said his employer had refused permission for him to appear on a national telecast. Another said he was ordered to "cease and desist" after two such media appearances.

Regardless of precisely how airline censorship policies have evolved since, there is little question that airline companies today are not happy when their pilots talk to the news media about their UFO sightings. Today, JANAP 146 is no longer in effect, however, so other concerns must be behind this corporate displeasure, an issue we will revisit later in this chapter.

Non-commercial pilots have reported UFOs, too, of course, though official censorship of such accounts seems less common. An exception is a case described recently by former NASA scientist Richard Haines. A German pilot who observed a UFO being pursued by USAF F-4 Phantom jets in 1976 said he was later interrogated by men in business suits and pressured to sign a secrecy agreement regarding what he had witnessed. He refused, despite a suggestion that his pilot's license might be suspended if he did not cooperate. How many other non-commercial pilots would have been so brave in the face of such official intimidation?

If the news media today is aware of such censorship practices, they do not report it. One reason is that officials simply deny that censorship takes place but another is that elite reporters don't ask about it. This "don't tell, don't ask" relationship has a long history. Although military spokesmen pretended to be open and cooperative with the press during the early years of the UFO crisis, this was a ruse. As Blue Book's Edward Ruppelt later put it, "Our policy on releasing information was to answer only direct questions from the press. If the press didn't know about a given UFO incident, they naturally couldn't ask questions about it. Consequently such stories were never released. In other instances, when the particulars of a UFO sighting were released, they were only the bare facts about what was reported. Any additional information that might have been developed during later investigations and analyses was not released."


From Chapter VI, Creating the Pseudo-environment:

In Chapter IV, I suggested that leaking the UFO/ICBM missile story to the National Enquirer would have been a near-perfect way for psychological-warfare experts to strip the story of any legitimacy it might otherwise have acquired outside of Montana. With its reputation for over-the-top sensationalism and dubious veracity, the Enquirer seems tailor made for psychological spin control.

Although the elite news media rarely provide serious, in-depth coverage of the UFO issue, the Enquirer was for many years uniquely eager to publish UFO stories, often under screaming, front-page headlines. This juxtaposition of sensational, even ridiculous Enquirer headlines alongside the more restrained (if not openly contemptuous) coverage of the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, has served to amplify the disreputable public image of UFOs that U.S. government agencies have worked to create and sustain.

The idea that the Enquirer was used to discredit the Minuteman story certainly seems plausible but is there any evidence that this is what happened? Although it was over 20 years ago, I thought former Enquirer reporter Bob Pratt, who wrote the story for the paper's December 13, 1977 issue, might still recall how the paper had learned about the Montana events.

"Is there any reason to believe this story was purposely leaked to the Enquirer?" I asked Pratt. His initial response was deflating. "None whatsoever," he replied. "My impression was that the military would have been happy to have kept everything quiet about the 1975 over-flights. I thought the documents were extraordinary, but my editor wasn't particularly interested in it."

It was a critical point, however, so I pressed the question. "You said that you don't have any reason to believe the 1975 Minuteman/UFO story was leaked to the Enquirer," I repeated. "On the other hand, the Enquirer clearly found out about it somehow, and you also said you don't recall how the paper got tipped off about that story. Doesn't that mean it could have been leaked to the paper in some rather subtle fashion, or possibly leaked to UFO researchers knowing it would wind up in the Enquirer, and thus be discredited [by association with the tabloid press]?"

Following my initial series of questions, Pratt did further research on the matter and was now less confident in his first response. "By coincidence, just a few hours after sending you the answers to your first set of questions, I came across some documents relating to the 1975 over-flights," he wrote. "And there is a possibility that you may be right that someone did tip off the Enquirer with the intention of discrediting the information. But I'm not sure."

Pratt went on to say he couldn't recall how or when he first learned about the Minuteman over-flights. He said he had been working at the time with a number of different UFO researchers who were pursuing several military-related cases using the Freedom of Information Act. Among his notes, though, Pratt said he'd found a typewritten statement with another researcher's name on the bottom saying that on May 17, 1977, an anonymous caller had phoned and told him about the over-flights and allowed him to tape the conversation. "This whole thing surprises me because I have no recollection of receiving such a phone call, nor do I remember working with Brad Sparks [the other researcher mentioned in his notes] on these incidents," Pratt added.

The truth of the matter may be lost in the mists of time. However, the likelihood that military sources purposely leaked the story to the Enquirer, possibly via one of several UFO researchers known to be working with Pratt, remains and must be considered, particularly in light of the Enquirer's surprising history.

In many ways the National Enquirer is a conspiracy theorist's dream come true. The newspaper's historical ties to powerful organizations such as the OSS, the CIA, the Pentagon, the White House, and the Mafia, raise troubling questions about its true agenda. To the uninitiated, though, the Enquirer seems hardly worth taking seriously. With its blaring, often absurd headlines and near-ubiquitous location alongside grocery store checkout stands across the nation, the Enquirer has become both a cliché and the butt of jokes among those who consider themselves sophisticated media consumers. There's much more to the National Enquirer than meets the eye, however. To see why, we need to review the Enquirer's fascinating origins, with particular emphasis on its ties to the U.S. intelligence establishment.

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