Le triomphe du ridicule

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By the time the sightings for July 6th and 7th had been published, the newspapers were no longer presenting the facts with the detail and responsibility that had been given to the reports of July 4th and 5th.  Skepticism, and in many cases outright ridicule, dominated news coverage of UFO sightings and those who reported them. A general attitude of "everybody’s-doing-it-now" gave many news accounts more than a faint air of suspicion.

Some of the news reports were entirely misleading and details were manufactured for the sake of creating a more sensational story. For example, a perfectly "ordinary" UFO sighting made in Denver was sent out over the UP wires as follows: "George Kuger of Denver said he saw a flying disc with an American flag on it." There is nothing in the local account of Kuger’s report that mentions flags, American or otherwise, but in hundreds of newspapers across the country, Kuger was made out a fool by the flagrant irresponsibility of the press (cas 427). Another example of its use of ridicule to not only debunk a report but make the reporter look foolish occurred in the wire accounts describing a Chicago woman who, on July 6th, reported that she had seen a "flying saucer with legs." By playing up the woman’s unfortunate expression, "I thought for sure it was coming down and slap me in the face," when in fact she had probably been scared out of her wits, the papers succeeded in turning the report into something patently ridiculous. Had newsmen been more responsible, they would have known that just the day before, several Covington, Kentucky, women had also reported seeing an object with legs (II-15); and we now know that since 1947 there have been numerous reports of objects with similar appendages. In still another case, the woman in Palmdale, California, who described the satellite object case as appearing like "a mama hen with her baby chicks," gave newsmen a real heyday of merriment; and yet this is probably one of the most significant reports to come out of the entire 1947 wave  (Cases 528 & 530).

These are only isolated examples of the way in which the press resorted to ridicule because it had prejudged the value of a news story and no longer felt it was necessary or sufficient merely to report the facts responsibly. News coverage during the crest of the wave descended to regrettably low standards and established a modus operandi regarding UFO coverage that has characterized its handling of the subject ever since. It is one of the chief reasons why, 20 years later, it is a subject that remains damned to ridicule:  the taint had been acquired at the very outset.

Contributing significantly to the aura of nonsense pervading the press were the columnists, such as Hal Boyle, whose syndicated articles described in purposefully humorous fashion various wild and imaginary escapades aboard Martian spaceships. Cranks and crackpots added to the carnival atmosphere and proved to be irresistible to reporters looking for a byline: one San Francisco zany garnered considerable news space by claiming to have projected himself into outer space on an "astral plane" to discover the origin of the saucers; by means of mental telepathy he found out that the objects were "Nimbre A Theatos," or spaceships using the "dark side of the moon" as a base, dropping "Metaboblons" which may be mechanisms to counteract atomic radiation, although he wasn’t certain, as his source of information, "the Dhyanis, rulers of Creation," were being pretty closed-mouthed -- or was it closed-minded? -- about the details. The San Francisco Chronicle made much use of this arrant foolishness, and the wire services gleefully passed it along to readers outside of the Bay area.

Hoaxsters and practical jokers made matters even worse:  a number of financial rewards were offered by various individuals and organizations for the capture of a disc; these merely encouraged hoaxters and resulted in the exploitation of many false reports (see section on Hoaxes).

At the same time, more and more confusing and uninformed "explanations" were being offered. On July 8th UP reported from Atlanta that airline pilots were throwing cold water on reports: Perry Hudson, East Airlines pilot, said he’d seen "many beautiful and strange cloud formations in the air but nothing that ever looked like a saucer," so he turned thumbs down on persistent reports, even from his pilot colleagues; if he couldn’t see ‘em, no one else could, either.  T. P. Ball, chief pilot for Delta Airlines, termed all reports to be "imagination . . . .  It certainly doesn’t seem to be the first wave of an invasion from Mars." Another Delta pilot,  J.  H. Williamson, said, “a lot of folks must have had too much to drink.” These opinions were echoed by many other pilots, most of whom would not allow that anything more unusual had been seen than "some freak cloud formation." Aviation experts in Washington suggested that dials on instrument panels had been reflected in the sloping glass of the canopies -- neglecting, however, to account for the thousands of witnesses who had not been looking through a plane's canopy.

Other "experts" voiced opinions barren of any basic facts. In California, Professor L. D. Shane, director of the Lick Observatory, pointed out -- erroneously -- that no objects had been sighted by any "scientific observers." In New Jersey, Newark meteorologist William Weiner said that he could see saucers at will:  "All you need to do is to rub your eyes very hard and look up at a bright sky." He gave no instructions for spotting them at night. Essex County psychologist Dr. M. W. Openchowski explained that "when a strange thing is reported seen it is reported seen again and again. It is a trait of human nature that people like to be in the know and participate in observing the unusual."

Here and there, an occasional voice of some reason was heard. In Syracuse, New York, Dr. H. A. Steckel, psychiatric consultant for the Veterans Administration, said, "they have been seen by too many people in too many different places to be dismissed so lightly." He was persuaded that they could be the "results of experiments by some unknown Government agencies."

On July 6th, UP reported that Captain Tom Brown, spokesman for the Air Force's Public Relations staff in Washington, D. C., said that the Air Forces had been investigating reports for ten days and "we still haven’t the slightest idea what they could be. But we don’t believe anyone in this country, or outside of this country, has developed a guided missile that will go 1,200 miles an hour, as some reports have indicated."  Other government spokesmen repeated this disclaimer: "No such phenomenon can be explained by any experiments being conducted by the Army Air Forces," another Army spokesman reported on July 7th, and Rear Admiral Paul F. Lee, director of the Naval Research Laboratory, concurred. In a statement from Washington carried by UP on July 8th, an unidentified spokesman said the Army was certain of what the saucers were not: they were not secret bacteriological devices of some foreign power; they were not (again) secret Army rockets; and they were not space ships. He added that none of the saucer observers "were able to describe them accurately," but the Army would continue its investigation and, meanwhile, was "keeping an open mind."

Ruppelt reports (p. 39) that ATIC personnel at Wright Field in Dayton considered the UFO situation to be serious -- in fact, very serious. As with the press, confusion surrounded the investigation, confusion almost to the point of panic. While reassuring statements from official spokesmen were being carried by the press to a confused American public eager for some concrete news about the identification of flying saucers, the mysterious objects continued to appear over many areas, but in decreasing numbers.

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