The Paradigm Police
If a flying saucer landed on the White House lawn, would the American news media report it?
By Terry Hansen
A friend once told me an amusing story about waiting for a train in India. The official arrival time had passed with no sign of the train, so she finally asked a local rail authority when it would come.
“It’s here,” the official replied, glancing at the schedule.
“Where?” she asked.
“Right there,” the official said, pointing to an open platform.
“But it’s obviously not there!” she replied with some exasperation.
“It has arrived! It’s there!” the official continued to insist.
Her on-going attempts to emphasize the obvious fact of the train’s non-arrival fell on deaf ears. There was simply no way the official was going to acknowledge that the train was late. The official schedule said it had arrived and that was the end of the matter.
Americans might smile at this, thinking that such a glaring example of official intransigence in the face of an awkward truth could not possibly happen in the United States. Here, people acknowledge obvious facts even when they so clearly contradict the official version of events.
My experience as a science journalist convinces me of just the opposite, however. The larger and more evident the mismatch between official reality and common experience, the more steadfast and outspoken are the defenders of the authorized position. Certain assertions, once having been put forth by official Washington, are quite simply beyond dispute, regardless of how much evidence one marshals against them.
Sadly for our threatened democracy, few occupations harbor more resolute defenders of official reality than the news business. Although top journalists and editors will assert that their relationship with the federal government is adversarial, history offers little support for this. The enthusiastic advocacy among the media elite for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, despite a glaring lack of evidence for purported weapons of mass destruction, and no evidence that Iraq played a role in the events of 9-11, is just one more in a growing list of examples.
This knee-jerk willingness to embrace official deception springs largely from the widespread idea that the truth about controversial events can be found by asking government sources. It is likely most journalists know government officials routinely lie to them but they also know their editors will print just about anything officials say, true or not. Hence, official sources are cherished as the foundation for publishable news items.
The pattern for such duplicitous behavior has deep historical roots but became much more firmly established during World War II. As explained by author Phillip Knightly in The First Casualty, the U.S. military called upon leading journalists and media executives of the time to abandon traditional values and battle the Axis powers as full-time censors and purveyors of propaganda.  The line between journalism and official persuasion thus became hopelessly blurred.
At war’s end, most journalists and media executives returned to their old jobs but many continued to work for the military-intelligence establishment under cover. For some this was a matter of patriotism while for others it was simply a smart career move. After all, the CIA was spending lavishly to cultivate a vast array of “media assets” at all levels of the news business.
In this brave new world of global mind manipulation, trusted news services were often not what they seemed to be. For example, wire services such as the Associated Press and United Press International played key roles in the CIA’s propaganda plans prior to the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961. 
By the late 1970s, some journalists began to have second thoughts about the wisdom of this cozy relationship. A few blew the whistle in publications such as Columbia Journalism Review and, later, the pop-culture magazine Rolling Stone. ,
Leading newspapers, including the New York Times, which had also quietly cooperated with the CIA, eventually followed with exposés of their own. The implication was that the American news media, having come clean about its corrupt past, could be considered trustworthy once again.
This is problematic. Ties between the government’s propaganda machine and the American news media are not hard to find these days. For example, Robert T. Coonrod, a former president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, spent most of his career working for U.S. government propaganda agencies, as did Kevin Klose, current president and CEO of National Public Radio.  Can propaganda leopards change their spots?
The Greatest Taboo
There is one noteworthy case where the intransigence of American journalists makes the Indian train official appear positively reasonable -– coverage of contact with advanced, non-human intelligence, usually referred to as “UFO reports.”
When Mercury 7 astronaut Gordon Cooper died last October, one obituary described his outspoken support for the existence of flying saucers as an “embarrassing” departure from an otherwise sterling career. The implication was that Cooper had gone a little funny in the head for questioning the official position that such things don’t exist.
Shortly before his death, Cooper had published his autobiography, Leap of Faith, in which he recounted chasing flying saucers in military jets over Germany in 1951 and, later, seeing one filmed landing near Edwards Air Force Base.  (The film was quickly sequestered, he reported.)
Cooper’s experience was hardly unique, however. Many military and commercial pilots saw and reported such things in the 1940s and ’50s, before the U.S. government effectively made reporting UFOs to journalists illegal under the Espionage Act. According to one official, by 1954 the U.S. military was receiving an astonishing 5 to 10 UFO reports a night from pilots.
Many of these dramatic, close-up reports found their way into newspapers, sparking a national sensation. The situation was rapidly getting out of hand and censorship was the government’s instinctive response. Airline pilots protested but ultimately decided it was wiser to keep their lucrative jobs than their civil liberties. 
Pilots who see UFOs today are usually wise enough not to discuss it, at least until after they retire. A recent confidential survey of 298 active commercial pilots indicated nearly one in four had witnessed something they could not identify in flight.  That such reports are suppressed through government and corporate policies is widely known but just as widely ignored by the American news media, especially the aviation and science press.
Dozens of former government insiders, weary of living with the big lie, have attempted to focus press attention on the subject. Major American news organizations, however, rarely report what they have to say as serious news.
When a phalanx of government and military witnesses, some of whom risked government retaliation for their honesty, appeared before the National Press Club on May 9, 2001, to tell of their first-hand experiences with alien craft and artifacts, the nation’s leading news organizations barely said a peep about it. UFOs, after all, do not officially exist. This episode, like many others, was soon forgotten among a blizzard of more mundane news items.
Why this astonishing reticence to report such paradigm-busting revelations? The most likely explanation is the long-standing cooperative relationship between top media organizations and the national-security state. From the 1940s onward, media reporting about UFOs deeply alarmed intelligence officials who sought, with considerable success, to discourage it.
A 1970 study by journalism professor Herbert Strentz indicated that several hundred-thousand, and perhaps a million or more, UFO stories had appeared in the nation’s newspapers through 1966.  According to Air Force officials and government documents, UFOs were more often reported over strategically important facilities, especially nuclear-weapons R&D and storage facilities.
In the early 1950s, serious talk of an alien invasion was in the air, an idea reflected in popular films of the period such as The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956). In 1953, a CIA panel, chaired by Dr. H.P. Robertson, a top U.S. physicist and World War II scientific intelligence officer, called for a covert program of “training and debunking” to reduce public interest in the subject. The program was to be carried out with the help of news organizations, high-profile opinion leaders, and entertainment outlets such as the Walt Disney Company. A major goal was to strip UFOs of credibility by ridiculing eyewitnesses, thus making people more reluctant to openly report their experiences.
The CIA denies the program was implemented but this is contradicted by a wealth of evidence. On June 12, 1953, shortly after the Robertson Panel released its recommendations, Lt. Robert Olsson, an Air Technical Intelligence Command officer, told civilian UFO investigator Coral Lorenzen that the U.S. government “was going to try to keep [UFO] reports out of the newspapers.” 
On December 16, 1954, the CIA-friendly New York Times reported, in a front-page story, that President Eisenhower said he’d been assured by an Air Force official that “flying saucers were not invading the earth from outer space.” The story went on to heap ridicule on UFOs, thus establishing a long-standing pattern of overtly anti-UFO bias in Times coverage. 
A host of other public-relations measures were implemented, too, most notably the Air Force’s fatally under-funded Project Blue Book, and the still-controversial University of Colorado UFO study. Both collected substantial solid evidence for the existence of UFOs but nevertheless attempted to reassure the public that nothing of interest was taking place. (The paperback version of the Condon report carried an endorsement by New York Times science writer Walter Sullivan, who failed to mention the study's many flaws and controversial aspects.)
The elite media came to embrace and defend this official version of events, even in the face of swelling legions of credible eyewitnesses. Not so in small-town and regional news organizations, however. When UFOs over-flew Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) facilities around Great Falls, Montana during 1966-67 and 1975, the sensational events were widely reported by Montana news organizations. Recently, Air Force missile officers have broken their imposed vows of silence to relate how these UFOs shut down entire groups of ICBMs in 1967, using technologies that baffled investigating Boeing engineers. But, as usual, the elite news media have ignored them.
At the national level, this story not only went unreported, UFOs were being actively debunked by leading national news organizations. In 1966, during a period of intense UFO activity (reflected in regional newspaper coverage of the time), CBS TV aired UFOs: Friend, Foe or Fantasy? Narrator Walter Cronkite told the American public that, despite claims to the contrary, UFOs were little more than a popular delusion. The program, filled with false and misleading information, closely followed the 1953 recommendations of the CIA’s Robertson Panel.
It was no coincidence. A recently discovered personal letter by Robertson Panel member Dr. Thornton Page reveals that CBS and the CIA were working together to develop the program’s anti-UFO content. In a hand-written letter dated Sept. 8, 1966, Page confided to a CIA associate that he “helped organize the CBS TV program around the Robertson Panel’s conclusions.”  Uncle Walter, “the most trusted man in America,” was fronting for a CIA propaganda film.
Just how extensive the Robertson Panel’s covert media efforts have been over the years we can only guess. The likelihood is that other leading news organizations with ties to U.S. intelligence also cooperated, however. The reason is that no propaganda program could succeed if it relied upon only one of the CIA’s many media assets. A unified picture would need to be presented across multiple outlets. Finally, it seems quite improbable that the CIA would have waited 13 years before implementing the Robertson Panel’s recommendations, do so just once, and then shut down the program.
The Agency Strikes Back
Such revelations have done much to damage the credibility of both the U.S. intelligence community and the American news media. Faced with an increasingly distrustful and even hostile public, the CIA has attempted to restore some of its mangled authority by actively muddying the public-perception waters through official historical “revelations.”
In 1997, an official CIA history by Gerald K. Haines appeared in which the author asserted that many UFO sightings of the 1950s and 1960s were actually due to secret spy planes such as the (SR-71) "Oxcart" and the U-2.  Over half of all UFO reports from that era, Haines claimed, were due to such secret aircraft. Haines also claimed that Air Force Project Bluebook personnel were in on this little deception and helped the CIA mislead the public.
All this sounded sufficiently plausible that many reporters ran with the story without first taking time to ask whether it was really true, most notably New York Times reporter William Broad.  A few moments of reflection, though, will likely raise serious doubts about the CIA’s version of events. For one thing, both the U-2 and SR-71 flew at extremely high altitudes and were designed to be very difficult to detect visually and with radar. Second, the number of spy plane flights was far too small to account for many of the hundreds of thousands of UFO reports on record. Finally, nearly all UFO reports bear little if any resemblance to the physical characteristics of spy planes.
To make matters still worse for the CIA, a surviving Project Blue Book staffer insisted there is absolutely no truth to the claim that many UFO sightings were caused by secret spy plane flights, or that Blue Book secretly cooperated with the CIA. Lt. Col. (Ret.) Robert Friend, head of Project Blue Book from 1958 to early 1963, told sociologist Mark Rhodeghier that the CIA’s claims were “absolutely not true.” Friend also said he had never received a single UFO report that he could attribute to a secret U.S. aircraft. 
The official “we are alone” policy is so well-entrenched that even mainstream scientific evidence for extraterrestrial life has been swept under the rug, along with UFOs. In 1976, when Dr. Gilbert Levin’s life-detection experiment on the Viking Spacecraft returned a positive result for life on Mars, the scientist ran smack into a policy of denial. NASA’s bureaucracy could not bring itself to tell the public there was life elsewhere and overrode Levin’s scientific conclusions, to his everlasting opposition. “It seems to me that there is a rather determined effort, in the words of those in the former Soviet Union, to make me a non-person,” Levin later commented about his odd experiences in the U.S. space program.  Subsequent scientific evidence has made it increasingly more likely that Gilbert’s 1976 discovery was valid.
For years, various NASA insiders have claimed the U.S. space agency has been selective about which discoveries it has revealed to the American public. For example, Maurice Chatelain, a French Moroccan engineer responsible for designing the automatic radar-landing system used in the Ranger and Surveyor unmanned Moon-landing programs, reported in 1988, that all Gemini and Apollo missions were followed by craft of extraterrestrial origin. Chatelain said NASA exercises extremely tight control over such information.  (Such testimony was supported by several participants in the 2001 UFO disclosure press conference.)
Claims that so directly contradict official history produce severe cognitive dissonance among mainstream reporters and editors. They usually resolve this problem by not mentioning them. Few journalists and editors are brave enough to raise such explosive questions in the face of what would undoubtedly be yet another round of steadfast official denials.
There is no question, though, that NASA is more secretive than it pretends to be. The Code of Federal Regulations, Subpart B of Part 1203, specifies security procedures for classifying NASA information as Top Secret, Secret, and Restricted.  NASA also plays an important role in reviewing new patent applications for national-security threats under the Invention Secrecy Act of 1951. Far from being an open, civilian research organization, today’s NASA is a key pillar of the national-security state.
A Yawning Divide
If the elite news media gag on such unsettling information, most of the general public, and much of the scientific community, find it entirely palatable. Over the decades, Americans have seen many good reasons to question the official version of reality fed to them via the corporate media. The Internet, after all, has made genuinely free expression possible. The American public now has an alternative -– many alternatives, in fact -– to the official version of events dished up by the corporate media oligarchs and their official sources. UFO-related information is said to be more popular on the Internet than information about sex.
Nowhere does the perception gap become more obvious than in public-opinion polls and surveys which consistently show UFO doubters to be in the minority, not the majority as the elite media would have us believe. A yawning divide has opened between official reality and how most Americans perceive the world.
Official reality says UFOs don’t exist. Official reality, as articulated by publications such as Scientific American and the New York Times, says extraterrestrial life may exist somewhere out in deep space but, surely, is not in contact with us here and now.
Polls and surveys indicate the public just doesn’t buy this. For example, a Time / CNN poll released on June 15, 1997, revealed that, of 1024 adults polled, some 80 percent said the U.S. government was hiding knowledge of extraterrestrials from the public. Sixty-four percent said they thought aliens have contacted humans, half said aliens had abducted humans, and 37 percent said they thought aliens have contacted the U.S. government. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus three percent. 
Think about what this means: While the official version of reality says aliens are a purely theoretical concept, the overwhelming majority of Americans accepts that they are already here, now, on our planet.
One might conclude from this that most Americans are simply deeply irrational and unwilling to accept what “responsible government officials” and “leading scientific authorities” tell them. In short, the public is simply wrong. But, again, this requires ignoring a vast sea of powerful evidence and testimony.
Most of those in the scientific and technical community -– hardly irrational people, one would think –- share the general public’s skepticism about official UFO reality reflected in the elite news media. As early as 1971, a reader survey by Industrial Research magazine found that 54 percent said they thought UFOs exist, while only 31 percent thought they did not. By 1979, the percentage of believers had increased. “Unidentified flying objects are not as easily dismissed by the technical community as they are by government agencies and study groups,” the magazine’s editors commented in 1971.
A 1977 survey of members of the American Astronomical Society by Stanford University astronomer Peter Sturrock, suggested that, of those who responded (1,356 out of 2611), 53 percent said UFOs certainly or probably deserved scientific study. Only 20 percent expressed a negative attitude toward UFO research. This is hardly the impression one gets from establishment science publications such as Science and Nature, which rarely if ever mention the term “UFO” and routinely refuse to publish serious articles about the subject.
Such findings suggest that elite American news organizations have failed massively to cover a story the public views as the biggest development of the past century, if not the millennium -– ongoing contact between humanity and extraterrestrial intelligences. Was this due more to simple ignorance and gullibility or, as the CBS TV example suggests, from covert government-media relationships -– to preserve “national security,” however officialdom defines it?
Whatever the case, a military-style alien invasion and subsequent public hysteria, which probably seemed a valid concern to CIA analysts in the early 1950s, has not materialized. If the intelligences behind UFOs wanted to destroy us, they presumably would have done so in the 1950s, before our defenses increased substantially in effectiveness.
Air Force Academy graduate, high-school math teacher, and former Minuteman launch officer Robert Salas, with whom I spoke recently in Los Angeles, says the action a UFO took against his fleet of ICBMs in 1967 did not seem like a hostile act but merely a stern admonition. Something like, “Don’t play around with those nuclear fireworks kids, you’re going to hurt someone.”
Regardless of what interest the ET’s have in us, they evidently don’t want to eat us for dinner. Presumably, other concerns now lie behind the media’s continued reluctance to cover this story.
It seems likely that top news organizations, by failing to tell the UFO story openly and honestly for so many decades, have contributed to their own demise in the eyes of Americans. According to a study by Yankelovich Partners Polling, public confidence in news dropped from a high of 55 percent in 1988 to a mere 20 percent by 1993. A 1999 Pew Research Center survey of 552 executives, editors, reporters and producers cited “lack of credibility” as the single most important problem facing their industry.
Perhaps some of this lost credibility could be restored by simply embracing what the vast majority of Americans have already come to accept – that, like it or not, we don’t have this beautiful planet, much less the universe, all to ourselves.
(Terry Hansen is an independent journalist and author of The Missing Times, a study of UFO-related censorship and propaganda.)
 Knightly, Phillip, The First Casualty: From Crimea to Vietnam: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist and Myth Maker, New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975.
 Weiner, Tim, "C.I.A. Sought to Plant News on Cuba in ’61," New York Times, March 24, 2001, p. A7.
 Loory, Stuart H., "The CIA’s use of the press: a 'mighty Wurlitzer'," Columbia Journalism Review, September/October, 1974, pp. 9-18.
 Bernstein, Carl, "The CIA and the Media," Rolling Stone, October 20, 1977, pp. 55-67.
 See the web sites for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio for interesting information about what its top executives have done with their lives.
 Cooper, Gordon, and Bruce B. Henderson, Leap of Faith: An astronaut’s journey into the unknown, New York: HarperCollins, 2000.
 Lester, John, "Pilots ridicule AF secrecy on saucers," Newark Star-Ledger, Dec. 22, 1958.
 Strentz, Herbert Joseph, A Survey of Press Coverage of Unidentified Flying Objects 1947-1966, Northwestern University Ph.D. dissertation. June 1970.
 Lorenzen, Coral E., Flying Saucers: The Startling Evidence of the Invasion from Outer Space, New York, Signet, 1966, p. 83.
 Hickman, John C., E. Dale McConkey II, and M.A. Barrett, "Fewer Sightings in the National Press: A Content Analysis of UFO News Coverage in The New York Times, 1947-1995," Journal of UFO Studies, 1995 / 1996 (New Series, Vol. 6), pp. 213-225.
 This letter was discovered by sociologist Michael Swords while researching the Robertson Panel’s history. The original is stored in the Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 398, Box 61, Folder No. 4.
 Haines, Gerald K., "CIA’s role in the study of UFOs: 1947-1990," Studies in Intelligence, 1977, pp. 67-84.
 Broad, William, "C.I.A. Admits Government Lied about UFO Sightings," New York Times, August 3, 1997, p. 10.
 Rodeghier, Mark, "The CIA’s UFO History," International UFO Reporter, Fall 1997, pp. 3-6, 36.
 DiGregorio, Barry E., Mars: The Living Planet, Berkeley: Frog, Ltd., 1997.
 Chatelain, Maurice, Our Cosmic Ancestors, Sedona, AZ: Temple Golden Publications, 1988, pp. 21-25.
 Code of Federal Regulations, Ch. V, Title 14, Part 1203 – Information Security Program. Available at: http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_05/14cfr1203_05.html
In 2002, The Missing Times was awarded "Best Book In a UFO Subject" by Britain's UFO Magazine.