By Frank Warren
It's not often one sees an article about UFO's in the mainstream print press or on television these days; when one does, it's usually filled with terms like "believers, pseudo-science, fringe, paranormal, cult, hoax," etc. On television the reporting of UFO events is generally done in a light comical manner, complete with the "winks, nods and guffaws included."
That said, it's no surprise how ignorant the American public "of today" is on the subject of UFO's. Moreover, when attempts are made by independent sources, via television, the bulk of these productions come complete with organ music, smoke machines and are narrated by an eerie character with a British accent.
Occasionally when a reporter from the mainstream press does gather the courage to broach the subject of UFO's, more often then not we see an individual who approaches the subject from the afore mentioned education received by his fellow colleagues; that's not to say there haven't been some reporters/newsmen etc., who have done some good publicized research; but those individuals, and instances are far and in-between!
The "all to common" term, or phrase used by the mainstream reporters, is "UFO believers." Most Americans are familiar with the term, "UFO", and most incorrectly associate the term with extraterrestrial spacecraft and or beings. The term, "UFO" was borne by the Air Force back in 1952, specifically Capt. Edward J. Ruppelt, Chief of the Air Force's Project Blue Book, the government's "public investigating agency" of the UFO phenomenon. In the verbatim it is an acronym for, "Unidentified Flying Objects"; the "key word" being "UNIDENTIFIED."
To associate the verb, "believer" with a "factual thing" i.e., "UFO," is an oxymoron. Say to yourself, "I believe in the Empire State Building," or use the term "The Mount Rushmore believers"--just doesn't make sense does it? Yet the layman who is ignorant of the subject of UFO's, or who's only knowledge on the subject is from the comedic side of the mainstream press might assume there is a debate about the existence of such things, particularly if the individual has never seen one--henceforth we breed more ignorance!
The public as a whole, I'm sure would be quite surprised to learn that the media in the early years of UFOlogy (late '40's and early '50's) did not turn a "blind eye" to this phenomenon--quite the opposite in fact! "Flying Saucer" stories (the term created by a reporter from Oregon in response to Kenneth Arnold's report of his sighting of 9 UFOs in June of '47, describing their flight characteristics) permeated the press--it was headline news in most states across the country. The press was eager to learn and report what these "strange objects" were, flying in our skies.
Ironically it was the press that provoked the "powers-that-be" to become very aggressive in a public anti-UFO campaign. Initially, when the "newly" independent branch of the military, i.e., the Air Force, established "Project Sign," aka, "Project Saucer" (one of the predecessor's to "Blue Book") who's function was "to collect, collate, evaluate and distribute to interested government agencies and contractors all information concerning sightings and phenomena in the atmosphere which can be construed to be of concern to the national security"; there seemed to be a genuine desire to get to the bottom of the UFO phenomenon; however, the evidence towards the end of 1948 was leading to an apparent extraterrestrial explanation, which didn't sit well with the higher-ups, namely "Air Force Chief of Staff General Hoyt S. Vandenburg."
In the beginning of 1949 "Project Sign" was no more, and "Project Grudge" was in it's stead. "Grudge" like it's name took to a dim view of UFO reports, and indicated the Air Forces "public shift" in policy to "explain away" reports as natural phenomenon, e.g., planets, meteors or stars; more drastic explanations would include: hallucinations, reflections, birds and even "particles that float in the fluid of the eye that cast shadows on the retina."
When the Air Force couldn't explain away the evidence they inturn would ridicule the witnesses. UFO observers were called hoaxers, fearsome freaks, or people just trying to get media attention.
Capt. Edward Ruppelt in his book, "The Report On Unidentified Flying Objects" referred to the beginning of the "Project Grudge era" as the "Dark Ages," or "as a period of "intellectual stagnation.'" What he didn't realize is that "stagnation" would evolve and continue for decades.
In the beginning of the Air Force's "debunking policy" it used big names like Vandenburg, and LeMay to substantiate and solidify the "natural explanation" of UFO reports; but it didn't stop internally; the Air Weather Service was asked to verify "balloon flights" that must have been confused with UFO's. In regards to astronomical answers, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, head of Ohio State University's Astronomy Department sorted out reports that could be associated with stars, planets, etc.
Although the public and the media didn't swallow the Air Force's policy shift at once, it did sow the seed of doubt. Magazines like "True and Life" from 1949 through 1952 published some ground-shaking revelations on UFOs based on Air Force reports and files; however that rich source of "official unbiased information" was soon to dry up.