By Dwayne A. DayThe classic movie A Christmas Story—currently in heavy rotation on cable—features a subplot involving the hero, Ralphie, who is excited to finally receive his Lil’ Orphan Annie Secret Decoder Ring. He has been waiting forever to join the exclusive fraternity of people who have access to the secret knowledge broadcast to everybody on the radio. But when he decodes his first message he is stunned to learn that it is a commercial for Ovaltine. He swears and throws it in the trash.
The Space Review
The Space Review
That kind of intense disappointment must greet conspiracy buffs virtually every day. They’re looking for some great secret message, something that gives them access to the hidden world that they know is out there. But what they often get is lame, stupid, boring—a commercial pitch to “buy my book.” Most of them are so thrilled to be part of the club that, unlike Ralphie, they don’t realize that they’re being had.
Now I’m not a conspiracy theorist by any stretch. I think Oswald acted alone, a balloon crashed at Roswell, Nostradamus was a crank, men walked on the Moon, Bill Clinton was not a drug dealer, and Arab terrorists flew a planeload of innocent people into the Pentagon. But still I decided to attend Richard Hoagland’s press conference “NASA Coverups Continue” on October 29 where he announced his amazing new evidence of a NASA conspiracy to cover up the existence of giant extraterrestrial structures on the Moon.
If Hoagland’s name sounds vaguely familiar that’s probably because during the 1980s he wrote several books and lectured about the so-called “Face on Mars.” Wisely, he switched topics shortly before better cameras arrived in Mars orbit. He has been banking off of the fact that during the Apollo program he was one of several “science advisors” to Walter Cronkite, where he was known as “Moonbeam” by the staff. He even has an ID card to prove it, with the typical thick head of hair one would expect for a journalist in the early 1970s. For people like Hoagland, having credentials is important, even if their credentials are not that impressive.
The reason I went is simple: The Weekly World News folded. I used to have a subscription (honest) and I loved reading about the adventures of Batboy, the alien P’Lod, and Bigfoot (Actual headline:“Bigfoot Rescues Baby From Burning Camper—‘He stinks, but he’s my hero,’ says mom.”).
I thought the press conference might be amusing. It wasn’t. It was long and tedious and filled with the kind of tortured logic that turns out to be rather common for conspiracy theorists who take disparate pieces of data and insist that they’re connected and that they make more sense than, well, more logical explanations. It shared many traits with other conspiracy theories, whose proponents claim that the holes they have identified in existing explanations prove that vast, mysterious, malevolent forces are at work, but who fail to realize that their own elaborate theories are as structurally sound as Swiss cheese.