Nicely done, NewsweakIt’s easy to make people look idiotic; after all, 73 percent of Americans supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003. So the stunt pulled off by 20-something wags Joe Rudy and Chris Russo can’t be called a public service. What it does do is illuminate (as if we actually needed more data) the weird schizoid nature of media bias in the UFO arena.
By Billy Cox
By Billy Cox
Over a five-day stretch in January and February, in a stated “mission to help people think rationally and question the credibility of so-called UFO professionals,” the New Jersey residents dispatched trains of balloons and flares into the night sky near Morristown.
They shot their own footage, then sat back as local TV stations lapped it up like housecats. Local 911 dispatchers got a handful of calls and another family videotaped it, too. In an effort to keep the hoax going, Russo lied to a News 12 TV crew in rejecting police suspicions that it was flares: “From what we saw? No way — the way they were moving around. I mean, they zipped over our car.”
TV anchors who’ve likely never filed a Freedom of Information Act against the feds for UFO data were absolutely charmed by these featureless nocturnal blobs of light. With an assist from Fox News, the story went national, and the biggest dupe — perhaps not surprisingly — was Bill Birnes.
Given the unfiltered credulous slop that too often permeates his UFO Magazine, Birnes was always something of a bird waiting for a windshield. Ironically, UFO Hunters, his springboard into The History Channel’s prime-time rotation, appeared to have elevated its game this season following a desultory debut last year. But after analyzing the Morristown flap, UFO Hunters took the bait: “Police say the unidentified flying object was nothing more than flares — a theory that UFO Hunters has already tested and proven implausible.”
On April Fool’s Day, Rudy and Russo howled about their well-documented coup at http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/09-04-01.html. What’s actually more revealing is how, within hours, Newsweek was the first to cheerlead the caper for its novel approach to promoting critical thinking. “Nicely done, guys,” wrote Sharon Begley for the magazine’s Web page.
Never mind how, two days later, Morris County prosecutor Robert Bianchi considered the aviation-safety implications of what they’d done and pressed disorderly person charges against the champions of critical thinking. They could’ve gotten away with it if they’d just kept their pie holes shut. "If there is a single word to describe this,” said Biachi, “it is in essence stupidity."
A better question might be: What’s up at Newsweek? On 1/18/08, soon after the Stephenville, Tex., UFO incident, editors allowed Charles Euchner, a “lecturer in English at Yale,” to ascribe the sightings — which witnesses also said included pursuit by jet fighters — to delusions brought on by collective sleep deprivation.
A few days later, the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve base in Fort Worth reversed its earlier denial and admitted it had F-16s in the air over Stephenville that night. No mention of the UFO by the Air Force, of course.
On the other hand, we’re still waiting for Newsweek to tell us how sleep-deprivation victims managed to see those F-16s.