Friday, June 19, 2009

Murrow vs. the Saucers

Murrow & Flying Saucer Headline
By Billy Cox
De Void
6-18-09

Billy Cox     It’s been almost 40 years now since the U.S. Air Force pulled the plug on Project Blue Book and essentially order the news media to shut up already about UFOs. And at a moment when America’s dazed free press is poised to take a knee on the canvas, De Void can’t help but wonder how one of journalism’s 20th-century giants would’ve responded to the challenges.

For Edward R. Murrow, the CBS Radio lion who survived the technology transition to unmask Red-baiting demagoguery for what it was on national television, mastering a new medium was difficult. "This is an old team,” he told a new class of consumers known as viewers, “trying to learn a new trade."

Inevitably, Murrow’s running battles with management over commercial and entertainment compromises led to his undoing at the network. But his commitment to telling compelling stories, regardless of the medium or its constraints, never faltered.

On April 7, 1950, a year or so before his TV makeover, the man who once told listeners “If I've offended you by this rather mild account of Buchenwald, I'm not in the least sorry,” filed a report on UFOs. His commercial-free half-hour account — available at http://tinyurl.com/ncn574 — looks relatively tame in retrospect. Especially given the magnitude of the coverup of the Roswell UFO crash not quite three years earlier.

But Murrow’s gravitas helped validate as a mainstream issue what were then known as flying saucers. Not surprisingly, he played it straight, plumbing skeptics, witnesses like Kenneth Arnold, and official sources alike. Although he drew no conclusions, Murrow was clearly suspicious of military kiss-offs, grousing that “The figures just don’t add up.”

He reminded Americans that while the USAF’s Project Saucer came up empty-handed 1949, bear in mind “the stubbornness of the saucers to accept the mantle of oblivion.” Murrow quoted critics who theorized the flying discs were merely classified American programs. Then he’d come back with a Charles Zimmerman, designer of the most exotic XF5U1 “flying pancake,” who countered that “this aircraft never flew.”

Although journalism will find a way to morph through the latest turbulence, the star system that helped expedite the shift from radio to television is a museum piece. But we can guess with reasonable certainty how the pugnacious chain-smoker would’ve reacted to, say, the USAF’s refusal to address FAA radar records confirming eyewitness reports of jet fighters chasing a UFO last year near President Bush’s home in Texas.

It’d be the same way anyone whose intelligence is insulted might respond. That is, if anyone was paying attention.

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