Monday, February 28, 2005

Jennings UFO Show—Coup de Théâtre (Part One)

By Frank Warren

Like a fine wine connoisseur, I awaited the presentation of Peter Jennings’ “UFOs—Seeing is Believing” with great anticipation; in that vein I opened the bottle and “savored the aroma” of the cork; the content seemed full-bodied, and it’s bouquet pleasant to the senses; in taking my first sip, it appeared to be very palatable; although the finish was long, indicating good quality, the “aftertaste left much to be desired.”

The program opened with white print on a black screen and a sobering voice indicating that the UfO’s depicted in the upcoming animations were approved by the very witnesses who viewed them.

From there, following various photographs and animations of UFOs, the first individual to appear was that of Dr. Frank Drake, the founder of SETI; he staunchly proclaimed that “there is intelligent life out there!” This was accompanied by several declarations by various people, (including notable scientists) that “we are not alone” and the government knows it!

Although the pictures, animations and declarations were “old hat” as far as a “UFO documentary” is concerned, I still couldn’t help to be energized, knowing this was coming from such a prominent media personality as “Peter Jennings.”

The show seemed to be starting in a “gallop” and appeared to be meeting my optimistic hopes. At this point Jennings emerged before a “studio nightscape” with a silhouette of mountains behind him; he then set the tone for the show; he illuminated the fact that the majority of Americans today believe that “we are not alone in the universe.” On the other hand, he pointed out the exploratory work that NASA is doing in our solar system and “their desire” to find “any” proof of life outside of our own planet (without success). He summarized that what we we’re about to experience is not only the common belief that “we’re not alone” but the fact so many believe we are being visited by extraterrestrials!

As the Jennings commentary faded, more eyewitnesses to UFOs were shown, along with their respective declarations; there were voiceovers with shots of UFOs as well as the afore mentioned animations; this was becoming an “all to familiar UFO documentary.”

At one point for a little drama (I imagine) a man appeared in shadow, affirming to the camera, “they are here; there’s no doubt! Why they’re here we can only speculate.”

As that segment came to an end, Jennings voice could be heard stating statistics of various polls; he said, “eighty million Americans believe we are being visited by extraterrestrials, and forty million Americans have seen a UFO, or know someone who has. Many believe they have been “abducted” by aliens.”

The next segment started with NASA scientist Dr. Chris McKay walking in the Mohave Desert. (Dr. McKay received his Ph.D. in AstroGeophysics from the University of Colorado in 1982; he is currently a planetary scientist with the Space Science Division of NASA Ames Research Center; his work also includes the project on Titan).

The synopsis of McKay’s contribution, along with Jennings narration in my view, was that “there isn’t any evidence that can pass rigorous scientific methodologies to prove the UFOs are indeed ET craft.” The opposition to that mind-set in McKay’s words was downgraded to “UfO searchers.” The final words expressed in that segment were of Jennings saying, “The UFO Phenomenon, Only a Shadow of Mainstream Science.”

I kept telling myself that we weren’t to far into the show and that there was a lot more to come—the words, “fair and balanced” came to mind, along with it’s “new meaning.” Surely Jennings would follow McKay with a notable scientist to rebut what McKay alleged; someone of his caliber; knowing Stan (Friedman) was on the show, this seemed to be an appropriate place for him to appear. Or since McKay was in essence a voice for NASA, how about Dr. Richard Haines, former Chief of the Space Human Factors Office at NASA Ames Research Center now “science director for the National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena.” (NARCAP)

As the segment “faded to black” with the echoes of “Shadow of Mainstream Science” playing over in my head, the next image coming to the screen is not of a familiar scientist “on site,” like McKay, or even in his or her office; no instead we fade into “Art Bell’s home (or as Jennings labeled it, a ‘compound’) “ at night, with Jennings repeating his now familiar term “believers” in regards to people who have experienced the UFO phenomenon, i.e., witnesses, or those involved in someway, Ufologists, etc.

Now don’t misunderstand me, I applaud Art Bell, and what he does etc., but I began to question the “motives of the producers”; obviously there were people on “both sides of the UFO fence” that were appearing on the show, but to have Art Bell follow a “NASA scientist” who erroneously states information about UFO evidence, with Jennings repeating the words, “believe, believers, compounds” etc., as well as painting a picture of Bell’s show being the main proponent of Ufology was reminiscent of “subliminal messaging.”

The Bell segment segued to the Phoenix Lights sighting of 1997 with more of the same, declarations of eye witnesses, film animation etc.; this time however, Jennings had amateur astronomer, “James McGaha” on as the UFO skeptic; perhaps the producers wanted to add a “comedic touch” to the piece, or maybe they just felt guilty by placing Bell behind McKay; in any event, any time McGaha opens his mouth about UFOs he seems to lend aid to his opposition.

Following the “Phoenix Lights” was the St. Clair county case of Illinois in January 2000 . . . again more declarations etc.; not to take away from the significance of these very important cases, it’s just for me, it’s all been said before; I was hoping for something more from ABC and Peter Jennings.

One disappointing instance in the St. Clair segment was the repeated use of the term “believer” by Dr. Mark Rodeghier, scientific director for CUFOS (Center for UFO Studies). It’s understandable for the ignorant to “meld UFOs and ET craft together,” ad nauseam, but Rodeghier knows better. To use the verb “believe,” in reference to UFOs is nonsensical—it would be the same as saying, “I believe in Niagra Falls!”

Jennings concluded the segment by announcing the exclusion of any “official investigation” of the afore mentioned events, and he said, “to understand why, we must go back to the ‘first’ UFO sighting.” The screen faded black and then emerged briefly showing the first cover of “Fate Magazine” which had an artist’s rendition of what Kenneth Arnold witnessed back in June of 1947—then the show went to commercial.

During the break, and in retrospect my feelings were very mixed at this point; I was only twenty minutes into the show; I felt disgust, and yet I had to hold on to the hope that it would improve—surely explaining the origins of what is known as “modern day Ufology” would be a step up from what’s been broadcast so far.

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