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George Knapp: Stop the snark

<p>U-F &amp;#8230; whoa.</p>

U-F &#8230; whoa.

If you’ve ever wondered why Congress has avoided the subject of UFOs for 45 years, you can get a pretty good idea by observing reactions to the unofficial Citizens Disclosure Hearing underway this week at Washington’s National Press Club.

After covering UFO-related stories for 25 years now, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard some UFO speaker or researcher demand that Congress hold formal hearings into the mystery, or that the president finally come clean about what the government really knows. As a disciple of the First Amendment and a believer in the right of the people to know what our government is up to, I am firmly behind the goals of the Disclosure Hearing — namely, the spilling of any and all UFO beans by our military and intelligence honchos.

But I am not holding my breath that the hearing, noble as its goal might be, will cause the flinty-hearted holders of our nation’s deepest, darkest secrets to suddenly spill their guts. Likewise, I am not waiting by the mailbox for my invitation to take a tour of Area 51 and maybe kick the tires on a couple of reverse-engineered spaceships.

Congress had the balls to hold not one, but two formal hearings into the UFO mystery back in the late ’60s, in part because of the considerable influence of a Michigan congressman named Gerald Ford (who went on to hold one or two higher offices in D.C.). But when the Air Force cancelled its pathetic excuse for a scientific study — Project Blue Book — back in 1969, it provided cover for every elected official, skeptical scientist and uninformed debunker who never really wanted to deal with the messy UFO mystery to begin with. On the surface, Washington has been ignoring UFOs ever since.

Yes, on the surface.

Only a handful of people know this, but in the late ’90’s there was a concerted effort to hold a limited-focus set of congressional hearings into UFO cases involving national-security matters. The impetus behind the proposed hearings originated right here in Las Vegas, the brainchild of some pretty smart and influential people. I am prevented by assurances of confidentiality from saying much, except that a formal set of hearings was essentially a done deal, ready to launch under carefully massaged parameters. That’s when some of the UFO diehards found out about it, learned that they would be excluded from such hearings and vowed to raise a major stink at every opportunity. The congressmen who had been involved in the discussions took one look at the wild-eyed zealots and quickly concluded they did not need the headache. The idea of congressional hearings died a quiet death.

It is a simple fact that the UFO topic attracts a broad spectrum of people, including hopelessly gullible saucer nuts, ridiculous profiteers who tell ever-wilder stories about evil reptilians and anal probings in order to sell a few books, and political conspiracy folks who use the UFO scenario to buttress their notions about the New World Order. There is no working journalist in America who has had more personal encounters with UFO wackos than yours truly. Yet I can say with no hesitation that it is simply unfair to paint all UFO researchers or authors with the same skanky brush. For journalists who might cover the subject, it’s worse than being merely unfair — it is flat out inaccurate.

The Citizen’s Disclosure Hearing is not an actual congressional hearing, but it is as close as we are likely to see in our lifetimes. A panel of six former members of Congress are listening to testimony from (and asking questions of) a group of 40 or so witnesses. If you were to read some of the media reports about the first two days, you might think everyone involved has fewer teeth than fingers, is wearing double-wide Depends and fake antennae, and spend most of their nights blowing saucer-shaped snot bubbles into the sky. Most of the coverage I have read so far is simply atrocious, condescending in the extreme and — worst of all — not very original.

I’ve read articles about pretty much every UFO conference I have ever attended, and there is a fairly predictable pattern. For some reason, every reporter who covers a UFO-type event feels it is necessary to ridicule the subject matter and the participants, as if to demonstrate their own journalistic chops. On any other assignment, this kind of cavalier and dismissive treatment of the subject matter would be way out of line, but somehow it’s OK if the subject is flying saucers. Why?

In the stories about the UFO hearing so far, I’ve seen references to folks in the audience who wore weird outfits. Cutting-edge journalism, eh? I saw a headline from Al Jazeera that referred to participants as “UFO believers” and a Michigan news outfit that labeled them as “alien conspiracy theorists.” I happen to think that gravity is real. Am I a gravity believer? Belief is a matter of faith. The UFO material under consideration is not faith-based stuff. Snarky — and, frankly, shitty — potshots taken at the former members of Congress by their hometown papers are pretty typical of the treatment the subject normally gets. Before the week is out, we will all get to read lines about Elvis sightings, Loch Ness, My Favorite Martian, ALF and ET’s inability to phone home. Cue the laugh track.

I became interested in UFOs for one main reason. It had nothing to do with movies or comic books, nothing to do with a need to believe in benevolent space brethren, or the kooky and phony photos of aliens in the Weekly World News. I was hooked because I read thousands of pages of previously classified government documents — prepared by and for our military, FBI, CIA and other black-world agencies — that were never meant to see the light of day, but which surfaced after the passage of the Freedom of Information Act. Those documents spelled things out pretty clearly. Our government has studied the UFO mystery for decades, takes the matter very seriously, but has gone out of its way to belittle the subject. These documents are not hard to find anymore. You can read them yourselves. The reporters who cranked out smarmy and dismissive stories about the D.C. hearing could do likewise, but didn’t.

Yes, there are a couple of wacky people in goofy outfits in the audience. But take a fair look at some of the witnesses. Dr. Edgar Mitchell was the sixth man to walk on the moon. He says the UFO cover up is real. So does Paul Hellyer, former minister of defense in Canada. Ditto for Nick Pope of the British Ministry of Defense, or historian Richard Dolan, or nuclear physicist Stan Friedman. And what are we to make of the stories told by a half-dozen military men who were trusted to guard our nation’s most fearsome weapons and who say their bases were invaded by weird craft, that nuclear weapons were manipulated during these incursions? These stories aren’t funny. These people deserve better than a few wisecracks.

I am not at all hopeful that the D.C. hearing will prompt any official disclosure, but I hope it, at a minimum, makes it more acceptable to talk about these issues. And I hope that at least one or two of the reporters who are typing out wisecracks will consider doing some actual research. Disclosure is unlikely and might not even be possible anymore, for reasons I can’t even begin to explain. But a little more understanding is not out of the question, even for know-it-all journalists.

GEORGE KNAPP is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8. Reach him at gknapp@klastv.com.