Monday, April 23, 2007

As Weird as it Gets - Part 1

Way back in 2002, amidst some very interesting UFO activity, I wrote an article entitled, "As Weird as it Gets." I intended it as a general interest UFO article which perhaps could be placed with a regional newspaper. However, after multiple attempts and no editorial interest, I withdrew the piece and filed it away. While there won't be anything new here to those eminently familiar with UFO reports, I think the article stands up well for a general readership. The piece is lengthy, so I've broken it up into five separate and consecutive blogs.

Part 1

Serious UFO-related journalism has often been hard to come by via the conventional media, especially in the U.S., but recent events may encourage more credible reporting of the seemingly incredible

Robert Barrow

While most of us slept during the wee small hours of July 26, oblivious to the routine world of consciousness, a fast-paced drama portrayed to the press in benign terms, yet of perhaps immense significance simply because the public learned of it at all, was playing out over the skies of Maryland, not all that far from the highly restricted air space of the nation's Capitol. While the basics happened to emerge here and there from the deluge of information that confronts newspaper and electronic media editors daily, chances are good that the story escapes you to this very day.

Around 1:00 on that otherwise quiet Friday morning, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado made radar contact with an apparent low, slow-moving aircraft outside of D.C. Unable to establish radio contact with this unidentified target in a post September 11 country that can no longer afford to leisurely ask questions first and shoot later, NORAD immediately scrambled two armed F-16s from the 113th Air National Guard squadron at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington.

We are told that as the jets investigated, the image faded from NORAD radar and the pilots returned to base after seeing nothing in the skies. However, as peculiar stories often tend to do, this one became increasingly mysterious.

WTOP-AM, an all-news radio station in D.C., began getting calls from listeners near Andrews AFB who were not only "shaken from their beds" as the jets took off in a hurry, but claimed to have seen either a bright blue or orange ball of light moving very fast while the jets screamed overhead in pursuit.

By the next morning, reporter Steve Vogel of The Washington Post had sorted out the facts and revealed a few surprises as well for the daily edition. He, like WTOP, spoke with witnesses and was given particularly to quote from one named Renny Rogers of the nearby Maryland suburb of Waldorf. Rogers, whom UFO (unidentified flying object) researchers later learned had actually run in and outside of his house twice as the jets were engaged in an apparent chase, described seeing a "light blue object traveling at a phenomenal rate of speed."

"This Air Force jet was right behind it, chasing it," he added, "but the object was just leaving him in the dust. I told my neighbor, 'I think those jets are chasing a UFO.'" Rogers had already insisted to a WTOP reporter that the object displayed no smoke or trail, no flashing lights, appeared smooth and seemed "eerily silent."

Maj. Douglas Martin of NORAD in Colorado, according to Vogel's report, stated that radar had detected "a track of interest," but fighter pilots observed nothing. "Everything was fine in the sky and they returned home," Martin advised. Maj. Barry Venable, another NORAD spokesman, bluntly told The Washington Post, "There are any number of scenarios, but we don't know what it was."

Other than the Post, media coverage of this incident, intriguing especially because of the official candor involved in even confirming publicly the presence of an unknown on radar that necessitated a military scramble, proved pathetically sparse and the incident received brief mention in a handful of cable news programs and newspapers before disappearing into accounts on various Internet sites.

Nevertheless, the fact that The Washington Post bothered to cover this story at all further authenticated its significance. Incredibly, just a few days before the scramble, TWP reporter Peter Carlson had written an astonishingly open-minded look back 50 years ago, when Washington experienced well-documented instances of UFO activity, including reportedly solid radar returns and pursuing pilot visualization. UFO researchers, accustomed to decades of abundant UFO-ridiculing newspaper reports in the U.S., were taken aback that a major U.S. newspaper afforded the subject a thoughtful examination. This writer's brief query to Carlson revealed that his article did elicit a good response from readers.

In an intriguing footnote to Carlson's piece, the July 26 F-16 scramble coincided exactly 50 years to the day with July 26 of 1952, when a major multi-UFO event occurred over the Capitol.

Not surprisingly, aviation writer Phil Klass, who seems never to have met a UFO he couldn't explain away in his books and articles, chimed in on an Internet UFO discussion site and suggested a temperature inversion as the culprit. Klass is also a prominent member of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, headquartered in Amherst, NY. Reporters appear to enjoy consulting CSICOP each time something anomalous happens, and rarely do they go away without CSICOP having whipped up a conventional explanation to chase away the bogeyman and lull the masses. But for those who think of CSICOP as the know-all and end-all corridor of scientific inquiry, the reader may wish to examine an article widely available on the Web called "sTarbaby." Not only is this lengthy article an intriguing fact-based condemnation of CSICOP's true colors -- it also happens to have been written years ago by CSICOP co-founder Dennis Rawlins, who couldn't depart the group quickly enough when he discovered its true longings.

To many people, the fictional crop circle movie "Signs" might seem the strangest event of 2002. In truth, however, the year is shaping up as noteworthy for well-witnessed UFO sightings in the U.S., Canada and numerous other countries, accompanied by bizarre animal mutilations and allegedly "real" crop circle formations whose genesis should perk up every truly scientific mind.

For better or worse, the mainstream American media is frequently more concerned with things important to their audience and the bottom line than with far-flung topics such as UFOs. Major news organizations searching for tangible stories have little patience for ubiquitous lights in the sky or apparently wild tales of abductions by alien critters, unless useful for the humor section. Beyond the obvious, there have also long been nagging questions about the relationship between media conglomerates and high-ranking government sources holding reign over the release of juicy stories to journalists who play the game vs. those who don't. This is not intended as a conspiratorial accusation, but only a perspective allowing that the UFO question isn't to be asked of Washington officials (e.g., there's nothing to it anyway, wink, wink...) because it annoys them to the point where troublesome TV network A or pain-in-the-butt newspaper B might just find their competitors, and not themselves, in receipt of The Big News on a daily basis, while their degrading reward for being really good journalists might be some meaningless story about who spilled a drink in the White House rose garden, or something equivalent.

Or, to narrow this train of obfuscation down further, anybody waiting for a major media reporter at a press conference with President George Bush to raise their hand to ask when this government is going to tell the people what it knows about UFOs is likely to have a very, very long and disappointing wait.