Monday, February 1, 2010

The Truth Maze

It's funny how the newsstand tabloids are absolutely reviled by folks who believe themselves far above reading such "trash" -- until, for example, the National Enquirer suddenly earns rave reviews (sort of) for revealing that former U.S. Senator and potential presidential candidate John Edwards had a secret love life and love child whose existence he denied up until the bitter end, after the Enquirer stubbornly pursued allegations that other media grand exalteds considered themselves too proper to investigate. Edwards might have been elected the morality-perfecto president many Americans craved, had the personal closet skeletons not been exposed.

Yes, I do miss the sixties, seventies (in particular) and eighties when the Enquirer investigated international UFO incidents with enthusiasm and hard-nosed, determined journalists. Bob Pratt and a few others. I think the National Enquirer was a major influence in convincing Americans of the UFO phenomenon's international reach.

August 15, 1978 was the date of an Enquirer featuring this curious headline: "U.S. Air Force Officers Lied About UFOs." Written by reporter David Wright, the article served as one of numerous opportunities to consult C.R. McQuiston, co-inventor of the Psychological Stress Evaluator (PSE), an instrument designed to sort out truth from lies based upon the pattern of one's speech when responding to questions.

On this occasion, there apparently had been some controversy about a June 27 article charging the U.S. government with an ongoing cover-up of UFO reports. Well, no big surprise there -- but the tabloid editors did find this a great time to allow Mr. McQuiston access to tape-recorded interviews with three U.S. Air Force officers interviewed for the previous story. His opinion, post PSE evaluation: "There is a clear pattern (of deception) here that is common to all of them. They all had characteristics that lead me to believe that there is indeed a cover-up."

That sounds pretty sinister, and while I may agree in part with McQuiston's conclusions, more could be said. Shortly, but first. . .

Maj. Edward Lansdale of the Air Force Office of Information in Washington, D.C. was asked if the USAF still investigates UFOs. His response: "The Air Force does no longer have a program."

McQuiston stated that Lansdale "doesn't really believe what he is saying. . .has definite reservations about the validity" of the statement. "He appears like he is saying, 'Well, I am saying this, but I don't believe it.' "

Asked if Project Blue Book files were complete, Maj. Gary Hawksworth said, "I don't know whether I could say that."

C.R. McQuiston advised, "He's hedging. There's very definite reservation in that statement. He obviously knows of cases that didn't go in the Blue Book. He's not telling the whole truth and shows the stress line."

Finally, Capt. Charles Wax had told the National Enquirer that "there's no Air Force procedure for reporting extraterrestrial type spottings," leading McQuiston to suggest:

"The PSE shows that's not true. There's a lot of stress there. He doesn't pass the test at all."

For its time, over 30 years ago, the Enquirer piece and McQuiston's evaluation made sense. After all, the Air Force had supposedly given up on UFO projects, but the troublesome UFOs continued to flit in and out of observers' lives across the country. However, as a former military serviceman, I can see the three officers' statements in a much different way, and maybe the Enquirer did as well, but neglected to take that extra, not so clandestine step.

I doubt that any of them was deliberately bending the truth. Instead, they were merely repeating what official policy required them to say in response to such questions. Maybe they personally believed what they were saying and maybe they did not, but could their voices not fail the PSE simply because they were spewing policy, not hardcore individual opinions?

In addition, just as time has shown that the trusty polygraph ("lie detector"), overly-lionized in many a detective thriller, is hardly foolproof, surely the PSE system possesses its own shortcomings. Nevertheless, as I recall, the PSE system was fairly new to the public in the mid to late 1970s, and as the most recent technological toy in town, everybody wanted a piece of its abilities, even the National Enquirer. I'm just not sure that this PSE exercise was worth the result, but I'll give the Enquirer credit for trying to sort out the facts. The officers themselves? One wonders how they felt about being voice-analyzed for readers from coast to coast.