It appears that a lot of viewers were expecting the February 24, 2005 ABC television special “Peter Jennings Reporting: UFOs – Seeing Is Believing” to be a well documented program based on good investigative journalism. When it became evident that this was not the case, many were disappointed. Their expectations were too high.
The program was developed by a production company for ABC and Peter Jennings. Production companies always follow the same formula for programs of this type. It starts with hype to gain an audience. In this case, ABC obviously needed something to spark an increase in their market share of audience following and knew that the popularity of UFOs would provide that spark.
The whole two-hour program followed the standard program formula, beginning with the presentation of some real cases and the witness reactions to them. It continued with some history of the UFO situation going back to the Kenneth Arnold sighting and how the United States Air Force became involved in the investigation of UFO incidents. Then, right on formula, it included some anti-UFO scientists with strong media credentials to make declarations about UFOs without requiring them to do any investigations or have any specific knowledge about UFOs. As the viewing public could plainly see, these so-called experts added almost nothing of value to the program.
In general, I was pleased that ABC aired “UFOs – Seeing Is Believing.” Having a two-hour special on UFOs in prime time guarantees a large viewing audience and that is good for the UFO community, including the Mutual UFO Network. As the result of all of the advance publicity by ABC, we were inundated by requests for speakers, data and cases by ABC affiliates all across the United States and by other radio, television and newspaper people as well. And most of them did a very even-handed job in their productions.
As a follow-up to the ABC airing, the MUFON website at www.mufon.com has received a lot of previously unreported UFO cases and a significant number of new members as well. We appreciate that.
Having a program host like Peter Jennings was a plus for the program. Jennings has a good speaking voice, looks professional, and had a positive personal image throughout the program. I received one email that said “Peter Jennings should be ashamed of himself for producing such a weak program.” My answer to that is that Jennings and ABC didn’t produce the show, a production company did it for them. That means the production company should be ashamed of following the same old tired formula when they produced the program. Jennings had announced before the program aired that he was very skeptical about UFOs and that was probably based on viewing what the production company gave him, not on any personal investigation as a reporter himself.
“UFOs – Seeing Is Believing” seemed to be produced by two different production teams – one for the first hour and a different one for the second hour. Perhaps that is why the two one-hour segments seemed so disjointed. They didn’t fit together.
Some people have questioned why MUFON was not mentioned in the program. We are puzzled by that also. Our Director of Media Relations, Judy Orsatti, spent untold hours and dollars providing information and data for the production company. At their request, I personally sent several thousand pages of documentation to the production company. They copied and returned the initial packages of material, but we never even got a thank you note for all of the other materials and work we did. MUFON Symposium Chair Lin Simpson and I worked with the production team to include them in the July 2004 symposium activities in Denver where we gave them full access to people and materials and lined up interviews with a large number of experts and witnesses. Afterwards, they said they were extremely happy with the content of what they filmed. After the symposium we continued to supply interview leads to them. When the program aired, MUFON wasn’t even mentioned in the end credits.
While it is difficult to say something good about the second hour, the first hour contained lots of impressive witness testimony, with good facial close-ups of the people involved. Having the Air Force flight crews state unequivocably that they encountered real unconventional flying objects should have been enough to convince anyone. The interviews with Dr. Mark Rodeghier and Dr. Mike Swords of CUFOS were excellent. They came across as very credible. The production company did a good job with their animation effects when reenacting several of the incidents including the Illinois sighting by several police officers. It was nice to see Art Bell and his wife describing the huge triangular object they witnessed. Art, with his radio program, has contributed a lot to the UFO field.
Having a so-call astronomer state that it is all based on eyewitness testimony and that eyewitness testimony has no value was ludicrous. It was obvious that he had done little if any real investigation of UFO incidents. Further, he didn’t seem to know that the eyewitness testimony is backed, in many cases, with radar data, electronic data, medical data, statistical data, official government reports attesting to the data, hundreds of cases investigated by government investigators citing the conclusion as “unknown and unidentified,” and thousands of reports by qualified UFO investigators and scientists attesting to the unexplainable nature of what we are dealing with.
In the historical section they made it sound like the CIA had to stop the discussion of UFOs by convening the Robertson Committee in 1952 because the communications channels were clogged by UFO reports. They inferred that the Robertson Committee did an in-depth analysis of cases to arrive at the conclusion that nothing was really going on and the subject should be debunked. This was not true. The Committee was given a hand-picked set of cases to review, but not access to all good classified and unclassified cases that could have led them to a completely different conclusion. In later years I personally worked with and talked at length with one of the scientists involved in the Robertson Committee and his one regret was that they were pushed to quickly come to a conclusion based on the wrong information. That is a sad state of affairs for the whole field of science.
The production company included a number of science fiction film clips that contributed nothing to the subject being discussed. It seemed to be a weak attempt to link UFO incidents to science fiction rather than science fact. The real situation was that the science fiction movies grew out of the public interest in UFOs, not the other way around.
They did a pretty good job of showing that the U.S. Air Force Project Blue Book was a P.R. effort and not a real investigation or science-based operation. They also did a pretty good job of showing how Dr. J.Allen Hynek was initially playing along with the debunking line, but in the end his basic good scientific qualities and instincts caused him to completely reject the Air Force debunking efforts. Evidently they did not know that Project Blue Book was preceded by Project Sign and Project Grudge, both showing a number of government proven unknowns.
It is too bad they didn’t include the Malmstrom Air Force Base incidents where all the missiles shut down in their silos when the UFO approached the missile site. We sent the official government files on this case to the production company. At least they did include the Minot AFB case where the flight crew and 16 experts on the ground all witnessed the UFO. That could have been a prime part of a conclusion that eyewitnesses working with radar provide a uniquely good proof that real evidence exists. However, they cleverly shot a hole in the testimony by saying they all of these people were seeing stars. That was an insult to all of the military people involved.
The Hayden Planetarium director and the two CSICOP debunkers made it sound like all UFO evidence is unreliable and they did it without doing investigations themselves. The sneering attitude shown by these people was a real turn-off. Several people have contacted me complaining that these folks were unprofessional and not believable.
Personally, I was disappointed by the Jill Tarter testimony that she encountered an unknown while flying and behold it was only the moon. To me, Jill Tarter has always been the person I respected the most in the SETI program. Finding out that an astronomer of her stature couldn’t recognize the moon shining through a cloud was extremely disappointing.
I was real pleased to see the clips of Dr. Frank Drake, the father of the SETI work. I didn’t mind that his part in this program didn’t contribute much to the subject of the program. He is a living icon and I was glad to get him on tape while he is still alive.
The spending of millions of dollars for another array of telescopes in California is good for the SETI scientists. It is keeping them employed and they are improving the technologies used in the field of astronomy. After all of these years and millions spent, it is hard to believe they have had no positive results. I would like to go on record of predicting that as the popularity of what they are doing wanes, that in 5 – 7 years they will suddenly get a signal that they will be convinced is from an alien civilization, but one that is too far away to be an immediate threat to Earth. That will spawn a whole new effort to set up more new communications tracking arrays.
The Roswell segment of the program appeared to be something that was slipped in late in the process and done by a whole different production team. It is difficult to find anything positive to say about the Roswell material. It was very one-sided and avoided any information that could give Roswell any credibility. It didn’t matter that the Air Force lied about the weather balloon answer, or that they later changed the story to Mogul balloons when there is no record of a Mogul balloon launch that fits the timing or location. It also didn’t matter that the debris field was huge, not the size of a little tin foil radar reflector. It didn’t matter that Jesse Marcel and all of the people at the Roswell base were the top military people in the field – the only atom bomb squadron in the country. It makes them sound like they were so dumb that they didn’t know what a weather balloon was. That is a real insult to the skills and capabilities of the Roswell military people. Even though this program was touted as “UFOs – Seeing Is Believing,” they omitted the eyewitness testimony of more than 250 people involved in the incident at Roswell, as has been documented by Friedman, Randle, and others. Acting like the Fox network Alien Autopsy show was a vital part of this incident was ridiculous. I know of no researcher that can show a connection of the autopsy material to Roswell. Equally ridiculous was the showing of the Air Force spokesman that said time dilation made people think that the crash test dummies in Utah in 1952 were aliens found at the crash site. And the showing of people in alien costumes at the Roswell summer festival did nothing but poke fun at the Roswell incident. There was very little science used in this segment of the program.
The program did a real disservice to the abduction work done by Budd Hopkins, Dr. David Jacobs, Dr. John Mack, Deborah Lindemann, and others in this field. They concentrated on doing a hatchet job on Budd and flashed a few faces of abductees on the screen, but ignored the other outstanding researchers all together. Budd was aware of the way most production companies work so when they interviewed him several times he was careful to provide careful, highly specific observations about the abduction phenomenon, not wild-eyed claims. Their conclusion that all abductees were the result of “sleep paralysis” and the information was gained via hypnosis was not true and was not what Budd told them.
Budd was clear when he said: “In the first two decades of our research, ALL of the central abduction cases involved people who were outside their houses when they were taken. NONE were lying paralyzed in their bedrooms. They were driving cars, walking, fishing, hunting and even, in one famous case, driving a tractor on a farm…. Second, I indicated that there are many abduction reports involving two, three, six or more people who were taken simultaneously and whose highly detailed recollections are virtually identical. This fact alone eliminates not only “sleep paralysis” but “fantasy-proneness” or any other idiosyncratic psychological aberrations as triggering causes….
Third, I showed the interviewers many photos of, again, virtually identical scoop marks, consistent straight-line scars and ground landing traces at abduction sites, and other physical sequelae…. Fourth, I was not alone in making these points. My colleague Dr. David Jacobs was asked by ABC to carry out a hypnotic regression for the camera, but since the woman he chose had been abducted in the daytime while driving a car, the case did not fit ABC’s “sleep paralysis” agenda and was thus not only suppressed, but Dr. Jacobs’ many hours of taped interviews were also scrapped. Fifth, I made it very clear that perhaps 30% of all the abduction reports collected by researchers are recalled WITHOUT THE AID OF HYPNOSIS, a fact that renders the issue of hypnosis moot.”
Budd goes on to say: “Despite my having presented – and reiterated – the points above, the producers chose to trot out on camera two debunking scientists (whose experiments with a mere handful of subjects have yet to be taken seriously by the psychological community) to buttress the untenable “sleep paralysis” theory, the false “no physical evidence” claim, and the demonstrably untrue “its all hypnosis” assertion. The smug presentations of these two would-be experts were accompanied by the producers’ lurid “reenactments” of “sleep paralysis” phenomena, complete with flashing lights and spooky music. The taped testimony of a serious mental health professional like Dr. John Mack was likewise suppressed, along with my statement that over the years eight psychiatrists and numerous other mental health professionals had come to me about their own UFO abductions….”
In my opinion, the abduction segment was as poorly done as the Roswell segment. The treatment of these two subjects severely degraded the overall objectivity of the program.
As far as I can tell, astronomer James McGaha has done no real work in the UFO arena, however, he shows up as the chief debunker on most UFO programs. He is obviously living in the past, even in the field of science.
The only real scientist in the last half of the program was Dr. Michio Kaku. He obviously understands the current state of science, where it is headed, and what a civilization a million years older than Earth’s civilization might be capable of doing. He didn’t denigrate the work of the UFO community. Instead, he looked upon it as a potential road map to the future. He said: “LET THE INVESTIGATIONS BEGIN.” It is too bad that the other so-called scientists were living an ego trip, rather than doing science.
I was pleased to see Peter Davenport and his reporting center get some coverage. Peter is a one-man show and works very hard. Unfortunately, the production team ignored the fact that MUFON also does UFO investigations and research. MUFON has more than 450 trained field investigators, over 850 field investigator trainees working to gain their credentials, and more than 300 scientists volunteering as consultants and research specialists. Also missed was the fact that we have thousands of pages of certified government documentation attesting to the reality of hundreds and hundreds of UFO incidents and that is on top of our 36-years of private UFO investigations and reports.
In summary, I appreciate the fact that ABC aired the two-hour program and that Peter Jennings was willing to put his name on it. In spite of its shortcomings, it was a worthwhile program. The good news is that the public was not fooled. The local Denver ABC affiliate conducted a survey on their website right after the program. They asked “Do you believe in UFOs?” 71% answered yes, 13% not sure and 16% no.