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A Case Study in How the Government Controls What We Think About UFOs

Ever since the infamous Robertson Panel became a matter of public knowledge, UFO enthusiasts have claimed there’s an ongoing censorship operation on behalf of the US government designed to keep citizens ignorant about the reality of alien visitation.

Whereas the apparent ubiquitousness of such a massive cover-up does bring into question its credence in the present day – could the government really keep tabs of every single major news outlet in the media spectrum? – there does seem to be plenty of documented evidence in support of a concerted attempt by the Pentagon to control public perception of the UFO phenomenon during the early years of the ‘flying saucer age’.

Robbie Graham, author of Silver Screen Saucers, offers one notable example in the form of The Steve Canyon TV Show: Steve Canyon was an incredibly popular comic strip series created by Milton Caniff (“The Rembrandt of the Comic Strip”) featuring an easy-going, square-jawed, all-American hero who was a member of the Air Force. NBC helped Canyon make the jump from the Sunday pages to the TV screen from 1958 to 1960, hailed at the time as “the most expensive show on television.”

The Air Force eagerly jumped on board in full support of the series, and why wouldn’t they? It had everything they could ever ask for in terms of publicity: gung-ho patriotism, an anti-Communist message and a positive portrayal of the armed forces –the perfect recipe for recruitment!

…But one thing the Air Force didn’t ask for, was UFOs.

As Graham explains in Chapter 2 of Silver Screen Saucers:

The episode to which the USAF took objection, “Project UFO,” saw Colonel Steve Canyon investigate a spate of flying saucer sightings reported to a local Air Force base. According to aviation historian, James H. Farmer, “this was an episode that the Air Force did not really want to be aired,” because the UFO subject was “a hot potato.”

In this promotional video for the Steve Canyon DVD compilation, a few small snippets of the controversial episode can be seen. One interesting scene to note is when Col. Canyon investigates an alleged landing site of a flying saucer, complete with a circular scorch in the ground:

Unfortunately, the USAF solution for the UFO “hot potato” was to force the script writers to make a bland mush out of it. They demanded rewrite after rewrite after rewrite, editing out any controversial elements until everything complied with the Air Force’s official policy about unidentified flying objects – i.e. that they neither represented a threat to the United States, nor were evidence of any exotic, advanced technology.

Thus what initially was a sympathetic view of the reports of anomalous aerial objects, reported by thousands of well-intentioned citizens all across the country, ended up as a skeptical take on the subject in which all sightings were the results of misidentifications or flat-out hoaxes. Whereas in the early drafts Canyon was shown as genuinely interested in UFOs, and even defending the integrity of a witness in front of his commanding officer – “Why call him a jerk? Seems to me like he acted like a solid, clearheaded citizen…” – in the final version Canyon’s excitement is replaced with skepticism or flat-out indifference.

Public opinion threat averted. Tune in next week for another (officially sanctioned) adventure of Steve Canyon!  

Not satisfied with that, the Air Force even tried to keep the “Project UFO” episode in the can indefinitely. It was only when the series was about to end that the producers decided to release it as a last act of defiance against the censorship they’d suffered.

For many years the USAF and the Pentagon continued doing their best to manipulate public perception of the UFO topic through influence among Hollywood and the TV networks. Even by the late 70s they flat-out refused to assist Steven Spielberg’s production of Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind, because not only did they deem it  ‘inappropriate’ to support a film which “leaves the distinct impression that UFOs, in fact, do exist;” but also they weren’t happy with a script in which the government was shown as actively covering up their existence from the public!

Does that mean the US military has kept its policies unchanged during all this time? Not necessarily: First of all I don’t think they need to keep such a tight leash on media outlets anymore, now that journalists have been properly conditioned to respond to the subject with the appropriate snicker treatment. I also suspect the armed forces had the realizatin that aliens can actually be a great tool for propaganda and the display of their newest, coolest toys – Exhibit (A): Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise – provided the script is properly doctored so the cover-up (if absolutely needed for the plot) is portrayed as a necessary evil: “we needed to keep the secret until we learned more about the evil aliens!”

We also need to consider the possibility that, after years of denial which have only fueled the fires of conspiracy and dangerous distrust of official narratives, the powers-that-be may try to control the UFO narrative with a ‘post-Robertson’ policy. Which is why I want to leave you with a final quote from Robbie’s chapter, which seems all-too relevant in light of recent developments in the UFO scene:

Demonstrably, then, the US government and military have acted to influence the content of UFO-themed entertainment media products since the earliest years of the phenomenon. For the most part, these actions have been in line with the Robertson Panel’s officially stated policy that UFOs are essentially non-existent and therefore should be debunked and demystified through media channels. Still, in recent years, the DoD has seen fit to lend its support to a small handful of UFO movies – notably those which downplay UFO conspiracy theories while emphasizing America’s military prowess, thereby encouraging recruitment among cinemagoers.

In the case of the Transformers franchise, the Pentagon provided support first and foremost for traditional military propaganda purposes, but its close involvement in the scriptwriting process here also seems to have been exploited to cover its own back in regard to historical UFO secrecy and to otherwise twist UFO lore in its favor. The same can be said of Battle: Los Angeles and Battleship, both of which portrayed the US military as cartoonishly heroic and more than capable of defending Earth from an alien attack, despite the onscreen Pentagon’s total lack of history with UFOs and extraterrestrial visitation.

Think of that the next time another black-and-white piece of UFO footage taken with one of those shiny new Raytheon tracking systems is released. Gee wiz, the way these new Pentagon-sanctioned stories are being spun, you’d think UFOs are just beginning to appear on their radar screens

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