The UFO UpDates Archive

Re: ABC Jennings Special - Clark

From: Jerome Clark 
Date: Sun, 27 Feb 2005 10:40:54 -0600
Fwd Date: Mon, 28 Feb 2005 08:21:30 -0500
Subject: Re: ABC Jennings Special - Clark

>From: David Rudiak 
>Date: Sat, 26 Feb 2005 11:47:18 -0800
>Subject: Re: ABC Jennings Special

David and Listfolk:

>Question: Was anybody on the List interviewed by ABC, such as
>Jerry Clark, Stanton Friedman, or Dick Hall, used as an expert
>consultant? Did the filmmakers express a real interest in
>getting the facts, or were they just in for the sound bites?

I was told that my UFO encyclopedia was a major resource,
especially when the ABC News people were educating themselves on
the subject and trying to figure out what was there and where to
proceed. Through an assistant Jennings asked me for a personal,
signed copy of the two volumes.

The show began as Life in the Universe, presumably with a SETI
focus. UFOs were to be a part of it, though I suspect a
relatively minor one, essentially depicted as silly pop-culture
obsession as opposed to the science of SETI. As staff and crew
members began to dig into ufology, they were taken aback to
learn how much substance was there, and UFOs began to overwhelm
the project, which finally became UFO-centered and got a
different title.

My dealings with these people suggested they are serious
professionals. I wouldn't have dealt with them if they weren't;
I have come to abhor UFO presentations on television, which are
generally moronic and exploitative, and consequently I don't do
them anymore. After long discussion with the producer, I agreed
to this one, and I have no regrets.

Overall, despite obvious shortcomings, I thought the show was
pretty good, certainly the most pro-UFO primetime documentary by
a major broadcast news operation that we are likely to see in
our lifetimes. The limitations of time and the documentary
format forced certain emphases (and, in the worst moments,
distortion and misimpression). People who keep complaining about
the neglect of this or that element fail to grasp the reality of
the format. This was, after all, about 81 minutes, not eight
hours. Moreover, to be watchable, a documentary requires
dramatic momentum. If you want the whole story, there are some
good books for that, but reading them is going to consume a
whole lot more than 81 minutes of your time. Or, for that
matter, eight hours of it.

From one point of view - pure good sense - the Roswell and
abduction segments were a mistake. These are deeply complex
subjects which, if dealt with at all, ought to have been
subjects of their own documentaries. My suspicion is that they
were there to give Jennings cover from potential criticism of
the show's clearly pro-UFO slant. Jennings had to demonstrate
that he was hostile toward more outlandish UFO claims in order
to make his curiosity about the rest palatable and even
credible. I think, of course, that this was unfortunate,
resulting in segments that were, at best, highly simplistic and,
at worse, unfair, inaccurate, and grossly misleading. To me the
very worst was the depiction of Roswell investigators such as
Friedman, Schmitt, and Randle as cynical money-grubbers, which
was both false and cheap. Accuse them of being wrong, if you
wish; but going beyond that to accuse them of being bad human
beings is beyond the pale.

The SETI people were essentially set up. I can't imagine that
they are very happy about their portrayal. The documentary makes
clear that they know practically nothing about UFOs except that
they don't like them - which was the show's larger point about
science and government's response generally. Frank Drake
appeared to be going out of his way to validate his critics'
longstanding contention that his is essentially a mystical,
religious quest. He talked like a zealot about how a message
from space would change the world, just like some primitive
awaiting word from the sky gods. Jill Tarter looked ridiculous
when she admitted (boasted, even) that - as an astronomer yet -
she failed to recognize what any Joe Doakes has no trouble
identifying instantly: the moon partially hidden by clouds. Even
more amusingly, this came in the context of smug assertions by
her and her colleagues that anecdotal testimony is worthless -
except, I guess, if it's anecdotal testimony by a clueless UFO
disbeliever. At the end of the show, physicist Michio Kaku gets
the last word, rejecting the SETI people's wishful and silly
myth that ETs can't be visiting because they can't get here.

I don't blame Stan Friedman and Budd Hopkins for being upset
about their treatment on the show. The Roswell and abduction
segments are indefensible.

They aren't, however, the end of the story. I don't know what,
if any, longterm effects will fall out from the show's airing,
but if there are, they are more likely to be positive than

Jerry Clark