Published: 1:49 PM 1/18/2016
Don’t expect a newspaper to jump on the case...
by Charles McCollum
At the risk of being labeled a kook, I want to talk a bit about UFO sightings. And the issue is: What should a small-town newspaper do when local residents call or come in the office to report such things?
In my view, if we’re dealing with just one person’s eye-witness account, the paper can hardly justify doing a news article about it, even if there is some photographic or video evidence. We all know such things can be easily faked.
I’m reminded here of a hoax a former editor of mine perpetrated on his hometown newspaper when he was a boy in Nebraska. As the story goes, he and a pal glued two paper plates together, spray-painted them silver and hung them from a tree. Then they took pictures of the “flying saucer” with their trusty Brownie camera and sent them anonymously to the town weekly, which my editor’s father owned. This was in the late 1950s at the height of alien-invasion paranoia, and the photo caused quite a sensation after it was picked up by the news wires and published in papers across the state.
I don’t remember how, but the boys’ tomfoolery was exposed, and my boss had to go with his dad to that year’s Nebraska Press Association conference and apologize to all the assembled journalists for his actions. Little did he know then that he would grow up to become a newspaper editor himself.
So no, a photo or a video is not going to get it these days when trying convince the media about a UFO sighting. No matter how compelling the images are, let the “eye-witness” post his or her stuff on YouTube and see how it fares in that fascinating world of grassroots reporting. Don’t expect a newspaper to jump on the case.
But what if a lot of people come forward to report a similar sighting at the same time, and many of them have video? Can a newspaper justifiably ignore such an event? I would argue no.
The famous “Phoenix lights” phenomenon of 1997 was is a good example of this. Hundreds of people witnessed these lights — spread out over a mile or so and moving in perfect unison in a boomerang shape above the city — and dozens took video. Although it drew only brief mention in local TV newscasts that night, the story eventually attracted widespread media attention. A crazy twist to the tale came almost a decade later when former Arizona Gov. Fife Smyington, who originally mocked the witnesses, admitted he saw the lights too and was stunned by it all.
The Air Force said the lights were flares shot into the sky by a passing jet squadron, but Smyington doesn’t buy the official explanation. “I’m a pilot and I know just about every machine that flies,” he told the Prescott Daily Courier. “It was bigger than anything that I’ve ever seen. It remains a great mystery. Other people saw it, responsible people. I don’t know why people would ridicule it.”
Over the years, The Herald Journal has received a handful of UFO reports from Cache Valley residents, all much more isolated than the Phoenix lights and none resulting in a news story. This doesn’t mean we didn’t believe the people saw what they saw, only that there wasn’t enough corroborating evidence to publish an article without both the newspaper and the witnesses getting laughed out of town.
I’ve also had friends and acquaintances talk about seeing unexplained objects in the sky around Cache Valley, and since I know these people personally and respect them, I’m even less likely to summarily discount their version of events than I am with the newspaper walk-ins. Still, in the absence of physical evidence or members of an alien race doing a press conference with Mayor Petersen to announce their arrival, I’ve always just chalked these accounts up to something unexplained and filed them away in my memory banks.
Problem is, I’m a guy who loves a good story, and I like to tell stories in this column, so this week I thought why not share a couple of the more eye-popping local UFO sightings I’ve heard about. Mind you, I’m not presenting them as fact — simply passing on what people say they witnessed. Take it or leave it as you please.
Curiously, a couple of the local UFO sightings passed on to me occurred in the same place — Green Canyon — and one seems particularly noteworthy
A Cache Valley native told me he and a friend were scared out of their socks by a strange thing they saw during a hike far up the canyon many years ago. It was a long, metallic, beam-shaped object hovering low in the sky in broad daylight. They looked up at it, looked at each other, looked up at it again and then ran as fast as they could out of the canyon without ever glancing back.
Another Cache Valley native told me he and a snowmobile companion came across an otherworldly sight in a mountain meadow one night in Franklin Basin. It wasn’t a flying craft, per se. Rather, this was described as a group of illuminated floating objects carrying out a mechanical operation of some kind just above the ground in the meadow, as if they were working on a grid. Much like the two Green Canyon witnesses, our snowmobilers turned their sleds around got the heck out of there as fast as they could.
Could there be alternative explanations for the things all these guys saw? Certainly. Light could have been playing tricks on them, or maybe they were stoned out of their gourds, although that doesn’t explain how two guys in each case would see the same thing. Then too, they all could just be spinning yarns.
I mentioned YouTube earlier, and wouldn’t you know there are a couple videos on the website featuring unidentified objects in the Cache Valley sky. If you have a minute, check out the one taken over the airport on the night of July 4, 2014. Yeah, the camera is pointed toward a place where planes are often taking off and landing, and there were fireworks in the sky that night as well, but the blue, diamond-shaped light in the video is obviously neither.
Although you won’t see a front page article in The Herald Journal about any of this stuff, that doesn’t mean we can’t swap a few stories and speculate a bit about it all. And please don’t hesitate to phone in if you see something strange out there. I promise you won’t be met with scoffs.