UFOs and aliens beings have often been portrayed in mass media, whether it be movies or television shows. Most of these appearances were however heavily edited and calculated by the American government in order to communicate a specific attitude towards this mysterious phenomenon. What is the purpose of these efforts? This article looks at the fascinating history of government involvement in UFO-related movies and television shows.
This article originally appeared in the magazine 49th Parallel, Vol. 25 (Spring 2011) and is reproduced on Vigilant Citizen with the permission of the authors: Robbie Graham (University of Bristol)* & Matthew Alford (University of Bath)†.
* Robbie Graham is a doctoral candidate at the University of Bristol for a PhD examining Hollywood’s historical representations of UFOs and extraterrestrial visitation. He is also creator of the blog Silver Screen Saucers.
† Matthew Alford is the author of Reel Power: Hollywood Cinema and American Supremacy (Pluto Press, 2010). He received his PhD in Cinema and Politics from the University of Bath in 2008.
On 22 January 1958, the popular CBS television show Armstrong Circle Theatre presented an entire programme dedicated to the subject of unidentified flying objects entitled: “UFO: Enigma of the Skies.” Among the high-profile experts invited to speak on the show, retired US Navy Major Donald Keyhoe – director of the National Investigations Committee on Aerial Phenomena (NICAP) – was notable for his outspoken views on government secrecy surrounding the UFO phenomenon. Arguing against UFO reality on the programme were astronomer and vehement UFO sceptic Donald Menzel and Air Force representative Col. Spencer Whedon of the Air Technical Intelligence Center (ATIC). Their task should have been an easy one as the show’s content had been scripted in advance by CBS in conjunction with the US Air Force, and all guests – especially Keyhoe – had been instructed to read their preapproved material from a teleprompter.
When it came time for Keyhoe to speak, in frustration he veered from his script and stated to the nation: “And now I’m going to reveal something that has never been disclosed before…” 1 The rest of his announcement went unheard by television viewers: unbeknownst to Keyhoe, his microphone had been cut by the station. Keyhoe continued:
“For the last six months, we have been working with a congressional committee investigating official secrecy about UFOs. If all the evidence we have given this committee is made public in open hearings, it will absolutely prove that the UFOs are real machines under intelligent control.”2
After the show, CBS was inundated with calls and letters from viewers demanding to know why Keyhoe’s audio had been cut: “Call it what you like,” wrote one viewer, “but it appeared to be a very shocking display of censorship; and certainly offensive to the intelligence of the American public…” 3 Nine days later, CBS admitted it had been subject to official censorship. In a letter to a disgruntled viewer dated 31 January, 1958, CBS director of editing, Herbert A. Carlborg, stated:
“This program had been carefully cleared for security reasons. Therefore, it was the responsibility of this network to insure [sic] performance in accordance with pre-determined security standards. Any indication that there would be a deviation might lead to statements that neither this network nor the individuals on the program were authorized to release.”4
As will be evidenced in this essay, the US government’s historical efforts to censor UFO-related media products extend considerably further than the Keyhoe incident and have noticeably affected the content of numerous films and TV products over a six-decade time span. Before moving to examine some of these cases, however, it is necessary to ask: why should the US government wish to exert its influence over media representations of a subject as seemingly fanciful as UFOs? The answer to this question becomes clear with even a cursory glance at the government’s early documentation on the subject, which reflects a sustained concern about UFOs (if not a consensus on their origins) at the highest levels of the US military.....