Journalist Peter Bergen, probably best known from his appearances on CNN as a national security analyst, launched a new podcast through Audible today, In the Room with Peter Bergen. The high-profile new podcast aims to cover national security issues and today’s three-episode launch includes an episode on flying saucers—because, of course you need UFOs to draw interest. As you might expect, the podcast includes interviews with the usual suspects, including Alex Dietrich, Chris Mellon, Mick West, and Seth Shostak, as well as New Yorker writer Gideon Lewis-Krauss. It also has nothing of value to say about UFOs, as evidenced by its reliance on Lewis-Krauss, whose only connection to the UFO “mystery” is writing an article about it. But, hey, that’s enough for a lifetime ticket as a UFO “expert”!
Bergen’s podcast is primarily a rehash of what others have written about UFOs. Primarily, it summarizes Lewis-Krauss’s New Yorker piece from a couple of years back, Leslie Kean’s and Ralph Blumenthal’s faulty New York Times pieces since 2017, and the book Mirage Men, with a sprinkling of debunking from West and Shostak. The largest part of the podcast is devoted to summarizing Mirage Men and the allegation that the U.S. federal government created UFO conspiracy theories, fabricated documents, and pressured the media to debunk claims of space alien UFO pilots. Bergen doesn’t bother to think too hard about this. His only comment is to incidentally note that “there isn't any official confirmation that the U.S. government ran a disinformation campaign that accidentally inspired the X-Files,” before reminding listeners that Mirage Men author Mark Pilkington makes “a good argument.”
It’s an even-handed summary to the point of becoming actively useless. Without some indication of what to believe or which claims are more credible, everything becomes equally probable to listeners who lack detailed background knowledge.
Merely summarizing other people’s work isn’t the worst media sin, but Bergen remains remarkably uncritical and incurious as he discusses UFOs. He never challenges his guests, asking no tough questions, and simply accepting everything they say at face value. Chris Mellon literally claims space aliens are flying through our skies, and Bergen offers not a word of pushback, treating the statement from someone he notes “served in the Pentagon during the Clinton and Bush administrations” with the same blasé indifference he affords to Mick West’s detailed explanations of debunked UFO videos. “His explanations are pretty heavy on math,” Bergen complains of West.
The only time Bergen shows a bit of spark is when he reveals how deeply his perceptions are shaped by the New York Times and The New Yorker, two elite publications that he implicitly trusts, to the point of credulity. As a member of the media elite, his approach is that of the elite media, being above it all, a disinterested observer who doesn’t need to think too deeply. The half-hearted, half-assed approach In the Room takes probably reflects Bergen’s own lack of interest in a subject he is clearly covering for the clicks. “Now I'm not really a sci-fi guy,” he says at one point. “This, honestly, is just not a topic I spend a lot of time thinking about.”
Perhaps he ought to have spent a little more time thinking about it. With no particular purpose in mind beyond profit and no effort to discern truth, his rehash of rehashes contributes nothing of value but does manage to muddy the waters by treating space aliens as a coequal explanation, despite the insistence down the line, from independent scientists to the Pentagon team in charge of UFO analysis, that there is no evidence whatsoever of space aliens on earth.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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