Last week, George Knapp launched Mystery Wire, a paranormal and UFO news service presenting his back catalog of local TV news reports about unidentified aerial phenomena, supplemented with other local news reports from his employer’s sister stations. It’s not a very well done site, and it contains very little original material, so I wouldn’t normally write much about it, except that the more I’ve thought about it, the angrier its existence makes me. The reason is that Mystery Wire isn’t owned by George Knapp but rather by Nexstar Media Group, one of the largest operators of local television stations in the United States. Nexstar and Knapp launched the service on KLAS, the Nexstar CBS affiliate in Las Vegas, last week. Here is how he introduced it to mark the thirtieth anniversary of his first broadcast UFO story, using archival footage and new commentary:
[archival 1989 clip] If we know anything about science it is this: the truth is always changing. What is science fiction today is science tomorrow. For instance, back in the 1800s, the scientific establishment scoffed at persistent reports from peasants and farmers and other country folk about rocks that fell from the sky. It took more than 100 years for the French Academy of Sciences to finally concede that meteorites were real.
He was off by a century on meteorites, incidentally, but who cares about accuracy when you’re a news reporter? The first claim that meteorites were rocks from space was published in 1794, and scientists of the time did not generally accept the fact until 1803—a total of ten years, not a hundred, and seven times shorter than the period from the dawn of the UFO era to today, where evidence for the existence of flying saucers still isn’t there. And, after all, when you have to reach back to the turn of the nineteenth century for an example of scientists disbelieving an aerial phenomenon later proved true, you might not actually be making the case you think you’re making.
What bothers me about this isn’t that one TV station has a wacky reporter with a looney obsession. Most markets have at least one weird broadcast journalist. It’s that Nexstar is putting its corporate resources behind a paranormal news service, apparently believing that conspiracy theories and extraterrestrial fantasies are a potential profit center. Worse, they are creating a separate and inferior news outlet to deliver conspiracy theories, pro-UFO propaganda, and To the Stars Academy of Arts and Science puff pieces. I’m not comfortable with the idea of broadcasters creating bespoke news outlets for controversial, or even fake, topics in order to slice and dice the audience by demographic, twisting the news to meet the audience’s prejudices and beliefs.
One might argue, for example, that this isn’t really different from Disney operating both ABC News for general information and ESPN for sports-themed news, or Comcast providing general news under the NBC News label while offering specialized content for businesspeople as CNBC, for busybodies through E! and Access Hollywood, and for genre nerds through Syfy Wire. This feels different to me because it is based not on a longstanding, generally recognized subject of journalism (sports, entertainment news, etc.) but rather pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, and belief. Imagine if CBS also ran a Q-Anon news service, and I think the problem starts to become clearer.
Nexstar should be ashamed of itself. It joins Sinclair Broadcasting, which infamously demands conservative propaganda run on its stations, in the pantheon of local broadcasters who subvert the spirit of journalism in pursuit of power and profit. (Both Nexstar and Sinclair operate stations in the market where I live.)
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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