Alternate Perceptions Magazine, March 2023
MaWalter Cronkite and UFOs
by: Richard W. Heiden
Bill Knell’s article about the late American broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite (1916 –2009) and UFOs was posted on Facebook recently. I have reason to be suspicious of this article. The hoax version must have strong fans, as a couple of people did not respond kindly to my pointing out the hoax.
Knell claimed that Walter Cronkite had confided in him his 1950s UFO sighting while observing a USAF missile test in the Pacific. This brings to mind Robin Leach’s infamous interview of Cronkite in the “National Enquirer” of Dec. 14, 1976 (p. 29), titled “Top TV Newscaster Walter Cronkite: I’m Convinced UFOs Exist.”
However, Leach’s interview never happened. In Cronkite’s keynote speech at the Radio Television News Directors Association convention in Bal Harbour, Fla., on Dec. 13, 1976 (the day before the Enquirer’s cover date, but a few days after its appearance on the newsstands), he roundly denounced it. The Dec. 14 article in the Milwaukee “Journal” (citing “Press Dispatches”) reported, “His sharpest attacks were for a recent full page National Enquirer story claiming that Cronkite believed in flying saucers. Cronkite called it ‘a total lie from beginning to end.’”
Apparently, Cronkite did not know of the “interview” until Budd Hopkins called CBS News to verify it. (See his “Art, Life and UFOs,” Anomalist Books, San Antonio, Texas, 2009, pp. 235-238.) Hopkins wrote that the article included “a fascinating UFO sighting that Cronkite and several network executives supposedly made... it sounded a bit like a little-known UFO case that my friend Ted Bloecher had told me about.” Hopkins added that during the phone conversation with Cronkite, “he said that several Air Force officers whom he knew and respected, as well as other people of integrity, had told him that they had, themselves, seen such craft.” But he still remained skeptical of the subject.
However, the sighting mentioned by Budd sounds more like a Long Island incident that comes later on in the article, rather than the Andros Island case. But there was only one network executive, and (more importantly), that part of the article starts by explicitly stating, “Although Cronkite himself has never spotted a UFO,….”
It is possible that Ted knew of both cases and told Budd about the Long Island one and not the Andros Island one. Unfortunately, Ted was unable to clarify this for me. On Nov. 23, 2011, he wrote to me, “There is nothing I can recall now that would be of the slightest help in sorting this out. I no longer have files regarding this incident, and my memory draws a blank. Furthermore, the subject of UFOs is for me, at this point in my life, a closed issue. After all those years of effort, I still don’t know what they are or where they come from, and my interest in finding out simply no longer exists.”
Anyway, the next June after the Enquirer article, the National News Council upheld a complaint by MUFON’s Elmer Kral about the Enquirer’s UFO coverage, specifically the Cronkite piece and another one that misquoted Sen. Harrison Schmitt of New Mexico. (AP from New York in Milwaukee “Journal,” June 24, 1977.) At that time the Enquirer made a pathetic attempt to defend its articles. But the next month a lengthy article about the “National Enquirer” by John Holusha in the Washington “Star” included this passage: “Since the paper was deeply embarrassed by a mistake over Walter Cronkite’s attitude toward UFOs and the disclosure on national television that it ran a faked picture, the ‘Enquirer’ has gone on an accuracy binge.” (The picture is not related to the Cronkite story.) Holusha’s article was reprinted in the Appleton (Wis.) “Post-Crescent” of July 24, 1977.
I can also provide some enlightenment about the 1950s UFO sighting by Cronkite that he allegedly described to Knell. It sounds very much like the 1966 incident that took place in the Caribbean, specifically on Andros Island in the Bahamas, which Leach included in his article, allegedly quoting Cronkite. However, Cronkite was reporting it second-hand.
It is because of the Andros Island case that I have taken an interest in the Enquirer’s supposed Cronkite interview, after meeting noted Spanish UFO researcher, the late Antonio Ribera, at the Acapulco UFO congress in April 1977. The Andros Island witness had reported it to Ralph Blum after seeing him on a Florida television show, because the San José de Valderas photo shown on the program had the UMMO symbol that was also seen on Andros Island. (The entire Ummo affair is now known to be a hoax, after a confession by José Luis Jordán Peña.)
Antonio heard about the Andros Island case from Willy Smith and included it briefly in his book “Los Doce Triángulos de la Muerte” (A.T.E., Barcelona, Spain, 1976, p. 44), but asked me to try to get more details. After some correspondence with Blum, he eventually referred me to veteran ufologist Ted Bloecher. Ted sent me his transcript of Blum’s interview with the witness. The exact date of the incident was May 21, 1966. Ted told me the name of the man he is convinced heard about the Andros Island case from Blum and passed it on to Leach; however, the individual denied it.
I later located this man, and in an email dated Oct. 13, 2011, he wrote, “Ted Bloecher saying that I’m the one who told Robin Leach about that story. I’m not sure where that one comes from…. When you ask me to admit that it was me who told Mr. Leach about Andros Island and that I should consider this and give me your reply, I’m not sure what you mean by all of that. I guess you just got my reply – I’m not the ‘Deep Throat’ of Andros Island. Jeez, how does a rumor like that even get started?”
Antonio Ribera included more details on Andros Island and the Enquirer/Cronkite affair in his subsequent books “El Misterio de Ummo” (Plaza y Janés, Esplugas de Llobregat [Barcelona], Spain, 1979, pp. 111-116) and (especially) “Ummo: La Increíble Verdad” (Plaza & Janés, Esplugues de Llobregat [Barcelona], Spain, 1985, pp. 368-413).
For more exposés of the Enquirer’s Cronkite interview, see: Green Bay (Wis.) “Press-Gazette,” March 5, 1978; “GSW Bulletin,” Dec. 1977; “Contactos Extraterrestres” (Mexico City UFO magazine), no. 21 (my own letter to the editor); and Allan Hendry, “The UFO Handbook,” p. 222.
This author attempted to reach Walter Cronkite numerous times (31 times from May 9, 2004, though June 3, 2005), for his comments on this matter, using two e-mail addresses found on the Web. There was no reply until June 7, 2005. See correspondence below.
Date: Fri, 3 Jun 2005 10:40:05 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Rich Heiden" <*@yahoo.com>
Subject: for Walter Cronkite
CC: "Ann Ulrich Miller"
Dear Mr. Cronkite,
I know that back in 1976, you repudiated a fictional National Enquirer interview by Robin Leach (Dec. 14, 1976) in which you supposedly expressed an acceptance of UFO reports and included a 1966 Andros Island sighting you had heard about.
I later read a published article that seems to be based on the Enquirer story, but moving the Andros Island incident to the Pacific in the 1950’s, and claiming that you were a witness to it yourself. Some Internet research turned this up on numerous sites, but the original seems to be: http://www.paranormalnews.com/article.asp?articleID=698.[URL no longer worked by July 18, 2009.] It was posted by Bill Knell on Aug. 4, 2003. His article was allegedly based on what you told him when he was on your 1973 TV special about UFOs. (I don’t remember such a program; maybe it was the 1966 show.)
I only looked at the first 13 of 31 pages of “hits,” but didn’t find any response by you to the article. Maybe you are just learning about it now. I have already composed an exposé of Knell’s article, but any comments by you that I could add would be most appreciated.…
Please address Bill Knell’s article point-by-point--including specifically your belief in UFOs, the personal sighting, the 1973 TV show, and your having lunch with him. Even apart from the accuracy of that particular article by Bill Knell, I am interested in your present opinions on UFOs. Though in 1976 you apparently didn’t “believe in” them, your opinion might have changed since then. I know of a number of UFO scoffers who came to change their mind after reading some well-documented books on the subject, or hearing about a sighting by a friend or relative. [This paragraph expanded Nov. 6, 2004.]
Thank you very much for your reply. Please reply directly to me, as my local newspaper does not carry your column (and in fact I didn’t know about it until looking for your e-mail address now), though I read July 14, 2004 http://www.jsonline.com/enter/tvradio/jul04/243320.asp [by July 18, 2009, this page no longer exists] that you are dropping the column anyway.
Richard W. Heiden
4076 N. 70 St.
Milwaukee WI 53216-1129
P.S. If you want to see my article, I will remind the newsletter editor to e-mail it to me [so I wouldn’t have to photocopy my usual print copy—R.W.H.].
From: "Sukman, Julie P"
To: "'Rich Heiden'" <*@yahoo.com>
Subject: RE: for Walter Cronkite: Website about you and UFOs
Date: Tue, 7 Jun 2005 12:26:41 -0400
[Despite the June 7 date of his letter, it was specifically my e-mail of Jan. 15 that she was replying to]
Dear Mr. Heiden:
Please forgive the unforgivable delay in answering your email. It has been going to the site listed for Mr. Cronkite’s column which has undergone some construction, moving around, etc.
I will send Mr. Cronkite a copy of your email, along with Mr. Knell’s article, as soon as possible and will keep you abreast of anything Mr. Cronkite feels he may need to address.
Thank you for your enduring patience!
Assistant to Mr. Cronkite
From: "Sukman, Julie P"
Subject: Response from Walter Cronkite
Date: Fri, 10 Jun 2005 15:42:11 -0400
Dear Mr. Heiden:
The Enquirer article to which you refer was entirely fictitious. No such interview ever took place.
I did not then and do not now give any credence whatever to the existence of UFOs.
I cannot in any instance recall such a story as is claimed I told to Bill Knell regarding a missile test on a remote island. I am sure that if I had witnessed such an incident I would have at some point reported it – most certainly in my book A Reporter’s Life.
Date: Tue, 26 Jul 2005 06:31:14 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Rich Heiden" <*@yahoo.com>
Subject: Mr. Cronkitie, thank you for your reply
To: "Sukman, Julie P"
Dear Mr. Cronkite:
Thank you so much for your reply to my letter about your supposed “belief in” UFOs, and personal sighting.
I have to say that I am disappointed that you are still anti-UFO. You added that if you had heard from a first-hand witness to an incident like the one at Andros Island, you would have at least included it in your memoirs. But I do appreciate the fact that you have not really been outspoken on the subject, other than in response to the Enquirer piece, so it isn’t as though you have gone out of your way to criticize UFOs. And maybe the 1966 CBS “documentary” you narrated, entitled “UFOs: Friend, Foe, or Fantasy,” was just another job to you.
Just recently I read a passage that I think speaks to the attitude of you and others. Although Budd Hopkins was talking specifically about UFO abductions, I think it is equally applicable to UFOs in general:
“I have found that journalists, scientists and academics fall into two basic groups with respect to the UFO abduction phenomenon. The first, as exemplified by those I have mentioned here, along with scores of others, are initially skeptical but open-minded, even curious about the abduction accounts. They recognize that if we are actually being visited by another, non-human intelligence, then nothing could be more important, and they have therefore taken steps to educate themselves. The second, much larger group is made up of those (usually skeptical) individuals who are woefully uninformed about the phenomenon. Many, exercising a kind of intellectual snobbery, hold the subject beneath contempt because of its admittedly bizarre nature. Others are more innocent in their ignorance, having never bothered to pay these consistent reports any attention--though they often feel qualified to discount them, nevertheless.” (From his chapter in David M. Jacobs, ed., “UFOs and Abductions,” University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kans., 2000, pp. 239-240.) Do you find yourself in the last group? (I mean, specifically, the second subset of the second group.) Or have you undertaken to learn a bit more about UFOs since the 1966 program? Even if you didn’t, maybe somebody has at least called these facts to your attention in the intervening years:
1. When a USAF spokesman claimed on that program that no UFOs have been seen on radar, it was a blatant lie. There have been numerous radar (and radar/visual) incidents. One series of famous incidents took place over and near Washington, D.C., in July of 1952. (See http://www.nicap.dabsol.co.uk/wns.htm, http://dewoody.net/ufo/Wash_DC_UFO.html, and http://www.project1947.com/fig/1952d.htm. [By Dec. 8, 2006, the second URL address didn’t work anymore, and by July 18, 2009, the first didn’t either.])
2. Thornton Page, a participant in the 1953 CIA-sponsored “Robertson Panel” on UFOs (which led to years of “debunking” by the Air Force), wrote shortly after your 1966 program that he had “helped organize the CBS TV show around the Robertson Panel conclusions.” (See paragraph 5 of http://www.ufoevidence.org/documents/doc947.htm.) [See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robertson_Panell, among others].
In case you do feel motivated to learn more about the subject of UFOs, I highly recommend the above-cited book edited by David Jacobs. If your interest is more than superficial, I could suggest additional titles; just ask me. On the other hand, if you have no curiosity whatsoever about the subject, you need not reply, and I will understand from that what your attitude is.
Thank you again for your letter, and for your further consideration.
4076 N 70 St.
Milwaukee, WI 53216-1129
Despite a second mailing of the above letter on Dec. 11, 2006, Walter Cronkite did not reply. He died two and a half years later.
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An earlier version of this article was printed in Ann Ulrich Miller’s “The Star Beacon” Vol. XVIII, No. 10, October 2004, pp. 12 and 16. The publication’s Website is <www.earthstarpublications.com, though the archives do not go back to 2004.