THE MEDIA HYSTERIA OF 1972
By the end of September, 1972, I was still somewhat weak from the pneumonia. The dynamic Ruth Hagy Brod chose this time to begin making a great fuss about my refusal to talk to media types. Media interest, she explained, "was growing everywhere, and something really needed to be done about it."
In order to break down my resistance on this issue, she soon had Dear Zelda on her side, and then Buell Mullen, Lucile Kahn, and Vi Bennett.
Each of the ladies comprising this Gang Of Five were wonderfully different in many aspects, but they shared one awesome thing in common. This can be described in various ways, but Ill point it up as that type of mature, experienced, and tested FEMALE determination against which it is better to simply throw in the towel from the start.
I made an attempt to resist -- by saying I was going to quit research and so it was now pointless to talk to media. This made no impression on the Gang.
So I gave in, but with two stipulations: that I would talk only unofficially and off the record; and that I would not talk about myself, but about the bigger picture of PSI powers of the human species.
Ruth Hagy Brod smiled and said: "I know just how to get this rolling, and Ill set it up." (Please refer back to chapter 22 for background information on the superdynamic Ruth Hagy Brod.)
I must now refresh historical memory by indicating that back in 1972, media could consistently be depended upon to dump negative and sarcastic platitudes on anything having to so with psychics, parapsychology, and PSI in general. It is important to remember this, important to understand that back then everyone connected with PSI was scared shitless when it came to media "exposure."
The naive of the time did not realize that this consistent trashing was pre-set and pre-ordained by high editorial POLICY of, for example, the otherwise venerable NEW YORK TIMES, TIME and NEWSWEEK magazines, the WASHINGTON POST, and so forth.
Indeed, TIME magazine still carried its infamous FRAUD BOX, in which any parapsychology news could be humorously trashed, diminished in its significance, and, well, laughed out of town.
It thus didnt matter what one said to a reporter or a press writer, because above their excellent selves were higher editorial police who simply rewrote their submissions in ways that were as negative as possible.
Each of the Gang-Of-Five ladies knew this quite well, and so it was understood that my "mission," if it can be called that, was to challenge the high editorial policies that trashed all PSI developments.
I was quite intimidated in attempting this prospect. But the Gang thought it might work out because I was already known for not mincing words. And what the hell, I was going to quit research anyway, and so I didnt have much to lose.
Two other factors of significance in 1972 need to be narrated into this record, because both of them have been forgotten.
The first of those factors was that in 1972, the growing media interest was not stimulated by PSI in general, but precisely by the REPEATABLE thermistor experiments of Dr. Gertrude Schmeidler at the City College of New York. (Please refer back to chapters 8, 9 and 10 in this regard.)
Her experiments equated to an EVENT, because previous to them parapsychology research "had not produced a repeatable experiment" -- and until it did, parapsychology research "need not be taken seriously," because it was otherwise only composed of random and fortuitous phenomena requiring "interpretation."
In the broader actuality of parapsychology, this condemnation was true or not true, depending on the mind-set judging it. But from the skeptical and thus the media point of view it WAS true, since it provided the loophole that could be thought to justify trashing.
Schmeidlers experiments had two advantages most other PSI experiments did not have.
From start to finish, the data-effects of her experiments were automatically recorded by mechanical means (i.e., by computers), and which thus did not require "interpretation" whether fortuitous or otherwise.
Her experiments dealt with psychokinesis (PK), otherwise defined as "mind" affecting matter. They did not, for example, deal with clairvoyance or telepathy which were completely "mental" and which often produced only garbled "results" that DID need "interpretation."
The second of the 1972 factors consisted of rumors that had begun circulating in the media background noise that "the government," and especially "the CIA," was going to start funding "psychic research."
It is not too much to point up that even in rumor form, THIS was shocking enough, especially when insider Washington sources would neither confirm nor deny the rumors.
The first major media interest of 1972 took place at the open house reception given for humble MOI at the American Society For Psychical Research (ASPR) on April, 26, 1972. In this regard, you can refer back to chapter 31.
But here it is necessary to point up that the reception was not undertaken by the ASPRs Board, but by a number of ladies including the Gang Of Five, who simply bought a lot of champagne and commandeered the place.
Numerous media types came to the reception, and took the tour of the ASPR headed by Dr. Osis, and who, bless his heart, was in seventh heaven by having someone besides the antagonistic Board interested in his work.
Among the media types in attendance was a delightful lady from TIME magazine. I have forgotten her name, never having made note of it, but I have some quite nice photographs which show us talking together. As I remember, we talked about fifteen minutes, and no one disturbed us because, after all, she WAS from TIME, back then still an awesome edifice to be from.
To my knowledge, nothing came of this encounter. But the mere fact that "TIME magazine was at the reception" was taken by one and all as significant, in that TIME did not attend upon things there were beneath notice.
At some point thereafter, a team of four from NBC News arrived unannounced at the ASPR, wishing to be shown everything, and talk to everyone. I was at the ASPR that day.
The team spent a lot of time with Dr. Osis, who talked about out-of-body stuff, then with Janet Mitchell who talked of brainwaves regarding same. When my turn came, we spent the time talking about the lack of "visual material" that could pep up a TV piece, which, after all, would consist of pictures.
To begin with, according to the NBC crew, the decor of the ASPR building (formerly an elegant brownstone townhouse) was in "strange taste." However, that background decor could be faded out. But that left the experimental rooms which were "ugly," the equipment was "incomprehensible" even if filmed, and charts showing this or that statistical analysis were "not NBC news material." That left only "talking heads" who said things "the public" would never understand.
"Yes," I agreed sympathetically, "TV does have a problem about what to film."
As the NBC crew departed, they got stuck in the ASPRs small elevator.
Numerous other media types subsequently visited the ASPR, and left equally uninspired with regard to "visual materials."
But the overall upshot was that the venerable ASPR now had more potentially positive media interest than at any other time in its history. And members of its Board antagonistic to Dr. Karlis Osis, the ASPRs central feature, STILL DID NOT get the message.
Ruth Hagy Brod got her ball rolling almost immediately. I was soon told to suit up in order to take lunch with her at the Overseas Press Club at noon on Thursday, September 29, 1972, that Club residing on Park Avenue South in New York City.
Thank goodness I had lost nearly nineteen pounds during the two weeks of the pneumonia affair, and so I could get into some of my more up-stat suits.
Press Clubs worldwide constitute conveniences for media types who can go and take a few or more sustaining beverages, meanwhile finding out whats going on behind the scenes, what gossip is thumping about, in order not only to discover "leads" but what everyone else is officially and unofficially saying about them.
As I had learned from my wage-slave days at the United Nations, media types consider themselves sort of a communal brotherhood which has a number of unwritten codes -- one of which is to try achieve newsworthy consistency among themselves when reporting on this or that story.
One such consistency has to do with "angles" as to whether a given event or personality target is to be consistently dumped upon, played down or up, or consistently supported as significant.
To achieve the latter consistency, it first needs to be determined what is or is not "significant," in that significance makes news while insignificance does not. It is thus that "facts" not leading up to significance are seldom reported, while it does occur that significance, whether real or imagined, can be emphasized or demolished by higher editorial authority.
The whole of this equates to a behind-the-scenes filtration system regarding how and what "news" is to be managed before it is reported as such.
Ruth Hagy Brod had warned me not to talk about parapsychology in general. "They are interested," she said, "in YOU as a personality."
I had no intention of leaving the matter of "consistency" to random speculation or imagination of this or that media person, or to their senior editors. After all, media in general already HAD a consistency regarding "psychics" and parapsychological researchers in general -- which was to consistently trash them.
So we decided that I should prepare a brief hand-out sheet that could be given to this or that media person.
My little hand-out sheet ran to two pages, because I decided to include the eleven criteria I had established regarding my own interests and behavior. These have already been presented in chapter 20, and so there is no need here to reiterate them.
However, before listing those criteria, I provided a statement establishing:
that I was NOT "a psychic"
that I never claimed to be one
that I did not give readings, advice, or suggestions
that I was prepared to take great exception if I were falsely represented as "a psychic"
and that I was only interested in working with scientists in scientific experiments that were capable of providing scientific feedback.
Ruth Hagy Brod frowned when she read through this statement. But before she could complain about it, I firmly told her: "Ruth, sweetie, IF I am a PERSONALITY, then this is what that personality consistently consists of. We either go with this, or not go at all."
The atmosphere and furnishings of the dining room and bar area of the Overseas Press Club was one of, well, of quiet, sedate elegance, with white table cloths gleaming, all of which set off Ruths own special elegance. We had drinks -- margaritas, as I recall -- and then a sedate lunch of soup and salad.
Soon after that, two media types passed by as if to say "hello" to Ruth, who invited them to sit at the two extra chairs.
She then introduced the PERSONALITY, and the affair of establishing consistency about him began.
As intended, the media types got hung up on the not-a-psychic disclaimer. "Well, Mr. Swann, if you are not a psychic, what are you?"
I responded in general, but consistently: "Im just a lab rat, a guinea pig. I dont think that superficially stereotyping human beings is all that useful. Do you?"
This procedure was repeated six times with six different media types and six different rounds of drinks. Others did not sit, but merely came to get the hand-out sheets they saw were being provided. Media types love hand-outs, sometimes referred to as "press releases."
Some who did sit asked increasingly stupid questions -- such as "What is the importance of parapsychology?"
"I dont really know," I replied quizzically. "What is more important are the remarkable human phenomena that are being studied in that self-limiting field -- and nowhere else, and which are usually trashed in the mainstream."
Ruth Hagy Brod telephoned in the early morning of October 1, 1972. "It WORKED," she said. "TIME wants to talk with you unofficially as soon as possible."
"Cant do it soon. Im leaving for SRI tomorrow."
"Can I tell them that?"
"I suppose so. Theres no secrecy about it. Im going to tell Puthoff that Im bailing out of research."