Friday, September 13, 2019

The Blue Ribbon UFO Panel of the National Enquirer

Dr. R. Leo Sprinkle, Dr. Frank Salisbury, Dr. James Harder, Dr. Robert Creegan,
Dr. J. Allen Hynek and Mr. Jim Lorenzen. From 1975.

In the early 1970s, an elite panel of researchers from the leading UFO organizations was formed to evaluate the strongest cases of the year, and they had a specific goal: "find positive proof that UFOs come from outer space." They were called the Blue Ribbon Panel, and were assembled and financed by The National Enquirer, the tabloid magazine owned by Generoso Paul "Gene" Pope, Jr.

From 1967

It wasn't merely about the pursuit of science; the Enquirer was after selling papers, and they were putting up big money to pursue the cases and evidence. 

National Enquirer clipping from 1978

The panel was comprised of top men. Top men.

The National Enquirer's Blue Ribbon Panel members of 1974. From left to right: Dr. J. Allen Hynek, Dr. Robert F. Creegan, Dr. R. Leo Sprinkle, Dr. James A. Harder, and Dr. Frank B. Salisbury (Betz Mystery Sphere in foreground). APRO (Photo from The Encyclopedia of UFOs by Ronald Story.)

In the 1997 book, At the Threshold: UFOs, Science and the New Age, Charles F. Emmons, Ph.D. discussed the magazine's Blue Ribbon Panel:
Surprisingly the National Enquirer, when its format emphasized the paranormal rather than celebrities, was one of the more "scholarly" of the tabloids, at least in regard to UFOs. James A. Harder, a pioneering ufologist with a Ph.D. in fluid mechanics from the University of California, and a retired engineering professor from UC Berkeley, reports that he, Leo Sprinkle, Frank B. Salisbury and Robert Creegan, all from APRO (Aerial Phenomena Research Organization), and J. Allen Hynek himself formed the UFO consulting board for the National Enquirer in 1972. The publication established a reward of $50,000 for "the first person who can prove that a UFO came from outer space and is not a natural phenomenon." Not only did this statement contain the assumption that UFOs must be extraterrestrial and nonnatural, but it seemed so difficult to prove that another award of $5,000 was added for best evidence each year.
In 1975, the editors of the National Enquirer were uncertain enough about the validity of the Travis Walton case (in which Walton was knocked down by a beam from a UFO in an Arizona forest and disappeared for five days) that they decided not to publish it, although later the consulting board decided to award Walton and five other witnesses in the case the $5,000 for 1975. Three MUFON consultants were added to the board in 1978, but it was eliminated in 1979. Certainly this is an atypical chapter in the tabloid UFO story, but it also shows that mass media are not as uniform as one might think in spite of certain general patterns.
Dr. R. Leo Sprinkle, Jim Lorenzen, Dr. James Harder, Dr. Robert Creegan, Dr. Frank Salisbury, and
Dr. J. Allen Hynek 

While the panel was active, it awarded $5,000 to $10,000 for the flowing UFO cases, including some now classics, but there were some that didn't make the cut.

The Panel and the Betz Sphere

In 1974, one of the cases the Enquirer panel investigated was that of a metal sphere found by Terry Matthews, an object he thought came from outer space.

The Associated Press coverage played up the hope that the submitted object might be extraterrestrial, which was the only thing the Enquirer's panel seemed to care about.

Sarasota Herald Tribune, April 17, 1974

The United Press coverage from the following week was a bit more cautious in is reporting. 

Santa Ana Register, April 21, 1974

The Betz sphere was not much of a contender for the Enquirer's prize, and the panelists concluded that though they couldn't identify the object,  it was clearly manmade, therefore not extraterrestrial.

The UFO Prize Winners

While the UFO panel was active, the magazine rewarded the following cases:

1973: Delphos Ring
1974: Coyne Incident
1975: Four witnesses in the San Antonio International Airport sighting
1976: Travis Walton and the Lumberjacks
1977: Tehran UFO "dogfight" incident
1978: Memphis Triangle
1979: Shared among several cases
1980: Val Johnson

The National Enquirer's most famous award winner: a team of lumberjacks for their 1974 UFO story.

All good Things Come to an End

The National Enquirer changed their focus a bit in 1979, when the black and white tabloid switched to color, courting a more mainstream supermarket audience with stories about celebrities. It's old press was taken over by the sister publication the Weekly World News, which also inherited most of the UFO material. The money that the National Enquirer had put towards UFO research dried up, and along with it, the Blue Ribbon Panel.

For more historical information on The National Enquirer's Blue Ribbon Panel for UFO Investigations, see this article by Isaac Koi: Consensus lists: National Enquirer Panel


  1. Oh, I remember this. Phil Klass was 'all over' the National Enquirer UFO panel and its awards. Each year he would eagerly anticipate their verdict, then launch headlong into debunking it.

  2. Leaving a comment so you know people are reading the blog.

    Even though I was very young at the time, I should remember this. My Dad occasionally brought the Enquirer home from work, where he sometimes read it on his lunch break. But alas, I don't and this is all "new" news for me.

    Love the blog.

    1. Thanks for your comment. The Enquirer was a strange magazine, traded on gore, then found they could reach a wider audience by focusing on celebrities and getting into supermarkets. The saucer stuff was just one of many of their many sensational side dishes.


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