On Method: Attribution

– by Don Ecsedy, March 1, 2013

In the Brazel interview section of When Rumor Became Reality we encounter the problem of “attribution”. Everyone can recognize a quotation; it is everything between quotation marks, which indicates the statement is exactly what the person said. We assume the interviewer or reporter has confirmed this with the interviewee. A signed statement is a quotation. A quotation is ‘in his own words’.

There are two kinds of attribution, direct and implied. Analogizing to ‘testimony’, a quotation is a first-hand witness, a direct attribution is a second-hand witness, and an implied attribution is an nth-hand witness. This categorization does not tell us anything about the accuracy of the information in quotes and attributions, but it tells us something about the quality of the information and how we should assay it.

The value of a quotation is it gives us examples of how the interviewee uses language, which can give us clues as to how accurate the attributions are. It can also assist in identifiying the anachronisms which are commonly found in the implied attributions. Jason Kellahin provides enough quotations of Brazel to give us a feel for his ‘voice’ in language, and it is distinctly different from that of the implied attributions in the Roswell Daily Record version which represent the language of the reporter and his editor rather Brazel.

In some instances the distinction between voices is not clear at all. For example, Steve Carney’s interview of George Walsh for the LA Times in 2000, at a significant passage:

Quotation (beginning the paragraph):

“He [Haut] said, ‘We captured a flying saucer.’ When I picked myself up off the floor, I asked him a few questions...”

Implied Attribution? (following on quotation above):

The officer refused to answer, saying all would be explained in his press release, which it wasn’t. All it said was that a rancher found the wreckage of a saucer and called the sheriff, who called the Air Force, which picked up the debris and shipped to Washington for analysis.

Direct Attribution (following above, and ending the paragraph)

Walsh said it got as far as an air base in Ohio before someone figured out it was a radar target.

Is the middle attribution direct or implied? It is hard to tell because both Carney and Walsh are newsmen and would share language traits. The attribution is a fine and quick summary, which one would expect of newsmen. I think it is a direct attribution because it expresses a motif found elsewhere in Walsh, his disappointment about the press release and that it was all a fuss over nothing.


The Rhodes and Roswell cases occur at the same time, but the documentation is radically different. In Rhodes, there is an abundance of documentation from the AF and the FBI over seven years. In Roswell, there is no documentation at all, except one FBI memo, in a timeframe of perhaps seven hours. We do not have a written statement from the Roswell Army Air Field at the beginning of the case, nor do we have a written statement from the 8th Army Air Force at Ft Worth Army Air Field at its conclusion. The entire story is told to the press, which becomes the documentary source.


Rhodes provides a chronology because most of the documents include a date, or are date stamped; they are either signed or include a from/to, and lacunae, such as unit names, cc’s, and notes of attachments. We also have concurrent accounts of events from the perspective of the FBI, from the local Phoenix FBI Office up to and including J. Edgar Hoover, and, from the AF side, reports and correspondence from Project Saucer in all its phases (Sign, Grudge, Blue Book), the Army Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC), and the USAF Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI).

When the narrative is laid out and read chronologically, we find ambiguity at every turning point, sometimes reinforced by the conflicting concurrent narratives of the FBI and the CIC. Yet, with every attempt to fill in the gaps reasonably, what gets uncovered is more ambiguity. The documents we have now are more complete than was available to any author of the Project Saucer documents, yet what we have is incomplete for what must have existed in the file at some time. We can conclude there is missing significant information which reasonably must have existed for some authors at some times, but not for others.

There seemed no way to continue the analysis of Rhodes, having run out of documents, but thanks to J. Allen Hynek, we have a way out of this impasse. In his April 30, 1949 review of the cases inherited from Sign by Project Grudge, he noted the similarity of Rhodes’ photos to the drawings made by Kenneth Arnold (Incident #17). Hynek refers to the Rhodes case as “being one of the most crucial in the history of these objects”, but doesn’t say why. It is a reasonable guess it is due to its association to Incident #17. It doesn’t appear Hynek was aware that the connection between the Rhodes photos and the Arnold case had already been made in 1947 by A-2 Intelligence at Hamilton Field and its CIC Special Agents Brown and Davidson; that Brown and Davidson drew the Rhodes object for Arnold while in Tacoma investigating Maury Island; that Lt Colonel Donald L. Springer, A-2, Hamilton had either personally given, or authorized giving, prints of the Rhodes photos to Arnold. That Arnold did receive these, at the time, Top Secret materials is proved by his publishing the photos in 1950. One of them is of a crop that would only appear once and only in an AF Top Secret document, the 1948 version of the Analysis of Flying Object Incidents in the US.

Hynek concluded:

“There remains the strong possibility that the entire incident is spurious, and the invention of an excitable mind. This strengthens the need for reinvestigation; if spurious, this fact should be highlighted and even publicized, to quench the enthusiasm for the irresponsible reporting of “saucers” and like objects.”

There is one thing that is obvious, neither Lt Colonel Clingerman, nor the CIC wanted a “reinvestigation”, and so they cooked up an investigation of a false trail Clingerman provided — doubly false because Clingerman knew it was false. But I’ve already identified that. It leads nowhere but to question why it was done, and there is no answer in the documents.

The question at hand is: why did Hynek pick on Rhodes? Why not Arnold, if you want some anti-saucer publicity? By 1949 Rhodes was as unknown as he had been before his photos, which in fact had hardly been in the news except locally, while Kenneth Arnold was the international poster boy of the flying saucer wave, then as now. Bring down Arnold in public, in the press — now that might have quenched some enthusiasm in 1949

Thus, there is more documentation in the Rhodes case to be found in the Maury Island case files, and in a review of Incident #17, Mt Ranier, the case that started the 1947 Wave in the first place. A work study of the Kenneth Arnold cases will be assayed after completing When Rumor Became Reality.


We have two lineages of news stories, the UP and AP versions, which can be compared. Both services published chronologies of their stories, and Frank Joyce at Roswell radio station KGFL preserved a few UP telexes with date stamps. That is our documentation, which, over a period of about seven hours, was provided to the press in five courses: 1: the noon announcement, 2: the RAAF press release, 3: Sheriff Wilcox’ statement, 4: the Ft Worth statement comprising the statements of General Ramey, WO Irving Newton, and Major Marcel, and 5: Mac Brazel’s statement. Functioning something like a control group, we also have the local Roswell newspaper stories, and a few contemporary commentaries such as a story by the SF Examiner’s Dick Pearce, and one of Senator Johnson, from Colorado, who called the Denver Post with comments about the Roswell story (Thanks to David Rudiak for finding these stories).

Laying out the chronologies of the AP and UP and the time stamps of the telexes we can develop a chronology. The problem with news stories is the genre requires anachronism. For example, a Phase I or II news story will have a “rancher” and a “ranch”, but from Phase III on the stories will have a rancher, named W. W. Brazel, and a ranch, named “J. B. Foster”. Due to the genre, in which developing and updating the story is sui generis, one must be alert to anachronisms like this from the UP wrap up:

“The excitement ran through this cycle: 1. Lt. Warren Haught, public relations officer at the Roswell base, released a statement in the name of Col. William Blanchard, base commander. It said that an object described as a “flying disc” was found on the nearby Foster ranch 3 weeks ago by W.W. Brazel and been sent to “higher officials” for examination.”

None of that is true, but in another sense it is not false, either.

Thus, in working with news stories it is necessary to determine whether or not they are anachronistic and to account for it if they are. One must be aware that many news stories are collations of excerpts pulled from the wires and from previous stories which create a chronology that includes anachronistic elements. One must be aware of and account for the repetitions and errors, as well.

Don — 02/27/2013