Thursday, Dec. 09, 2010

The Mystery Missile That Wasn't

It was the supposed missile launch that no one could explain — just the kind of videotaped mystery that cable news programmers crave. In early November, a television news crew captured footage of what appeared to be a sunset missile launch off the coast of California, as an object slowly ascended from the ocean to the sky, leaving a vapor trail behind. Within hours, the footage had been picked up by every major news network, spawning not only dozens of conspiracy theories but also a string of confused government officials, all claiming that nothing unusual had taken place. In a rush to report before all the facts were in — call in the 2010 variation on 2009's "Balloon Boy" fiasco — the cable news networks ran with the mystery for a solid day, until someone talked to an expert and discovered that it was most likely an optical illusion created by the setting sun. It wasn't something shooting upward, just something high in the sky streaking northeast. And as quickly as the mystery missile arrived on the scene, threatening our national security and the American way of life, it was set aside and laughed away.