It should have been one of 2017’s biggest stories. A week before Christmas, The New York Times reported that a secret Pentagon-run program had collected compelling evidence about possible extraterrestrial encounters with UFOs. (See Talking Points.) There was a first-hand account and video recording from a Navy pilot who flew behind a strange, lozenge-shaped “craft” that appeared to defy the laws of aerodynamics, and a claim that government contractors had built a warehouse in Nevada to store mysterious metal alloys recovered from UFO sites. The possibility—however small—that aliens might be zipping around the planet and leaving their trash behind should have triggered a flood of follow-up news stories: Was there a non-ET explanation for these encounters? Should we treat the UFOs as a threat? What else is the government hiding? Yet the revelations were greeted mostly with a shrug, and after a brief flurry of stories, news organizations were sucked back into the enormous gravity field of the Trump presidency—a black hole that swallows nearly all news coverage.
Extraterrestrials weren’t alone in being cheated of their moment in the spotlight. Last year, scores of important stories got lost amid the high drama of White House feuds and firings, Trump’s tweet storms, and the Russia investigation. The fall of ISIS’ self-declared caliphate, the massacre of 58 concertgoers by a gunman in Las Vegas, the murder of 26 people at a Texas church, and the genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar would have dominated the headlines for weeks in the pre-Trump era. But those events were quickly forgotten after about a week of coverage. We’re only one week into the New Year, but Trump is already ruling the news with his Twitter attacks on North Korea, Pakistan, and Democratic rivals. So if any publicity-hungry aliens are reading, you might want to wait until at least 2020 before announcing your existence.