So the Air Force issues a 219-page report telling us - no kidding - what really happened near Roswell, N.M., 50 years ago.
Those things that looked like UFOs? Super-secret balloons to monitor Soviet atomic tests. Those things that look like aliens? Test dummies. The creature with the bulbous head and the slit eyes? A downed human pilot with a bad head injury.
"Case closed," the book cover says. But of course, it isn't. Not to thousands upon thousands of people who see no reason to believe what the Air Force tells them. Remember, this is the same Air Force that announced in the first place in 1947 that a flying disk had crashed, and then the next day said the shiny debris people had seen was from a downed weather balloon.
Now, I don't believe in UFOs, and I am not a conspiracy theorist. I'm one of those who believe that President Kennedy was killed with a single bullet, that Watergate was not a CIA plot, and that Oliver Stone's "Nixon" film was the product of a fevered imagination.
But how is anyone to believe a government that lies so often? The Roswell weather balloon reminded me of the U-2 spy plane downed in 1960 over the Soviet Union, which President Eisenhower announced was a weather plane off course. That is, until Premier Nikita Khrushchev produced a CIA pilot who had survived the crash.
President Johnson lied about the engagement with the North Vietnamese in the Tonkin Gulf, and President Reagan about supplying the Nicaraguan contras.
A particular form of top-level lie is called "plausible deniability," which is saying you didn't do it - and getting away with it. President Kennedy tried plausible deniability for the 1961 Cuban Bay of Pigs invasion. The lie fizzled along with the operation.
I GUESS there has always been lying in government, but it seems to me that in recent times it has become more frequent. And I'm sure that those who so routinely lie persuade themselves that it is only in the national interest.
And maybe sometimes it is. At Los Alamos, N.M., the government managed to keep the atom bomb project secret for years, except from the Russians. Now Air Force Col. John Haynes says of the Roswell report: "We can't even keep single secrets, so how could we keep secret a coverup?"
Well, colonel, you did. And you went on doing it long after the cold war was over. And so, if some people believe more in aliens than in you people, are you surprised?
* Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.