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Media: Explained Phenomena

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George Knapp
Photography by Anthony Mair

With Mystery Wire, longtime journalist George Knapp builds on his own work to create the ‘world’s largest archive’ of solid information about the unexplained

George Knapp has been hearing the jokes for years. His reports for KLAS Channel 8 on unidentified flying objects, cattle mutilations, crop circles, and Area 51 have generated scores of smirking critics spouting quips about little green men.

Knapp tries to be good-natured about it. He can do this in part because he’s received plenty of accolades from his colleagues. He has won more awards — and more prestigious ones — for his investigative reporting than any other Las Vegas television journalist. Ever.

Despite his thick skin, Knapp can’t help but feel a little aggrieved by those who diminish his work, considering how much time and effort he has put into developing reluctant sources, filing Freedom of Information Act requests, and cobbling tidbits of information into coherent narratives. Sometimes, a story took several years of work before it ended up on TV.

“It’s not my religion,” Knapp says of his pursuit of hard-to-explain phenomena. “It’s a news story.”

This is what it’s really about: Knapp doesn’t like secrets — especially secrets kept by the government. He’s curious about what’s in that secret file, what’s going on behind that guarded gate. He wants to know what the authorities aren’t telling us.

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This is the foundation of Knapp’s work over the past four decades. At its core, it’s not about aliens or paranormal activity. It’s about asking this question: If all this is just fanciful nonsense, why has the government spent untold millions of taxpayer dollars on investigations and experiments, and tried to keep it all secret?

Bob Stoldal, who was news director at Channel 8 for many years, says Knapp possesses “a heavy dose of courage,” as exemplified by his stories taking on the mob, local politicians — and Area 51. These are stories “that other journalists wouldn’t touch,” Stoldal says.

Consider what may be the signature achievement of Knapp’s career thus far: His relentless investigative reports literally put Area 51 on the map. The government refused to even acknowledge the air base’s existence until Knapp’s reporting made it absurd to keep up the charade. Today, practically everyone has heard of Area 51.

After many years of full-time investigative reporting, Knapp recently transitioned into a new role at Channel 8. He’s now in charge of a project called Mystery Wire (mysterywire.com), a web archive of Knapp’s greatest hits — his nine-part 1989 series on Area 51, his reports on cutting-edge space technology, his revelations about the Kennedy assassination and the murder of Jimmy Hoffa, and much more. He’s resurrecting entire interviews, rather than the snippets incorporated into three-minute reports for the 6 o’clock news.

Knapp describes Mystery Wire as the “world’s largest archive of journalistically vetted news stories, interviews, and special investigations into unusual subjects that might otherwise be overlooked.”

In addition to the archival footage, Knapp is producing fresh material for Mystery Wire. The site also curates news from around the world on paranormal, space science, and true crime topics.

If Mystery Wire were limited to the work Knapp has produced for Channel 8 and marketed locally, it would be interesting enough. But this project has much bigger ambitions. KLAS is owned by Nexstar Media Group, which owns 197 stations across the United States. Mystery Wire eventually will tap into the resources of all those stations, which include WGN in Chicago, KTLA in Los Angeles, and WPHL in Philadelphia. Knapp’s reports will air in markets representing more than 60 percent of U.S. television households.

“I’m thrilled to death about the reach of this thing once it’s fully up and running,” Knapp says.

For Knapp, a turning point came in December 2017, when the ultimate mainstream news organization, the New York Times, published a front-page article exposing a secret Pentagon study of UFOs. After 30 years of reporting on these topics, Knapp takes pleasure in the fact that he’s no longer a lone wolf.

“It is satisfying to see the rest of the world coming around to take a look at this stuff,” Knapp says. “Every major news organization in the world is covering this now.”

Geoff Schumacher is the vice president of exhibits and programs for The Mob Museum.

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