The "Transformation" of Whitley Strieber

by Robert Sheaffer


(from the November, 1988 issue of BASIS, the The Bay Area Skeptics newsletter)

On September 21, 1988, viewers of the popular daytime television show "People Are Talking" on KPIX, Channel 5, in San Francisco saw an amazing thing. Whitley Strieber, author of such popular works of fiction as "The Wolfen", and "The Hunger", as well as the best-selling and supposedly true accounts of humanoid visitation in "Communion" an "Transformation", indignantly refused to let the hosts of the show do any promotion of his latest book! No doubt the viewers of that show are still scratching their heads about such inexplicable behavior on the part of a guest doing a book promotion tour. As the other guest on that show, the one who was all but ignored by the hosts, let me explain why that strange scene happened.

You see, forty-five minutes before air time, I arrived at the studio and was escorted to the Green Room, where guests are groomed and prepared. There I came upon Whitley Strieber in the midst of a world-class temper tantrum. He was indignantly refusing to go on! He apparently expected to be the only guest, and to have an entire hour to expound his fantasies about the humanoid "visitors" who are said to be lavishing their unwanted attention on him, unchallenged and unquestioned. I later found out that while he had left instructions with those arranging the tour that under no circumstances would he appear on any show with Philip J. Klass, he had not ruled out - at least to them - appearing with some other skeptic. The producer of "People Are Talking," Karen Stevenson, a young woman of great firmness and tact, was sitting there quietly enduring Whitley's verbal assaults. "I don't know who this man is," complained Streiber, "and I don't know what he will say!" Apparently he expects all opposing opinions to be cleared in advance! Karen firmly repeated that she had made all arrangements with his publisher, and with his publicist, in accordance with their instructions, and they had raised no objections. The young woman representing his publicist sat there quietly and somewhat nervously, obviously wishing she were somewhere else.

Whitley continued his tirade. Pointing to me, he shouted "that man is going to go on and challenge my mental health. He's going to call me crazy! He's with that CSICOP, they're just as nuts as those new-age people. They have a religion of disbelief." In his short tirade against the skeptics, who he says are in the habit of calling anyone who disagrees with them crazy, Strieber called us "nuts" or "crazy" three times. I pointed out the irony of this, but it was clear from the reaction of all involved that the best thing I could say at this point was nothing. I kept silent for a while, enabling him to resume his tirade. He had received long letters from Philip J. Klass of CSICOP, he said, that were "crazy," and made no sense at all. He also charged that the hosts of the show were bound to misrepresent his experiences by saying that they are alien visitors, while he has never claimed to know whether or not "the visitors" are extraterrestrial. Those people who claim alien encounters are just as crazy as CSICOP, he charged.

Streiber also claimed to be upset about the previous time he was on the show. Karen recalled that it had gone very well, but Strieber insisted it was a "stupid" show. She suggested that he was perhaps confusing it with a show in some other city called "People Are Talking," of which there are several. No, he insisted, he remembered it perfectly. The audience at this show was "stupid", they asked "stupid" questions, and they accused him of being crazy. "I don't need your show," he continued, "your stupid show! My book ("Transformation") is number four on the Best-Seller list. I don't need to do these shows! I'm getting so fed up with going on shows and having everyone laugh at me!"

Karen emphasised that a live show would be starting very soon, on which he had agreed to appear, and that he must meet his commitments. But Whitley still refused to go out and appear or debate with me. "Let him go on first. I'll just do the final segment. And DON'T mention my book! I don't want you to mention my book at all if he is going to be criticising it!" Karen once again reaffirmed that he had made a commitment. Then Strieber must have realized that he couldn't win this battle. He gradually decreased his level of objection, the bluster slowly fading as it became clear that he was not going to be able to keep me off the show. "All right," said Whitley, "I will go on - but I WON'T LIKE IT!" The magnitude of that threat stunned all who were present. "And I'll never come back!"

At this point we broke to get on our makeup. The assistant director of the show, Lisa Tatum, had arrived in the doorway of the Green Room a few minutes earlier, standing there silently in obvious bewilderment. Karen excused herself to go talk to the hosts of the show. The makeup man, who had been listening to all this from the adjoining room, expressed bewilderment to me about Whitley's behavior as he applied a light coat of powder to my face. Returning to the Green Room, in the few minutes remaining before air time, I attempted to engage Whitley in a substantive discussion, to disarm his hostility. I succeeded to a small extent. He objected mightily to CSICOP and everything it stands for, displaying an extreme hostility to science as well. To him, both CSICOP and the "new agers" are "fascists", because they both seek to break down the individual.

We went on stage at this point, got our microphones on, and waited for the show to begin. Whitley said nothing, and still was refusing to allow the hosts to mention the name of the book he came to promote, or to show its cover. We came on camera, and as I expected, the early minutes of the show were entirely his, to tell his stories of things that go "bump" in the night, things that allegedly come into his bedroom, carry him up somewhere into the sky, and poke needles into his skull and nose to implant probes. He neglected to describe at least on the air, how the beings allegedly inserted a long, cylindrical probe up his rectum, or how the female humanoid was very interested in his penis, as was recounted in "Communion." The situation must have seemed at least a little odd to the viewers: here is a guest with many weird tales to tell, but apparently without any book in which it is told!

I expected to be given a similar amount of time to question the plausibility and substance of such claims, but I had only the briefest opportunity to respond. The two hosts then took the show to the audience for questions - previewed by them - all of which except one were directed to Strieber. It became clear that I was never going to get the time to speak I was expecting. I tried interrupting a few times, but after speaking only a few words, the hosts moved on to something else. Clearly, some kind of "arrangement" had been made, keeping my time to the absolute minimum, probably because they feared that Strieber might walk off the set. One questioner asked if Strieber had attempted to trap, or photograph the visitors. Indeed he had, he replied, using video cameras, still cameras, and other devices. Unfortunately, something always goes wrong with the attempt, such as the camera batteries going dead; "the visitors" seem to possess the ability to thwart all attempts to document their presence! I was dumbfounded by a question directed to me by co- host Ross McGowen, as he worked the audience: "you DO believe that men have landed on the moon, don't you?" Apparently Whitley had succeeded in "selling", at least to the show's staff, his notion that to question his visions of "the visitors" was as perversely blind as those who insist that the space program is a fraud! I responded that 99.9 percent of the scientific community do not accept accounts of the kind Strieber relates.

During the commercial break before one of the final segments, Karen dashed out onto the set to ask Strieber if he wanted his book to be "promo-ed". "NO!", he flatly replied. I said that I would like to have MY book, The UFO Verdict, "promo-ed". Whitley said, still annoyed, "Yes, go promo HIS book!" This was done, briefly. In the final fifteen seconds of the show, Ross asked Strieber from across the room if he wanted to mention his book. "NO!", Whitley snarled, then paused, and sheepishly muttered, "it's Transformation." Within seconds of going off the air, Strieber had left the studio. The 'Prima Donna' was still furious.

In the final analysis, Strieber's visions of "the visitors" undoubtedly have more to do with religion and psychology than they do with anything extraterrestrial. Strieber is far from the first person in history to experience visions of bizarre beings, and then become transformed into a tireless evangelist seeking to convince the world that they are real. Many religions were founded in precisely this manner; indeed, the very titles he has chosen for these books about "the visitors" places them firmly in the realm of religion. There seems little room for doubt that Strieber firmly believes what he is saying. There is also not the slightest bit of physical evidence that any of it is true. But truth has never been a necessary element for making a nonfiction book a success, as we see from the 1987 success of "Communion" as a #1 Best-Seller, and "Transformation" now seems headed toward similar success. As skeptics, this will not surprise us, but as citizens concerned about the future of education and rational thought, it gives us reasons for grave concern.



from "The Communion Letter"

Whitley Strieber's cover letter from the Spring Issue, 1991; Volume 3, No. 1.

Dear Reader:

I would like to thank you for your patronage of the Communion Letter. Your subscription ends with this issue, and we are not taking new subscriptions or renewals. A list of available back issues is printed on the reverse of this letter for those who may be interested in collecting.

I had always intended to run the newsletter about two years, and that amount of time has now passed. During this period the Communion Letter has gained a large circulation and, I believe, published some remarkable articles.

But all good things must come to an end. I am not a UFO researcher and do not wish to endure the continued media attack that is associated with being involved in this field. In addition, the so-called "UFO-ologists" are probably the cruellest, nastiest and craziest people I have ever encountered. Their interpretation of the visitor experience is rubbish from beginning to end. The "abduction reports" that they generate are not real. They are artifacts of hypnosis and cultural conditioning.

What we are experiencing is a perceptual anomaly that is sufficiently ambiguous and intense that it demands explanation. It is something that human beings have been experiencing for a long time. It is the cause of religion, of mythology, of folklore. Presently it is the cause of the "alien abduction" belief.

What is *really* behind our experiences? We are. This is a human thing. However, I would also say that it indicates that we--and our world--are vastly different, and far more strange, than we have ever dreamed, or dared imagine.

With that I leave you.



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