Clinton Publicly Discussed Area 51 Eight Years Before Obama Joked About It

Monday, December 9, 2013 | 9:08 PM

December 9, 2013 - The media today is busy claiming that Barack Obama is the first president to publicly mention Area 51. Lazy reporters and lazy editors let this story go out, but is it true? Sort of, but technically no.

Image source: Weekly World News
Obama joked about Area 51 during a tribute to actress Shirley MacLaine at a reception last night (Sunday, Dec. 8) to honor recipients of Kennedy Center Honors. MacLaine was one of the honorees. Obama referred to Area 51 by saying that newly elected presidents are asked "what's really going on in Area 51?"

Area 51 is a secretive military facility at dry Groom Lake in Lincoln County, Nevada (map). It's been rumored for decades that the military keeps UFOs and even extraterrestrials at Area 51. Also called Homey Airport, it is officially part of Edwards Air Force Base.

"When I wanted to know, I'd call Shirley MacLaine," Obama joked. MacLaine is known for her deep interest in the paranormal, including the possibility of UFOs and extraterrestrial visitations. She writes about it on her website. "I think I just became the first President to ever publicly mention Area 51," Obama added. 

The media ran with it. Bloggers ran with it. Some treated Obama's mention of Area 51 as though a great state secret had just been revealed. PBS ran a story today with this misleading headline: "The Secret's Out: Obama Acknowledges Existence Of Area 51."

But Obama revealed no secrets at the Kennedy Center on Sunday night, and the PBS story even noted that the CIA "confirmed the existence of Area 51, officially known as the Nevada Test and Training Range and Groom Lake" this past August.

"Mr. Obama did mention Area 51 - but said not a word about the kind of work that goes on there," wrote Knoller, "It's still highly classified." He got that wrong: As noted above, CIA admits it exists. In fact, a 1992 CIA report was declassified in August, 2013. That report not only mentioned Area 51, it even said where it is.  

Obama may be the first sitting president to publicly mention Area 51, he is not the first president to do so.

Former President Bill Clinton discussed Area 51 in 2005 during a public question-and-answer session in Hong Kong, and you can watch that video here.

Mark Knoller at CBS News wrote an article titled "Is Obama really the first president to publicly mention Area 51?" Knoller wrote, "President Obama was right Sunday when he said he was likely the first U.S. president ever to make public mention of Area 51 - the off-limits military base near Groom Lake, Nev., at which top secret and sometimes mysterious and suspicious activities are carried out."

Knoller was technically incorrect to say Obama was right. But I give Knoller credit because, unlike most of the mainstream media - and far too many bloggers - he at least questioned the veracity of Obama's tongue-in-cheek claim to be the first president to publicly mention Area 51. Knoller mentioned Clinton three times in his article, he somehow missed Clinton's 2005 Hong Kong mention of Area 51. Maybe he was unaware of that, or maybe he chose to ignore because Clinton was no longer a sitting president in 2005. But the last time I checked, former US presidents retain the title of "President" after they leave office.

All in all, it was a fluffy, fun and insignificant thing that Obama said. It was, admittedly, funny. At least he didn't threaten to invade Area 51 as President Dwight Eisenhower is said to have done.

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