In the past, stories about black projects, such as the U2 spy plane, the SR-71, stealth aircraft, and the back engineering of Russian MiGs, mentioned this sort of work being done somewhere in the Nevada desert, but were not specific. The first article I could find that actually mentions the name Area 51 is in the tabloid, Weekly World News, from 1980. The article is about the work of two Las Vegas reporters, Ned Day of the Las Vegas Valley Times, and Bob Stodal of KLAS TV. They say that, like Jacobsen but many years earlier, they too had interviewed employees from the base.
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Of course the idea that this secret unacknowledged base was working on projects so sensitive that they were above the law even further solidified the belief that there could be extraterrestrial craft being locked up out there. This affair added to the ominous reputation of the base, and further entrenched it into the bedrock of American mythology.