Monday, March 9, 2009

Fact Checking the UFO Hunters Episode

The recent Area 51 episode of UFO Hunters was fine entertainment, but let's make it clear: This was not journalism. It was never intended as journalism, so don't get your knickers in a bunch about factual accuracy. It's only a TV show, designed to appeal to a certain market and sell advertising.

Sadly, the roughly 2 million people who saw it might not perceive it that way. They may be duped by the "History Channel" label and think this some kind of National Geographic documentary. That's part of the big disjoint between Hollywood and the rest of the world. The Hollywood people know they're producing a cheesy consumer product to win market share, but the rest of the public still takes it seriously.

This is not your father's History Channel. Stodgy Civil War documentaries have been replaced by anything that sells—just like all the other cable channels.

I was happy enough to have a new Area 51 show produced after all these years. I enjoyed participating in the process and am kinda pleased to be a public figure again, but the "Area 51 Revealed" episode might have taken a liberty or two... or three or four. I'm not one to get stuck on little things like "truth", but some of my readers might be sticklers in this regard. Therefore I feel it is necessary to chronicle just a few of the "factual deviations" in the show.

Here are things I noticed on my single complete viewing of the show (in no particular order)...

1) The mystery light in the sky seeming to travel toward Area 51 could have been an alien craft, but it looks like a meteor to me. Traveling at enormous speed? Winking out before reaching the ground? Yup, that's what meteors do as they burn up upon entering the atmosphere. You see them almost every night in the dark desert skies, and if you set up cameras all night like UFO Hunters did, there's a high probability you'll catch one. (They are more common even than military flares.)

Remember: The name of the show is "UFO Hunters". That means that they have to find UFOs or suggestive evidence of them in every show. When a mystery light has the good grace to appear on camera, the producers aren't going to look too deeply into what it might be. It's a "unidentified", isn't it? Case closed.

2) According to Peter Merlin, the "new" hanger highlighted graphically on the show was the wrong one. The graphics were impressive, but they showed the wrong building.

Again, this is only going to be a problem for people who care about factual accuracy. In no way does it diminish the ratings numbers or impede the network's ability to sell advertising (the only standard of truth in show biz). You got issues with this? Welcome to "infotainment".

3) The presence of a new hangar at Area 51 in no way implies some kind of giant "black triangle" inside. It could be true I suppose, but I prefer my own theory that this so-called "hangar" is actually a brand new, top-secret Costco Warehouse Store. What evidence do I have of this? None whatsoever—i.e. the same evidence that UFO Hunters has for their Black Triangle theory.

4) The whole show was highly scripted beforehand and filmed out of sequence, just like a movie. Apart from the actual words spoken, nothing was spontaneous. In reality, we climbed Tikaboo Peak first, then after we came down, we filmed the starting-the-hike scene and the driving to the peak scene. In case it isn't obvious, there is no opportunity for real "investigation" when everything is choreographed in advance and the "conclusion" is filmed before the supposed research.

5) The F-15 seen by Mark Farmer and Pat Uskert at Mark's viewpoint is the sort of thing seen every day in that area. It is probably connected to the war games completely unrelated to Area 51. It is highly unlikely that the F-15 pilot had any awareness of the presence of the UFO Hunters crew.

Personally, I liked the show—so much so that I giggled and guffawed through the whole thing—but it was infotainment, not to be confused with real news. What was really memorable to me was the process of filming. It was the most complex production I have been involved in, and the off-screen expedition was for more interesting and challenging than the manufactured story that appeared on TV. I'm interested only in the dozen people I interacted with in the process, not the millions of couch potatoes who watched the show.

What was the effect on me of those two million viewers? Virtually nil. On my own Area 51-related websites I expected a surge of traffic after the show, but there was only a minor blip in interest—perhaps a couple hundred new surfers hitting the websites but not staying for long. Apparently the demographic is TV addicts serially watching one show after another who don't have the initiative even to click a mouse. So far I have not sold any Viewer's Guides or Area 51 tours as a result of the show (and my only pay for the filming was my standard $250/day guide fee). Still, it was a great experience!

If you don't like UFO Hunters or believe is biased in a certain direction, there really isn't anyone to blame or complain to. This is a corporate production where nearly everyone involved is beholden to someone more powerful than he. Everyone is just a cog in the machine doing their little part on the assembly line. I am proud to have been one of those cogs. I did my own job to the best of my ability, and I didn't say or do anything I was uncomfortable with. Beyond that, the finished product was out of my hands.

BTW: Here are some screen shots from the UFO Hunters episode.

(If you've found any other inaccuracies in the show that you would like me to add to this list, let me know, or add them as comments below.)

Also see my report on the UFO Hunters Tikaboo Death March.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Green River Tunnel?

Reader R.S. draws our attention to my mailing list posting of 11.5 years ago...
I just saw your blog that you went out and visited the Green River Complex. I also visited the area and was determined to find the supposed large open tunnel system [that you alluded to on your mailing list in 1997]...

The River Complex has a real intriguing ghost town atmosphere. You almost feel the ghosts of the past in each building. For me the trip out there was well worth it; however I felt that I never really had a chance to explore the entire complex (lack of time, sunlight, and directions). Given your recent photos and trip to the complex do you have anything further to add regarding the rumor of a large open tunnel system somewhere on the base?
I don't recall anything about the 1997 posting, but apparently someone sent it to me as an email and asked that their name not be used. Their actual name and email address is long lost (since I've been through many computer crashes since then).

While I spent only two hours superficially exploring the area near the freeway, the chance of anything especially secret near Green River is remote.

This is essentially public land now. There are still a few fenced-in compounds where no one has broken the lock yet, but the public has had the run of this place for three decades. There are no end of idle males with 4WDs who have explored every road-accessible corner of the American desert. (I was one of them once!) Any "open tunnel" would have been found and publicized long ago. There are no secrets on public land. That's not to say there aren't hidden gems out there, like these abandoned buildings of the missile complex, but nothing "big."

Heck, there could be secret tunnels anywhere, right below your feet even, but where the tunnels come to the surface, there have to be signs. If there's dirt, you have to haul it away and put it someplace, and if there are human workers, you have to have some reliable way to keep them quiet. That pretty much limits the prospects to actively guarded military installations, and at Green River there aren't any.

The West, in fact, is riddled with tunnels. They are called "mines" and there are abandoned ones everywhere. If you search hard enough, you can usually find some old timer who remembers working at any specific mine. There is never any significant secrecy attached to these facilities, so news of anything interesting would certainly spread to the wider community.

The community of Green River is miles from anywhere with NOTHING TO DO. What people in towns like this do for amusement is explore every corner of the desert around them. If there were anything remotely interesting in the hills, I am sure that someone from Green River itself would have found it and posted it on the internet.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Photos from Green River (The "New Area 51")

Yesterday, I visited the Green River Missile Complex in Utah (identified by Popular Mechanics a decade ago as the "new Area 51"). Here is my photo album (in 2 parts)...

I may write a field trip report later.