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TV Skeptic: 'Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files' looks at the real 'Battle of L.A.'

What a night. Feb. 25, 1942. It was just weeks after Pearl Harbor and a day after a Japanese submarine had shelled Santa Barbara's oil fields. The West Coast was on alert and there were reports of aircraft approaching Los Angeles. The city was under blackout and the night sky was lighted by dozens of searchlights.

And then the shooting started. The incident became known as “The Battle of Los Angeles” and it has inspired books, movies and most recently the opening segment of the season premiere of “Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files,” airing Wednesday at 10 p.m. on Syfy.

This episode examines what UFO experts believe is photographic evidence that aliens visited Los Angeles on that night in 1942. The show is filled with laughs and surprises, both intentional and not, and in the end reveals more about those who investigate the paranormal, than about any supernatural or alien presence. 

No one knows what, if anything, the GIs saw in the early morning hours when their antiaircraft batteries opened fire. And after more than 1,000 antiaircraft and .50-caliber machine gun rounds were expended, there was no evidence that they had hit any targets. A single moment of the incident was preserved in a dramatic photo that ran in the next day’s Los Angeles Times, the image of several searchlight beams converged on a single point in the night sky above Culver City. Over the years that photo became legend among UFO-ologists who maintain the searchlights were trained on an alien spaceship, and that the photo is evidence of an extra-terrestrial visitation.


Enter “Fact or Faked.” In each episode the series investigates evidence of the paranormal and it’s the L.A. Times photo that the team dissects and recreates. The show is a part of the paranormal/supernatural-investigation subgenre that has cropped up on cable television over the last few years, which includes “Ghost Hunters,” “Destination Truth,” “Ghost Adventures,” “Ghost Hunters International” and a few others. Each promises to take a skeptical approach in its investigations and to rely on science to confirm or disprove paranormal claims. So far not one has been able to consistently keep that promise.

The series’ investigative team is lead by Ben Hansen, identified as a former FBI special agent. (In an interview, Hansen said he could not go into how long he worked as a special agent. He also said he had worked for a number of other government agencies. The FBI confirmed that Hansen was employed at Quantico, Va., where special agents are trained, but was not listed as assigned to any cases or a field office). Other team members are identified as a scientist (Bill Murphy), a journalist (Jael De Pardo), a photographer (Chi-Lan Lieu), a tech expert (Devin Marble) and a stuntman (Austin Porter). 

Their investigation of the image begins with a close examination of what looks like an object, illuminated by the searchlights in the photo. Could it be a weather balloon, a barrage balloon, a visual artifact created by the convergence of the searchlights, or is it some kind of flying saucer?

As reported by Los Angeles Times bloggers Scott Harrison and Larry Harnisch, the version of the photo that ran in the paper in 1942 had been retouched in ways that would not be acceptable today. The skyline was darkened with ink; paint (similar to correction fluid) was used to brighten searchlight beams and to turn lens flare dots into antiaircraft bursts. The part of the image identified by UFO experts as an alien spacecraft was shaped by drops of paint on the print.

With that in mind, the show’s investigation of this photo becomes rather amusing. The team heads out to the desert with searchlights, weather balloons, machine guns and grenade launchers in an attempt to determine if they could create the same kind of bulbous shape on a photograph. And darned, if they didn’t do it. 


As much fun as shooting those big guns in the desert must have been, the entire episode is a bit disturbing, in that so little was done in the way of research. Hansen said that he had spoken to someone who had seen the negative, and knew that the photo had been altered, but that the negative wasn’t available.

Et-li2pkcnc-mar23 The original negative has been safely ensconced in the UCLA Archives for years.

In an interview, Simon Elliott of the Department of Special Collections at UCLA’s Charles E. Young Research Library said any researcher could have requested the negative at any time.

The show missed a real opportunity with the Battle of Los Angeles segment. Bright lights and explosions probably make better television than visiting libraries, requesting photos and doing minimal research. The show with “Fact or Faked” in its title missed its chance to show that a key piece of historic UFO evidence was “faked” (the handiwork of a newspaper photo editor). Like the soldiers stationed around the city in 1942, the show simply took wild shots in the dark, both figuratively and literally. Rather than solve the mystery, "Fact or Faked" helped perpetuate it. 

-- Ed Stockly

Photos: (from top) A scan of the heavily retouched photo that ran in the Los Angeles Times in 1942. Credit: Los Angeles Times

A photo of the re-creation undertaken by "Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files." Credit: Syfy

A scan made from the unretouched negative. Credit: Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive / UCLA

Comments () | Archives (7)

Although the above image was used to promote the new film Battle: Los Angeles – in print and in the original teaser/trailer – the image is not shown, nor is any mention made of the 1942 event, in the film itself.

Less than one month after the "battle," 10,000 Japanese-Americans began arriving at the Manzanar Relocation Center.

Even though we are very distant in regards of the credulity of the BATTLE L.A. incident was or not a REAL ufo. I agree with you the SYFY FACT OR FAKED program proved nothing and they showed littel in regards as to real research of what actualy happend on the night of Feb 25, 1942. There are 2 key pieces of evidence that was not even mentioned by these so-called "expert investigators" They did not check with the actual U.S.Army 37th Field Artillery Brigade Unit files or that there are still living soldiers that were present that night to verify the mission even taking place. And also investigating the 6 deaths from the shrapnel BOUNCING off the ufo that occured that night from the more than 1500 rounds that were fired into the "WEATHER BALLOON" or real UFO?. These deaths could have been verified with the L.A. coronors files. And or the familys of the deceased could have been interviewed? These two significant FACTS were not mentioned.

what is most interesting is that the retouched photos and photo scanned from the original negative both show that there is occlusion of the search light beams. So at the altitude where the searchlight beams convergedthere was an object which occluded all of the searchlights. It is even more evident that this is so by comparing the photo scanned from the original negative to the desert reconstruction which shows no beam occlusion or cut off. There was a physical object which occluded the searchlight beams. A good photo analyst could with some knowledge of the searchlight units used and information on the beam dispersal and geometry of the searchlights arrive at a reasonable estimate of the size of the object which occluded the searchlight beams.

Here is a photoanalysis that was performed some time ago on the retouched photo by Dr. Bruce Macabee a physicist. Apparently at that time he thought it was "the photographic print obtained by Frank Warren which was made from the original negative." As this blog importantly notes the image which was analyzed was not a print made from the original negative; however, such would be possible now....

Dr. Macabee's analysis method still is worth reading as is his conclusion.


While I agree that they really didn’t prove a whole lot in this episode it was fun to watch (and I’m sure great to participate in). Really I just like to watch paranormal shows like Fact of Faked for the entertainment value, I try not to take any of it all that seriously. This was actually the first episode I got to watch in HD too. Being an employee of DISH Network I knew that going to high def would make a big different but I was still surprised by how drastic the change was. I absolutely love it and wish I had upgraded sooner and with DISH offering HD free for life for new and existing customers alike it’s a great time to upgrade.

I have a video of the sphear that the government has been working on for over 30+ years. This sphear is in the sky every night still to this day. This sphear when brought to a closer view is spectactacular. I will not post the video but if anybody wants to see it contact me.Where i live is the most spectacular place in the world and world renouned for true seacret government activity.Believe me or not makes no difference to me because i will never publish this video on my own.


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