Over a year has passed since The History Channel suffered one of the highest-profile blows to its credibility in, well, the history of the channel.
On July 9, 2017, History premiered an “investigative special” titled Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence, which claimed to have discovered—after an exhaustive search by a team of world-class researchers, including retired federal agent Les Kinney and forensic analysts Kent Gibson and Doug Carner—photographic evidence that Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan survived their 1937 disappearance and were rescued by the Japanese military in the Marshall Islands. An ambiguous, poor-quality “smoking gun” photo was claimed to show both aviators on a dock and the wreckage of their plane in the background.
Doubts were raised before the show aired and quickly escalated afterward. The photograph, as it turns out, was published in a 1935 Japanese-language travelogue about islands of the South Pacific. Japanese blogger Kota Yamano found the book in less than an hour after searching Japan’s national library using the term Jaluit Atoll, the location featured in the photograph. Displaying keen investigative acumen, Yamano said in an interview “I find it strange that the documentary makers didn’t confirm the date of the photograph or the publication in which it originally appeared. That’s the first thing they should have done.”
In the wake of the devastating debunking, requests for additional clarification were not returned. In a July 11, 2017, statement, the History Channel said that it has a team of investigators “exploring the latest developments about Amelia Earhart” and promised transparency in their findings, concluding that “Ultimately historical accuracy is most important to us and our viewers.” No winking smiley face icon followed, which suggests that the comment was not intended ironically.
Over a year has now passed, and apparently the History Channel’s crack team of investigators still hasn’t been able to figure out how exactly their research and program went so spectacularly off the rails into baseless conspiracy theory and pseudoscience. If they’d like some help, they can read my analysis of the fiasco (that appeared both online and in the November/December 2017 issue of this magazine)—or maybe they should just hire Yamano for an hour’s work. The History Channel did not respond to a request for an update on its flawed research into the photo’s provenance.