Zahi Hawass & The Big Pivot

Remember in February, during the democracy uprising in Egypt, when Zahi Hawass (a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence) doubled down on Egypt’s then-President Hosni Mubarak? Hawass argued passionately and very publicly that Mubarak needed to remain in power for the good of the Egyptian people.

So much for that angle.

Today, meet New & Improved Zahi, who is attempting what we’re calling The Big Pivot — a change in direction so radical, and made so quickly, that it’s a miracle he isn’t wearing a neck brace to treat whiplash.

Perhaps the best part of his extreme makeover (see below) is the challenge that New Zahi effectively poses to the National Geographic Society.

By Steven Viney
Monday, April 25, 2011  – 14:54

News about Zahi Hawass — a clothing line, an arrest, cash rewards for the safe return of antiquities — changes daily. But before he was pinned for a shady real estate deal, Egypt’s minister of antiquities had been focusing on celebrating the revolution that has stirred up so much trouble for him by curating a 25 January exhibition.

The exhibition will feature the work of several Egyptian contemporary artists in various media in order to reflect their views on the recent revolution. The art will be accompanied by a collection of photographs showing Tahrir Square and various revolution demonstrations, and will travel the globe as Hawass’ Tutankhamen and the Pharaohs exhibition did.

“For 5,000 years Egypt was ruled, until 25 January, by a pharaoh,” Hawass told Al-Masry Al-Youm. “It is a huge change in our history, and this exhibit will present the world with the new Egypt.” …

Though still in its embryonic stages, the exhibition is intended to start in Cairo, and travel through at least 10 European countries.

“I have already received many letters from countries — including Italy, Belgium and Spain — who are very interested to host this exhibition,” said Hawass. “It confirms my belief that the face of Egypt is changing, and people are interested to see it.”

The Tutankhamen and the Pharaohs exhibition stands in stark contrast to the subject material of the 25 January exhibition — a fact that Hawass is very excited about.

“Egypt has finally broken free from the prejudice that modern Egypt is the same as ancient Egypt. When people think of Egypt now, they will no longer only be thinking about camels and pyramids. Instead they will think about democracy, freedom and how the Egyptian people really feel – so for me it was obvious that the next exhibition should show it to them.” …

This revolution is now just as important to Egyptian history as Tutankhamen. Tahrir square is now extremely iconic of modern times in Egyptian history. To not include it would be a very poor recording of history on my part.”

Again: The democracy uprising is “as important to Egyptian history as Tutankhamen.” This from King Tut’s PR guy.

What do you make of that, John Fahey? Quite a statement, don’t you think?

Why doesn’t National Geographic — long gripped by Pharoah Phever — follow Zahi’s lead, and unleash its ample resources to cover “democracy, freedom and how the Egyptian people really feel”?

Imagine: We launch a huge Society-wide Democracy & Freedom tentpole that incorporates Zahi’s new exhibition, which we could bring to National Geographic headquarters in Washington, DC. Publish a special issue of National Geographic magazine about democracy uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa. Produce a major, hi-def, multi-part documentary series — sort of like Great Migrations, but interesting this time. You know, so people will actually watch the show and buy the companion coffee table book.

To make it easy for you, John, we’ve already cut the trailer.

This could be huge, John. This could be the moment that National Geographic turns the corner. This could be your Big Pivot to establish a NGS legacy that will make you, your children, and your grandchildren proud.

Otherwise, you may well be remembered as the guy who put National Geographic’s good name on air freshener and bedroom furniture… who used our Society to embolden thugs and dictators… and who sold our Society’s brand equity to Rupert Murdoch, who continues to trash our reputation by producing shows that make us all cringe.

You’re a better man than that.

Dear John,
Is it time for your Big Pivot?

BREAKING: Chris Morgan appointed EVP for Story Development @ the National Geographic Channel

According to our sources, Chris will be joining the Channel’s executive team in early July. He’ll be working out of Nat Geo’s new west coast office, where he’ll collaborate with another new hire & programming visionary, David Lyle.

{ satire }

News Corp is the majority owner of the National Geographic Channel, but our Society still maintains complete editorial control… uh, right, Maryanne?

Not only is Michael Rosenfelddeparting,” but Steve Burns was recently seen “exiting.” Both have long histories with National Geographic.


The National Geographic Channel (which is majority owned by News Corp) recently tapped David Lyle to lead its new West Coast office. Lyle is the former president of the Fox Reality Channel.

“David knows what makes good reality television and how to satisfy its audience’s desire for more,” Tony Vinciquerra, CEO of Fox Networks Group, told Variety in 2007. “He’s done an outstanding job launching this network and helping to make it grow.”

One of Mr. Lyle’s programming moves: Bringing the U.K. reality series There’s Something About Miriam to the States. The plot: A group of young guys compete to win the affections of the beautiful Miriam. The big secret (which the guys don’t discover until the very end): Miriam is a transsexual.

Prior to the show’s U.S. launch, David Lyle — an Australian ex-pat — told Variety: “I look forward to unleashing that on the American public.

Contestants in the U.K. version of There’s Something About Miriam took legal action against Sky One.

“The screening of the show was postponed due to an injunction having been obtained by the show’s participants. It was lifted after substantial out of court payments had been made to compensate for their considerable humiliation.”

David Lyle, formerly with Fox, will soon be unleashing new programming for the National Geographic Channel.


Your thoughts, John?


Perhaps the hoopla comes later.

April 26, 2011

Our marching orders from Beijing

Apr 26, 2011
9:25 AM EDT

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate NGM's new publishing partnership in the People's Republic of China. (2007)

Any thoughts, John?

UPDATE: NG & ScienceBlogs conference call

Retraction Watch has obtained a recording of a conference call between National Geographic executives, ScienceBlogs management, and ScienceBloggers.

The takeaway: National Geographic will assume control of operations, editorial content, and ad sales by June 1 of this year — although “ownership of the property remains with SEED media group.”

One amusing excerpt:

… Then there was a response to a question which probably explains the silence from Nat Geo and SEED on this deal so far. Here’s Ellen Stanley, of Nat Geo’s communications department, responding to a question from one  Scibling about how much of the call he could blog:

We are asking everyone not to blog about this immediately because we have one chance to make hay of this announcement with outside media. And we want ot use that to our collective advantage with trade media as well as consumer media. We’re not quite ready. We will soon be able to encourage everyone to blog about it, but not yet.

Goldberg [Ross Goldberg, National Geographic Digital Media’s vice president for strategic development] added:

The optimal moment is when National Geographic’s brand appears on the website. We will communicate when that’s about to happen. That will get the attention of the media.

But with all due respect: Trying to keep a secret among a group of bloggers and their dedicated following is, well, impossible. Which we were happy to demonstrate.

Read the whole thing here.

Buying Eyeballs

If this report is accurate, then it should be an interesting marriage — especially given ScienceBlogs experience with Pepsi, and National Geographic’s experience with… well, with all the brands that have successfully blown up the advertising-editorial divide at NGS.

As for all you ScienceBlog bloggers out there: Be sure to review Robert Stone’s short-lived blogging relationship with National Geographic. Sad to say, his NGS engagement didn’t have a happy ending.


UPDATE 26 April 2011, 8:30 am:
Check out this informative Storify, courtesy of Martin Robbins.

Words Create Worlds

Unfortunately, those words — human rights, freedom, justice, democracy — are words our Society no longer chooses to celebrate.

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate NGM's new publishing partnership in the People's Republic of China. (2007)


Dear John,
Do you ever worry
that you’ve put our Society
on the wrong side of history?

Tim Hetherington’s Vision

Tim Hetherington (left) and Sebastian Junger in Afghanistan in 2008. (via Vanity Fair)

Sebastian Junger remembers Tim Hetherington:

… After the war in Liberia you rented a house in the capital, and lived there for years. Years. Who does that? No one I know except you, my dear friend. That’s part of Misrata, too. That’s also part of what you died for: the decision to live a life that was thrown open to all the beauty and misery and ugliness and joy in the world. Before this last trip you told me that you wanted to make a film about the relationship between young men and violence. You had this idea that young men in combat act in ways that emulate images they’ve seen—movies, photographs—of other men in other wars, other battles. You had this idea of a feedback loop between the world of images and the world of men that continually reinforced and altered itself as one war inevitably replaced another in the long tragic grind of human affairs.

That was a fine idea, Tim—one of your very best. It was an idea that our world very much needs to understand. I don’t know if it was worth dying for—what is?—but it was certainly an idea worth devoting one’s life to. Which is what you did. What a vision you had, my friend. What a goddamned terrible, beautiful vision of things.

Filling In The Empty Balloon

Dear John,

Your virtual silence (no interviews, no op-eds, no public blog, no Tumblr, no Twitter) is gradually becoming your public image on the web.

See: Our empty balloon avatar for Dear John: Let’s Talk, which is already on page 1, line 2 of a Google image search for “john fahey national geographic” (above). Soon, it might well occupy the top spot.

Which reminds us: Would you be willing to sit down with us for an interview? Please let us know.


NO NEW POSTS will be published here after February 6, 2014. THIS IS WHY.