Alaskans are not amused

Since its founding in 1888, the National Geographic Society has built up an enormous amount of popular goodwill, thanks largely to the hard work and creativity of generations of writers, photographers, filmmakers, editors, designers, researchers, technicians, managers, and many others.

Yet the “brand equity” that took more than a century to create can evaporate in a flash.

Consider yet another episode from the National Geographic Channel, which is majority owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp….

In a recent column in the Alaska Dispatch titled “Does National Geographic’s ‘Alaska State Troopers’ Make state police look bad?,” Craig Medred writes:

A new season of “Alaska State Troopers” has started on cable TV, and as an Alaskan one can’t help but be embarrassed for the state police force. Actually, that’s probably an understatement. One should feel horribly embarrassed for the state police force, and even that might be an understatement: any rational Alaskan should find it hard to believe troopers really waste their time worrying about grizzly bears eating drunkards at the Girdwood Forest Fair.

And yet this is exactly what the National Geographic Channel depicts troopers doing as the network opens the third season of “Alaska State Troopers” with the episode “Alaska Mushroom Madness.”

It’s enough to make one wonder who, exactly, has been eating the ‘shrooms. …

Mr. Medred goes on to document the many ways that National Geographic has betrayed Alaska’s state police — and Alaskans themselves. He concludes:

And speaking of making things up, what happened to National Geographic anyway? The non-profit scientific, education and adventure society that founded National Geographic Magazine way back in 1888 used to be a bastion of journalistic integrity. Nowadays it feels compelled to mix Girdwood video with that of bears from far away, concocting outlandish bear dangers to increase its television market share? Talk about tarnishing a once-iconic brand. National Geographic should be as embarrassed of “Alaska State Troopers” as those wearing the uniform.

Sadly, that’s only the beginning. In the comments, other Alaskans are equally annoyed:

by Dawn Runs Amok | December 9, 2011 – 6:46pm

… Behind the cameras it was evident that the Troopers wanted to be anywhere else in AK that day. To film them essentially doing crowd control, and attempting to dramatize that, is a dishonor to the real and vital work they do in Alaska. 

by folksinging | December 9, 2011 – 10:52am

 … It drives me crazy to think that this show needs to dramatize the heroism of our troopers through making citizens look like buffoons and scofflaws. The brand they’re creating as a recruitment tool terrifies me, cause is thats the sort of out of state cop they want and actively recruit, I’m terrified. These troopers do not feel like long time alaskans with a sense of our state and values, the hardships…watching alaskans being busted on TV is where I draw the line, the troopers have funding from our tax dollars and they don’t need to further Palinize our states’ reputation by this shameless and douchee show.

by TheChemist | December 9, 2011 – 6:30am

If anyone wants to know what happened to the National Geographic; they became infected with the creeping rot of mediocrity. …

 by steveconn | December 8, 2011 – 1:24pm

… Performing for TV pollutes law enforcement. Ban it. 

by jo1 | December 8, 2011 – 9:23am

Gullible viewers tune in. It’s all about what sells.

by AlaskanMariner | December 8, 2011 – 7:57am


I with you on this. Especially wondering what happened to National Geographic. Maybe they’re just trying to subsidize their real work — funding research and educating the public through the magazine and web site.

But there is certainly a dearth of educational programing on NatGeo channel these days. And if you think AST is bad, there’s always the supernatural crap they broadcast.

“The National Geographic Society’s historical mission is “to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge while promoting the conservation of the world’s cultural, historical, and natural resources.”

Apparently that doesn’t apply to the TV channel or its programming.

Too bad.


by Skeptic | December 8, 2011 – 9:03am

National Geographic Society has never deserved as much respect as they’ve gotten. I like their magazine, but they’ve always had a bias towards presenting ordinary people as noble savages. A minor bias, perhaps, but pervasive.

Of course, it should be no surprise that when they start on shaky ground in terms of adherence to journalistic ethics and accuracy, their joint venture with FOX to develop a television channel is pretty disastrous.

I have nothing to say about film subsidies, but our troopers should have less than nothing to do with these guys.

All of which begs the question: Is Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp doing irreparable harm to National Geographic’s good name?

John Fahey, Chairman & CEO of the National Geographic Society

  • CastleMc

    I have grown to loathe National Geographic TV. It has almost nothing to do with science or ethics and everything to do with spectacle. Its one program after another featuring amateur “naturalists” who do foolish stunts, usually involving harassing wildlife for benefit of the camera-running after wild lions, swimming with sharks-whatever they can think of to push the envelope still further and get viewers…all the while modeling the worst kind of disrespectful behavior.

    • I feel your pain, CastleMc. What I keep wondering is: Does John Fahey have the power to change this abusive relationship with News Corp? If so, does he want to?

      Rupert Murdoch paid his money up front to have his way with Our Brand, and what you see on the Channel is the sad result of this media hook-up. I hear the income to NGS from the Channel is substantial. But as I’ve tried to document, the long-term costs to the Society — and our society — are immeasurably higher.

      Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.

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