National Geographic’s homegrown Mafia: “You come after my family, I’m coming after yours.”

TO: John Fahey, Chairman & CEO of the National Geographic Society
RE: This is appalling

In March, you told a national radio audience that the serious programming problems at the National Geographic Channel were being addressed by a new management team.

Last week, you told the staff at an all-hands meeting that the serious programming problems at the National Geographic Channel were being addressed by three new production hubs in New York, Los Angeles, and London.

But the problems aren’t getting fixed. In fact, they keep getting worse, with no problem worse than this one:

Dr. Ian Hancock has repeatedly asked you to stop broadcasting the National Geographic Channel’s reality series American Gypsies. For publicly criticizing the series as “racist, slanderous, and degrading,” Dr. Hancock is now being threatened, along with his family, with anonymous phone calls. The man behind the calls has evidently taken the Channel’s marketing of American Gypsiesthe whole Mafia-Godfather-Sopranos thing — all too seriously, warning Dr. Hancock in true Wise Guy-fashion: You come after my family, I’m coming after yours.

You laughed last week when you used the term “factual fiction.” But this situation isn’t funny. It’s absolutely appalling.

Question is: How are you going to fix this? And: How do you plan to guarantee the safety of Dr. Hancock, his wife, and their five children?

Ian Hancock to John Fahey Sept 26, 2012

  • Guest

    Quite unsettling. Please keep us informed of what happens (or doesn’t happen).

  • John Fahey has his head firmly in the sand. (This is a charitable appraisal of where his head must be stuck.) He’s exhibiting a lofty disregard for the impact of his own programming, obviously invested in the belief that The Great Unwashed want reality TV and don’t care if the “reality” is fake.

    Anyone with so little regard for their product, their audience, their own skills and the ability of art to affect audience probably shouldn’t be running a society that purports to inform and educate.

    Celebrity in contemporary culture has taken an odd complexion. It seems to be a self-proclamation without support of virtues. I don’t know what part Paris Hilton, Snooki, Honey Boo Boo or the Kardashians play in the “real” (as opposed to the “reality”) world. Yet these celebrities acquire the power of notoriety and have a public platform from which to speak. This position, alone, suggests credence.

    One danger of this power-by-celebrity is an amplifying feedback of importance. The wannabe Romani gangster is echoing the persona created for him by the scripting, editing, reality-distorting director of the series, and is emboldened to make “officially gangster” threats. A good legal case could be made that the director AND the Society are abetting a crime when they create a fictional status that encourages criminal behavior, even creates it.

    Fahey can’t see himself sullied or compromised by the result of his actions. But that’s personal. If he can’t see the Society as sullied and compromised – I’d say this is a certainty at this point due to this incident and similar realtiy-TV issues – he is NOT a figure who should remain in control.

    Is the Society’s board derelict in not choosing a discerning leader? Or are they merely complacent and unconcerned about fallout from a profitable venture. Do the board members have any obligation to the original founders of the Society and their values? Or are they merely men of family and means that set them far above criticism by simple citizens?

    The situation has developed from a lapse of taste to a serious moral and legal issues. It’s no longer outsiders’ opinions; it’s come to jurisprudence and to survival.

    • Sinking_ship

      (Sorry if message comes out in one long paragraph. When I respond, there are paragraphs, yet when I hit the “send” button, everything ends up as one.)

      Good message here, but one JF and the Board don’t seem to care about. When John stands up at the pulpit at staff meetings trying to justify the existence of the awful programming on NG Channel, it is just so far removed from the world of NGS that I have been a part of for many years. And it’s pretty pathetic.

      With respect to the Society’s board: I believe that they are derelict in not choosing a discerning leader. Isn’t that part of their job? I also think they, like JF and other execs, are just looking at money. There are plenty of things that could be done to “save” this company without the help of the Channel’s money (and it doesn’t involve laying off tons of the real workers). I do believe the Board members have an obligation to the original founders, especially when used as a media soundbite. And I do think they are people of privilege and they have do not want to hear from the simple citizens.

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