The Hutterites ask, yet again, for David Lyle’s help. And David Lyle ignores them, yet again.

To: The people of Homer, Alaska
Re: National Geographic’s “Old Believers”

David Lyle and snake

David Lyle, CEO of the National Geographic Channel

Tomorrow night (Tuesday, January 29, 2013), producers from National Geographic Television will invite all interested residents who live in and around Homer, Alaska, to a casting call for a new “docu-series” about the Old Believers.

As you ponder your options — and the money that’s being offered as an incentive for your participation — it might be prudent to consider the recent case of the Hutterites of Montana’s King Ranch Colony.

The short version: In September 2011, a producer representing National Geographic promised the Hutterites — in a legally signed contract — that he would make a “documentary” which would “celebrate Participants’s way of life as a model for family values.” However, that is not what the producer delivered.

Instead, the 10-part TV series American Colony: Meet The Hutterites is a “reality” show which included many scenes that were dreamed up, then staged and shot to increase the program’s dramatic punch. Wesley is rushed to the hospital in an ambulance because he’s having a heart attack? That was fake. The drunk Hutterite teens who accidentally burned down the “barn”? Totally staged. Clinton driving a car without a license (and then getting arrested)? That stunt, we’re told, was the brain-child of the TV production team.

Meet The Hutterites has been deeply embarrassing and painfully divisive for members of the Hutterite community. And now their pain and embarrassment has gone global: the show, which premiered last summer in the United States, is now being broadcast all over the world on the National Geographic Channel.

(For the longer version — with supporting documents, correspondence, production notes, testimonials, media coverage, and more — please see this page.)

Afew weeks ago, lawyer Jeffrey Sveen, who represents Montana’s Hutterite community, sent yet another letter to David Lyle, CEO of the National Geographic Channel (and the former head of the now-defunct Fox Reality Channel). In his letter (please see below), Mr. Sveen outlines the many problems the Hutterites have faced during their brief encounter with National Geographic, and respectfully asks Mr. Lyle to take remedial action.

More than three weeks later, Mr. Lyle has still refused to respond.

His silence is deafening, for Mr. Sveen’s letter indirectly raises — and answers — some critical questions about David Lyle:

  • What sort of person is Mr. Lyle?
  • Should the people of Homer, Alaska, trust him?
  • If problems arise during the production of the Old Believers “docu-series,” will Mr. Lyle be there to support to the community?
  • Most of all: Would the global reputation of the Old Believers be safe in Mr. Lyle’s hands?

Please give it some thought. Because if you wait, and ask these questions in six months… well, it’ll be six months too late.

Good luck.

Hutterite lawyer TO David Lyle, NG Channel CEO

  • Kathy Stahl

    The picture above does indeed speak a thousand words…. David Lyle and a snake…. The Old Believers need to beware. Disaster, misrepresentation, falsehoods, lies, and a total disregard for their culture is on its way if the agree to work with these people. Run , walk, crawl, drive, ride…but get away by any means possible. Your dignity, pride, self respect is not worth any amount of money they offer.i know, I’ve lived through it with Meet The Hutterites.

    • http://societymatters.org/ Alan Mairson

      Kathy – I hope the Old Believers can learn from your experience with Meet The Hutterites. And I hope the National Geographic Channel can learn from its mistakes, too.

      But the first step is for David Lyle to admit that he & his production team made a serious mistake, breached their contract, and betrayed the people they had pledged to celebrate.

      Unfortunately, the day and weeks keep rolling by, and we still haven’t heard anything from Mr. Lyle.

  • david333

    Seems they allowed the rush to get to the $100k check thwart their common sense or better judgement by allowing these “unbelievers” into their domain and subsequently being subjected to fabrications and staged acts by the producers. the issue started with you signing on the line, and continued when there was inadequate understanding of your legal rights with regards to them pushing the envelope. hope you learned from the incident, I think Bertha is the only “winner” in this whole fiasco.

    • http://societymatters.org/ Alan Mairson

      Hi David,

      There’s no doubt the money mattered to a community that doesn’t have a lot of it. But I don’t think the problem was allowing “‘unbelievers’ into their domain.” The problem was that most members of King Colony Ranch didn’t really grasp how television gets made.

      Last summer, I had many exchanges on Twitter with the show’s executive producer, and I repeatedly told him the controversy could be solved very simply and very quickly: I suggested he simply explain, in public and in great detail, exactly how the sausage of reality TV gets made. Take us behind the scenes and tell us what he did and how he did it. … He refused, and soon thereafter locked down his Twitter account so the public cannot see it. Which, I think, says it all.

      Thanks for stopping by…. and for your comment.
      best,
      Alan

  • Myron

    Thank you Alan for your advise on our situation in Alaska, and I appreciate you looking out after our interests. The NG people are there to make money and they will do whatever it takes to make the show sell. Unfortunately there will always be some dissenters in cases such as these and I hope with everything I have, that they will decide that they will not have enough material to move forward in their plans. I heard less then a dozen people showed, even for thier 3500$ an episode offer. All we want is to be left alone to focus on our families, to live good lives with our neighbors, and preserve our religion. We are by no means perfect and have many faults but to film us and exploit us for profits sake is just disgraceful. I’m not saying that is what NG has planned but I say it in the context of their past exploits. It seems to me that fear and negativity sells.
    Thanks again for the good that you bring!
    Myron Basargin, 21 (not the older one in Alaska)

    • http://societymatters.org/ Alan Mairson

      Myron – I want to believe that NG’s Old Believer TV series will be qualitatively different that what happened with the Hutterites, but that’s more of a wish than a serious expectation. Unlike the Hutterites, who had their communal elders negotiate with the producers, the Old Believers are dealing with the TV team as individuals and as families. Which means the community as a whole doesn’t need to agree to do the show.

      Of course, that communal assent didn’t protect the Hutterites, who got slapped around anyway.

      Thanks for your message, Myron… and for stopping by.

  • Scoat

    Say Alan, real life moves on. Just checked in to see if you now had a life. I see your still beating a dead horse. How long will it take for you to understand that the Hutterites could care less about what was revealed in the King Colony Documentary. Take note that ambulance chaser Sveen has to say “Documentary” every time he tries to clean up the number one mess of his number one client, “The Hutterites”. I’ll bet it sends a tingle up and down his leg as he contemplates all the fees he will pocket by the time this fiasco is over; if ever.

    What was revealed in that Documentary was hardly a peek into the unchristian/un-American life style that hides behind the false peasant piety of the colonies. There have been murders, rapes, incest, and every diabolical practice among the Hutterite colonies. These are the dark secrets of the Hutterite under belly of the largest pig producers in America. This is what THE ELDERS (CEO’s) of the Hutterite “Feudal System” are afraid of; that their serfs will rise-up in rebellion, when they realize the freedoms and liberties of the mighty nation that surrounds them. Then the House of cards will fall, and a mighty fall it will be.

    • http://societymatters.org/ Alan Mairson

      Scoat, So glad you came back to check on me. I appreciate your concern.

      Re: Mr. Sveen — what you said is insulting and inaccurate.

      Re: all the “dark secrets” and “diabolical practices” of the Hutterite “Feudal System” — I look forward to watching your documentary, or reading your article about those problems. They sound very serious.

  • Scoat

    Alan, somebody has to check on you. This is a pretty lonely place to hang out.

    “..insulting and inaccurate” you think. Knowing nothing can only be based on ignorance. But then you are an investigative reporter I believe. Get your Holmes hat on and your magnifying glass, and get to work, there is lots to learn among the ex-Hutterites. As for anything being libelous or defaming the Hutterites; bring it on Sveen. Open this Pandora’s Box. There are many of us who know where the bodies are buried.

    As for a documentary or any articles in anything that would make a difference; that’s a waste of time. The Hutterites will self-destruct on their own, without help from anyone on the outside. The more they embrace the business world, become more wealthy, continue to add to the privileges of the elite colony members (Preachers, Stewards and Farm bosses) at the expense of the have-nots, even the families of the elites will see the injustices, and the inequities of the Elders, before the walls come crashing down.

    Sveen and his kind will walk down the road smiling as they jingle the coins in their pockets; never looking back.

    Thank you Myron, David and Kathy for propping-up Alan. He means well, even if he is a little off the mark when it come to crusading for a just cause. Truly a waste of good talent and a great personality.

    • http://societymatters.org/ Alan Mairson

      Scoat, If you believe what you say — “As for a documentary or any articles in anything that would make a difference; that’s a waste of time. The Hutterites will self-destruct on their own, without help from anyone on the outside.” — then why carry on about the Evil Elders, the Pandora’s Box, or anything else? Time is on your side. And you seem to have a lot of it on your hands if you spend time lurking in a ghost town like this one. :-)

  • Scoat

    Say Alan, your right, I have a lot of time on my hands. I just watered our new grass. I sowed it four weeks ago before our last two snow storms. Now after two days of warmer weather I have to baby-sit it. Alas, I am sitting here meandering through cyber-space, dropping little tidbits here and there as I watch the grass grow. What a life.

    I am not stalking you Alan, but i do enjoy poking around your ghost town. Who knows, I may even become a “Ghost Buster” and exorcise a few Hutterite ghosts.

    • http://societymatters.org/ Alan Mairson

      Hope your grass comes in green & healthy. And thanks for stopping by.

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