Hit-and-run TV: Who’s driving that Big Yellow Car?


(to hear the same audio with chapter divisions, please see below)

car_at_night_headlightsImagine you witnessed a hit-and-run “accident” one night on the street outside your home. An innocent victim — let’s call him the Hutterite — gets run over by a Big Yellow Car, which then speeds away… but not before you get the license plate number.

The Hutterite struggles to recover, and tries to contact the Big Yellow Car’s owner — let’s call him David Lyle — but Mr. Lyle won’t return the Hutterite’s letters and phone calls. He’s a busy guy. As the CEO of a major TV channel, Mr. Lyle has much to do, and many miles to drive before he sleeps.

Now imagine that six months later you look up — and you see the same Big Yellow Car speeding down the street, heading straight at another innocent pedestrian — let’s call him the Old Believer. We think it’s a safe bet that you’d probably stand up and shout: Hey Old Believer! Look out for that Big Yellow Car!

That’s essentially what I’ve been doing these past few weeks. After the debacle of Meet The Hutterites, David Lyle — CEO of the National Geographic Channel (which is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation) — has sent a production team to the village of Nikolaevsk, Alaska, to produce a TV “docu-series” about the Old Believers. The premise of the series — religious community devoted to its traditions struggles to confront the challenges of the modern world, etc. — is eerily the same as Meet The Hutterites.

In an attempt to inform the people of Nikolaevsk about what happened to the Hutterites — and to find out the latest news about the pre-production on the Old Believers TV series — I called various people in Nikolaevsk, including Nick & Tina Fefelov, who are being recruited to appear in the show.

When we spoke on the phone, Tina expressed serious reservations about participating in the production. She also mentioned that National Geographic’s production team — Jarrett Lambo, Charlie Marquardt, and Natalia Livingston — would be at her house this Tuesday (February 26, 2013) at 10am to answer questions. Since I have a host of questions about this production — including questions I emailed to Jarrett Lambo on February 16, but which he has ignored — I asked Tina if it would be helpful to her and to the community if I joined that morning meeting at her house via conference call.

Nick & Tina thought that was an excellent idea.

On Tuesday, I called Tina. She put me on speaker phone and introduced me to the group that had gathered in her living room. Almost immediately, Jarrett and Charlie, who are familiar with what we do here at Society Matters, announced that all their comments were off the record. I encouraged them to let us share their answers to our questions — from Tina, Nick, and me — so the entire community of Nikolaevsk might better understand how a National Geographic “docu-series” gets made. After all, bringing light to the facts helps people make wiser decisions. But Jarrett and Charlie insisted they wanted this meeting to be “intimate,” and therefore it had to be off the record.

What to do? If I was guided by the journalistic standards of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation — which is infamous for hacking the phone of a dead school girl, and which also owns the National Geographic Channel — I’d probably post the whole interview anyway. But that’s unethical. If Jarrett & his team refuse to publicly answer some rather simple questions, that’s obviously their right.

But the questions I raised during our discussion — well, those are my questions, and they’re hardly new ones.

So here again are my questions, comments, and concerns — this time in audio form — from Tuesday’s Q&A at Nick & Tina’s house. But since Jarrett and Charlie insisted that everything they said was off the record, I’ve removed all comments by Jarrett, Charlie, and Natalia. (Instead of their voices, you’ll just hear an audio whoosh.)

The people of Nikolaevsk won’t find any answers in this audio, but they might find a few questions that are worth asking again… if and when you see Jarrett, Charlie and Natalia around town:

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