Unless “The Power” happens to be your business partner, in which case: Fight for Big Cats

CPJ’s emphasis on freedom of expression
is based on their commitment to open societies and democracy.

Those once were core values at the National Geographic Society.
But not anymore:

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate the launch of NGM-China in 2007 (left) and NGM-Arabic in 2010 (right)

National Geographic’s new initiative:

Save Big Cats

Why does the Committee to Protect Journalists defend freedom of expression,
but National Geographic no longer will?
Our Society’s business plans changed. So have our priorities.


“We have lost that Republic….”

Food for thought
about the state of our democracy:

Here’s one way National Geographic
helped develop our democracy
not so long ago:

NGM, September 1987

Here’s our Society’s new priority:

Here’s why:

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate the launch of NGM-China in 2007 (left) and NGM-Arabic in 2010 (right)

Objective Nonsense (part 25)

Remember Chris Johns’ claim that photographer Stephanie Sinclair has “no agenda” when she shoots her stories? It was part of an Editor’s Note in which Chris insisted that in “a world of shrill voices and agendas, we at National Geographic are committed to an unbiased presentation of facts. … It’s what we’ve been doing for more than 120 years.”

Stephanie Sinclair

In 24 installments of this ongoing series, we’ve documented why Chris is wrong.

Today, we present Stephanie Sinclair, whose most recent story for National Geographic is about child brides. Here’s what she told NPR about this practice of 25-year-old men marrying 6-year-old girls:

“I strongly believe there is not just a need for awareness-raising and prevention work, but we must find ways to help these girls who are already in these marriages — be it through giving financial incentives to their families to let them stay in school, or vocational training so they can have more say in their lives and households. Quality medical treatment is also needed for girls who are giving birth at these young ages. These girls need long-term solutions. There is no quick fix.

I am a firm believer in Desmond Tutu’s words,I am because we are.”

Sounds like Stephanie has a well-defined agenda — and God bless her for that.

Even National Geographic magazine has an obvious agenda on this issue. In the Letters section of the October 2011 issue, there’s a list of groups that “work to delay girls’ marriages and improve their lives”:

Summing up:

√  The practice of little girls marrying grown men? Our Society is against it.

√  Communism? For decades, our Society was against it.

√  The rise of fascism in Europe in the 1940s? Our Society was (eventually) against it.

But what about now, Chris Johns? Is our Society for or against the rise of theocratic and autocratic regimes? Why do you remain silent when a Nobel Peace Prize laureate in China is put under house arrest — or when you visit the Middle East? When confronted by anti-democratic bullies, why do you suddenly start “inspiring people to care about the planet”?

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate the launch of NGM-China in 2007 (left) and NGM-Arabic in 2010 (right)


≡ photo of Stephanie Sinclair via the University of Florida 

“Saving the soul of a nation….”


Chris Johns

“I believe that each of us is capable of the extraordinary. It may reveal itself in some small act or gesture, but the possibility exists. The courageous makes itself known in many ways, from saving the life of a snake to saving the soul of a nation.

Keep in mind the hummingbird—the first animal in the crowd to take action in the face of a daunting challenge. Be like that blur of energy with a beak full of water and a heart full of hope:

Do what you can!”

— Chris Johns, Oregon State commencement address, June 12, 2005



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



Celebrating the launch of National Geographics new Arabic edition in 2010. (Photo: AFP)

Toasting & applauding our Society’s own demise

An excellent reminder to all repressive governments,
and to the tax-exempt organizations
that effectively legitimize that repression.

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate the launch of NGM-China in 2007 (left) and NGM-Arabic in 2010 (right)

Leadership & Freedom

President Barack Obama speaks at the National Defense University in Washington, DC, on March 28, 2011.

“… Born, as we are, out of a revolution by those who longed to be free, we welcome the fact that history is on the move in the Middle East and North Africa, and that young people are leading the way. Because wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States. Ultimately, it is that faith – those ideals – that are the true measure of American leadership.”

— President Barack Obama, in an address at the National Defense University in Washington, DC, to update the American people on the situation in Libya. (March 28, 2011) via whitehouse.gov


National Geographic Then:

NGM, May 1953

National Geographic Now:

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate the launch of NGM-China in 2007 (left) and NGM-Arabic in 2010 (right)

Any thoughts, John?

The Company We Keep (part 2)

Security forces cleared Pearl Square of protesters on Wednesday in Manama, Bahrain. (via The New York Times)

Two-thousand Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) troops, most of them from Saudi Arabia, entered Bahrain on Monday — ostensibly to provide security to government installations “threatened” by protestors. In fact, such a show of force, with more troops on the way, is an attempt by the Saudi-led GCC to stiffen the resolve of the ruling house in Bahrain to put down the democracy protests if need be with force….

The real reason for the establishment of the GCC in 1981 was not defense against external enemies threatening the security of GCC states but cooperation against domestic challenges to authoritarian regimes. Its main task was and continues to be coordination of internal security measures, including sharing of intelligence, aimed at controlling and suppressing the populations of member states in order to provide security to the autocratic monarchies of the Persian Gulf. The establishment of the GCC was in large measure a reaction on the part of the Gulf monarchies to the Iranian revolution of 1979 in which people’s power toppled the strongest autocracy in the neighborhood. The Arab autocracies of the Gulf did not want to share the Shah’s fate.

The members of the Gulf Cooperation Council: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In related news: Last year in the United Arab Emirates, National Geographic celebrated the launch of a new Arabic edition, which will be available in 15 countries, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

It probably seemed like a good idea at the time. (Photo: AFP)

The Powers That Be in the GCC (and most other Arabic-speaking countries) would not have applauded or approved what you might call Geographic Classic. After all, authoritarian bullies may care about the planet, but they don’t care about human rights and democracy. Question is:

Does our Society care?

Bargaining With Autocrats

“When you see history, and you see it to be noble,
you have to respond….

Fouad Ajami

You have 360 million Arabs ruled by a handful of autocrats, mostly old, but some young, as in Jordan, Syria and Morocco. And eight of the Arab states practice torture on a regular basis. We know there are political prisons for the dissidents. We know there is massive economic failure, that the Arab world did not have economic growth since the ’80s, that tens of millions of Arabs live below the poverty line.

The young Arabs see the facts of their life, and many are eager to flee the Arab world, to London or Berlin or Oslo, and many of them leave. But this is their world and they have to make a stand in Cairo and Rabat and Tunis. They have to try to build a better public order for themselves. The pathologies of the Arab world are so deep, and these young people came to understand these pathologies. …

There is a certain level of security that comes from autocracies… There is stability there. But the bargain with an autocrat is never a good bargain.”

— Fouad Ajami, in Haaretz


Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate the launch of NGM-China in 2007 (left) and NGM-Arabic in 2010 (right)


“The world will never cease to remember….”

As millions of people across the Middle East & North Africa rise up
against kings, dictators, and autocrats in their struggle for democracy,
we’re reminded that the road to freedom can be a long & difficult one.

Lincoln at Gettysburg, 19 November 1863

click to play
The Gettysburg Address

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

On June 1, 1865, Senator Charles Sumner, in his eulogy for the slain president, said Lincoln was mistaken when he said “the world will little note, nor long remember what we say here.” Rather, Sumner said:

“The world noted at once what he said, and will never cease to remember it.
The battle itself was less important than the speech.”


Dear John:
Do you remember it?
(The Society you lead seems to be forgetting.)

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson celebrate the launch of NGM-China in 2007 (left) and NGM-Arabic in 2010 (right).

If you need a reminder, John, just look outside your office window:
That beautiful red brick building across M Street is the Charles Sumner School,
named after the prominent abolitionist and U.S. Senator
who delivered that eulogy for President Lincoln.

≡  photo of Lincoln at Gettyburg via American Rhetoric
≡  audio of Colin Powell reading the Gettysburg Address via AudioMicro

“An obligation to respond….”

President Barack Obama

“The people of Egypt have rights that are universal.  That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech, and the ability to determine their own destiny.  These are human rights.  And the United States will stand up for them everywhere….

Around the world governments have an obligation to respond to their citizens.  That’s true here in the United States; that’s true in Asia; it is true in Europe; it is true in Africa; and it’s certainly true in the Arab world, where a new generation of citizens has the right to be heard.”

— President Barack Obama, January 28, 2011

We agree. But does National Geographic?

(Click on images below for more information.)

President Omar Bongo and conservationist Mike Fay

(From left) Editor of National Geographic Chris Johns, Executive Vice President of National Geographic Terence Adamson, Emirati Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Sheikh Nahayan bin Mubarak al-Nahayan, Editor of National Geographic Al-Arabiya Mohammed al-Hammadi (Photo: AFP)

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