Why did Chris Johns kill the Egypt story?

Johns Hedges Egypt story killed FI

(Please scroll down to hear these two interviews.)

Something doesn’t add up here….

According to a recent news report, the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the National Geographic Society for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. In that report, there’s a puzzling anecdote about Chris Johns, Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic magazine, who back in 2005 commissioned, then later killed a feature article about Egypt which shed light on the brutal reign of Egypt’s then-President Hosni Mubarak. The story — (presciently) reported and written six years before the democratic uprisings of the Arab Spring — was the work of Chris Hedges, a former Mideast bureau chief for The New York Times and a winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Why did Chris Johns kill Chris Hedges’ Egypt story? In that news report, the editor and the journalist offer contradictory explanations. According to Chris Hedges, his story was killed because National Geographic Television (NGT) had reviewed the manuscript, and concluded that publishing it would infuriate President Mubarak and his top lieutenants, who would deny NGT access to ancient archaeological sites in Egypt. Among those lieutenants: Zahi Hawass, who was then Egypt’s Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence.

Editor Chris Johns says killing the story was his decision, and his alone, and not the result of any pressure applied by National Geographic Television, or by Egyptian officials, including Zahi Hawass.

To help resolve these contradictions, and to discover exactly what happened and why, I conducted two separate interviews — one with Chris Hedges, the other with Chris Johns.

Chris Hedges (interviewed on 29 October 2013):

Chris Johns (interviewed on 6 November 2013):

{UPDATE: This audio interview was removed at the request of Terry Adamson,
NGS Executive Vice President & Chief Legal Officer.}

It’s worth noting that Chris Johns did NOT say: Chris Hedges’ reporting was poor. Or: Reza’s photographs were uninspiring. Or: The story failed to break any new ground. Or: I cannot fully articulate what troubled me about the story, and I still can’t quite find the words, so I followed my gut instincts and killed the story. Or: I don’t remember. 

No. What Chris Johns says is: “It’s none of your business.”

In other words: I have a reason I killed this story, but I’m not going to tell you what it is.

Consider that shove-off — and then connect the dots that Chris Hedges lays out above — and you’ll begin to appreciate what ails National Geographic magazine, and what is undermining the credibility of the 125-year-old National Geographic Society.

In case you’re wondering if this episode is an outlier, or an anomaly, please remember that kowtowing to dictators is nothing new in the Chris Johns era. For example, back in 2007, Chris commissioned a story about another powerful regime that violently crushes the democratic aspirations of its own people. But when The (Editor’s) Decisive Moment arrived — to publish or not to publish — Chris Johns killed that story too. For details, please see:

Mystery of Missing Story China Ha Jin

{ The link in the above clip will take you
to the main story: Adventures in Global Media. }

China ChrisandTerry dinner cartoon2

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

See also: The Anaconda in The Chandelier

What, then, do Chinese authorities want journalists talking about? Cheetahs.

China confessions on TV WaPo

Meanwhile, at our Society:
China ChrisandTerry dinner cartoon2

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

Rupert Murdoch laughs majority owner br background John Fahey National Geographic 150x150

History isn’t over

Which begs the question:
Which side of history are we on?

From National Geographic’s archival Tumblr:

Twitter NatGeoMag China balloons tumblr history

Twitter Alan reply LiuXiaobo NatGeoMag

China ChrisandTerry dinner cartoon2

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

The Damage

Pierre Omidyar Twitter censorship

Pierre Omidyar is the founder and chairman of eBay, and founder of the Omidyar Network, an investment firm that fosters economic advancement and encourages individual participation across multiple investment areas, including microfinance, property rights, and government transparency.

Meanwhile:

China ChrisandTerry dinner cartoon2

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

Read how Chris Johns, Editor of National Geographic magazine,
self-censored when the (Chinese) government began watching our Society.

If National Geographic refuses to speak out
about the ongoing house arrest of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo,
then what Chinese topics is it okay for our Society to address in public?
Evidently, stuff like this:

NatGeo Books China man balloon Twitter

 

James Cameron & The (Moral) Abyss (part 2)

Du Bin China filmmaker disappears Beijing

{ Read the whole thing here. }

James Cameron on China balloon

James Cameron, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

{ Read the entire interview here. }

James Cameron NGM June 2013

NGM, June 2013

It’s worth remembering that National Geographic didn’t always turn a blind eye to autocrats and dictators:

Tale of Two Stories

This feature story about the illegal ivory trade — with a special focus on China — was recently posted at The Atlantic:

The Atlantic Elephant poaching

This cover story on the same subject — but which focuses on the Philippines (not China) and the use of ivory by religious communities (i.e., Buddhists and Catholics) — was published by National Geographic in October 2012:

Blood Ivory cover NGM

Length of The Atlantic‘s story, in words: 12,700+
Number of times the “Philippines” is mentioned: 3

Length of the National Geographic story, in words: 7,500+
Number of times the “Philippines” is mentioned: 18

What The Atlantic says about the Philippines (all three mentions):

  • … The rest goes to Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines, and other Asian friends of the United States, in routine disregard of the ivory ban that the United States led a generation ago.
  • … The prospect of sanctions came up the last time around, when, as the Bangkok Post recounts, the conference identified three African nations, along with transit countries Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, and top markets China and Thailand – as making insufficient efforts to curb the trade.
  • … They need to trust us on this one, as do Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines and every other friendly or dependent government in the Asia-Pacific region, and more “promising steps” such as Secretary Clinton noted last November aren’t going to cut it.

What National Geographic says about the Philippines (only 4 of 18 mentions):

  • “The Philippines is a favorite destination of these smuggled elephant tusks, maybe because Filipino Catholics are fond of images of saints that are made of ivory.” 
  • When I ask how new ivory gets to the Philippines, he tells me that Muslims from the southern island of Mindanao smuggle it in.
  • During my five trips to the Philippines I visited every one of the ivory shops Garcia recommended to me and more, inquiring about buying ivory. More than once I was asked if I was a priest. 
  • Corruption is so bad in the Philippines that in 2006 the wildlife department sued senior customs officers for “losing” several tons of seized ivory. 

What a political cartoonist in the Philippines says about Bryan Christy, who wrote the National Geographic cover story:

Bryan Christy political cartoon Twitter

Number of times National Geographic mentions “Buddhist”:  10
Number of times The Atlantic mentions “Buddhist”: 0

Number of times National Geographic mentions “Catholic”: 8
Number of times The Atlantic mentions “Catholic”:  0

Number of times I’ve asked Bryan Christy for an on-the-record Q&A so he can describe in detail his fieldwork for this story: 6
Number of times Bryan Christy has responded or acknowledged my requests: 0

What might explain National Geographic‘s willingness to punch well below its weight class, and beat up the Philippines instead of China?

China ChrisandTerry dinner cartoon2

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

JohnFahey balloon 150x150

 

Who are our Society’s heroes?

Words of wisdom from Nicholas Kristof, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and the winner of the George Polk Award, the Overseas Press Club award, the Michael Kelly award, the Online News Association award, and the American Society of Newspaper Editors award:

Nicholas Kristof Liu Xiaobo Facebook

John Fahey National Geographic

NGS CEO John Fahey

Chris Johns empty balloon

Editor in Chief, National Geographic magazine

China ChrisandTerry dinner cartoon2

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

James Cameron on China balloon

James Cameron, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

Rupert Murdoch laughs majority owner br background

We can do so much better than this.

Remembering Tiananmen

Today is the 24th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square democracy protests,
and the suppression and slaughter of democracy activists
by the Chinese government:

Once, we did remember this tragedy
(from NGM July 1991) :

But not anymore:
China ChrisandTerry dinner cartoon2

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

James Cameron on China balloon

James Cameron, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

John Fahey National Geographic

Milan Kundera quote power memory

Sinking to new depths

The latest cover of National Geographic 
featuring James Cameron 
is
(a) Photoshopped
&
(b) beyond depressing:

James Cameron NGM June 2013

James Cameron on China balloon

James Cameron, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence

Read the whole interview here.

Hey… here’s an idea:
Why don’t we put this sad, soulless man
on the cover of the Magazine
and pretend that his values are ones
our Society — and society — should embrace?

(If James Cameron is the new face of National Geographic,
then our Society is in bigger trouble than I had imagined.)

 

If only he cared more about cheetahs

Chen Guangcheng Oslo Freedom Forum

Meanwhile, at our Society:
NGM China Chris Terry shakehands

Chris Johns & Terry Adamson shake hands with our new publishing partners in the People’s Republic of China (2007).

China ChrisandTerry dinner cartoon2

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

_____
More than 20 years ago in National Geographic magazine
(long before any local language editions were launched):

 

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