Report: NGS under criminal investigation


Some excerpts:

By Aram Roston
Posted: OCT 27, 2013 15:20 UTC
UPDATED: OCT 27, 2013 23:09 UTC

This is not your typical story about international bribery. For one thing, it involves mummies. It also involves one of America’s most beloved institutions: National Geographic.

Vocativ has learned that the Justice Department has opened a criminal bribery investigation into the prestigious nonprofit. At issue: Nat Geo’s tangled relationship with Dr. Zahi Hawass, a world-famous Indiana Jones–type figure who for years served as the official gatekeeper to Egypt’s glittering antiquities.

Beginning in 2001 and continuing for a decade, National Geographic paid the archaeologist between $80,000 and $200,000 a year for his expertise. The payments came at a time when the popularity of mummies and pharaohs was helping transform the 125-year-old explorer society into a juggernaut with multiple glossies, a publishing house and a television channel. But they also came as Hawass was still employed by the Egyptian government to oversee the country’s priceless relics.

So did this money give Nat Geo unfair access to a lucrative market for all things ancient Egypt? National Geographic wouldn’t comment on any investigation or “conversations we may or may not have had with governmental bodies about legal matters,” says a spokeswoman for the nonprofit. But the company says its payments were lawful. As for Hawass, he firmly denies that anything untoward took place. “It was a contract,” he says. “It was not a bribe. I gave no single favor to National Geographic.”

Whether Nat Geo broke the law is unclear. But its relationship with Hawass offers a window into the interlaced world of money, science and show business that has developed around Egypt’s artifacts. …

The story of how National Geographic found itself in potential legal hot water coincides with the nonprofit’s decision to launch an American cable channel. For years Nat Geo was known for its iconic, yellow-bordered magazine and lush photography. It produced books and documentaries, had a show on PBS and dabbled in cable TV overseas. But it wasn’t until 2001 that the society partnered with Fox and launched the National Geographic Channel in the United States, the biggest television market in the world. This decision cast the society into a pitched battle for ratings with the likes of Discovery Networks.

Seven months after the channel launched, National Geographic announced it was adding Hawass as explorer-in-residence—an honor held by the likes of Jane Goodall, the legendary anthropologist. …

The relationship between Hawass and Nat Geo was a knotted one, and legal experts say it presented unique challenges in parsing the law. Every two years, Hawass signed a new explorer-in-residence agreement with National Geographic, and every two years, the society paid him more and more money. In his contract, Hawass had to indicate that his services for National Geographic—evidently a few lectures and some consulting projects—were outside his official duties as a government official. He also had to agree that his services were legal under Egyptian law.

American law, experts say, may be a different matter entirely. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act makes it illegal to pay foreign officials for “securing any improper advantage,” according to the Justice Department. Criminal bribery penalties can be stiff, with company fines up to $2 million. Individuals can be forced to serve up to five years in prison and pay more than $250,000. …

Indeed, despite his agreement with National Geographic, Hawass sometimes provided full access to their rivals. “Nat Geo and Discovery were always kind of competing with each other for what Zahi would throw them,” says one source, “for what project Zahi would grant them the right to produce as an exclusive.”

The ratings battle was so heated that some are convinced National Geographic did whatever it could to stay in Hawass’ good graces. Chris Hedges, a well-known former New York Times reporter, says the society was so obsessed with access that it killed one of his stories for their magazine in 2003. The topic: the dark side of Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt, a police state replete with poverty and repression. “It was all laid out,” he says. “And the television division read it and freaked out.” The fear, Hedges was told, was that the Egyptian government would be furious. And though he was paid in full, the story never ran.

Chris Johns, who was and still is editor in chief of National Geographic magazine, disagreed with Hedges about the story. ”As anyone who has ever done editorial work knows, stories get changed, dropped and redirected all the time and for all kinds of reasons,” he said. “In this particular case, my decision not to move forward had nothing whatsoever to do with National Geographic Television, nor any concerns that someone in Egypt may or may not have had.” …

Read the whole thing here.


The story spreads via Twitter:

{ as of 28 October 2013 @ 1:50pm }





Left Hand, meet Right Hand

Can-National-Geographic-Rescue-LegacyRead the whole thing here.


Please see: 6 easy steps to making big money in media

John Fahey National Geographic

Dear John: Why is a “violent insurrectionist” the star of an upcoming show on the National Geographic Channel?

See update (below)

Meet James Yeager. According to a news report, he’s the star of an upcoming episode of Doomsday Preppers, which is now one of the most profitable shows on the National Geographic Channel:

This is the campaign run by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, which is trying to persuade National Geographic to cancel the Doomsday Preppers episode featuring “violent insurrectionist” James Yeager:


This is David Lyle, CEO of the National Geographic Channel:

David Lyle

David Lyle

This is Rupert Murdoch:

Rupert Murdoch laughs

This is John Fahey, Chairman of the Board of the National Geographic Society:

John Fahey National Geographic

It’s worth remembering that John Fahey has the authority to unilaterally kill shows on the Channel if he considers them inappropriate for the National Geographic Society. At least that’s what John said last year to a national radio audience.

So, what do you think, John? Does this episode of Doomsday Preppers deserve to be cancelled? If so, when? If not, why not?


Update, 20 September 2013 @ 10pm

From the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence:

UPDATE: On September 19, 2013, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence was sent the following statement by Chris Albert, a Senior Vice President for Communications and Talent Relations with National Geographic Channels:

“Doomsday Preppers documents many individuals from across the country with unique beliefs and practices as they prepare (legally) to protect themselves and their families from various disaster scenarios. Given recent events such as Hurricane Sandy and the flooding in Colorado, this program is also a valuable platform for presenting survival tips to our viewers, and we regret that any potential interview has clouded the important work this show does. With more than 600 hours in production at any given time, we give our producers the liberty to conduct hundreds of interviews for programming on our behalf, including for this series. [James Yeager] was approached by our production company for participation in the upcoming season of Doomsday Preppers. However, after being made aware of the interview and consulting with the producers, National Geographic Channel does not believe that he fits with the show or the network, and we do not plan to air his interview in the series.”

“Satire has gone mainstream…”

In response to the post Sunday at Our Society, Jan Adkins shares this:

There comes a time in every crisis or disaster when the simple, obvious insanity of the issue becomes hilarious, beyond understanding, within reach only of a bewildered laugh.

Jan Adkins

Jan Adkins

They’re programming WHAT? Oh, they can’t be! They are? This is too rich, beyond the pale. Alexander Graham Bell, we’re not in Kansas any more.

So the National Geographic Society is featuring the “greatest mob hits,” an uplifting and educational series on how the dark side of America deals with differing opinions. It’s a celebration of sleaze and unrestricted violence, just what a sabbath needs. The explorers of Machu Picchu, the Antarctic, Everest, the Empty Quarter and the Brazilian Rainforest are no longer parts of our history core curriculum, but who can forget the corpse of Albert Anastasia in a pool of Sicilian blood on the floor of his barber’s shop? The lesson is clear. Right? Well, maybe.

Who cares? Education be damned! Give them what they want. And who knows better what the educated viewers of National Geographic Channel want than Rupert Murdoch? What’s important isn’t the dissemination of knowledge. It is to larf. The object is to get a bigger market share.

Funny, this is too funny. Sure, sure, it might be easier and just as cheap to create reality-reality rather than scripted-reality, and to recount significant histories of discovery and invention. But who would watch? Ask Rupert. Murdoch the Master Comedian is cozening all of us into trivial dross.

I give up. The great satirist Tom Lehrer stopped working after Ronald Reagan was elected. He said that satire had gone mainstream, so why work at it? We’re backwards. Every moment of Congress we see on C-Span is a lie, and the best source of actual news we have is Comedy Central. The National Geographic Society is spoofing itself, pretending to be what it was and isn’t. Those guys in the boardroom must be falling off their chairs laughing. Thank God the loose money will cushion their fall.

Sunday at Our Society

Death of a Major Media Brand (cont’d):

Facebook Inside the American Mob

New frontiers in corporate cynicism

Begin, if you will, with what initially sounds like an earnest question from John Fahey, Chairman and CEO of the National Geographic Society.

During a staff meeting last fall, John described the challenge of producing television shows which don’t ridicule people for the sake of entertainment:

“How do you [make TV shows] in a way
that doesn’t seem exploitative, or holding someone up to ridicule?
How do you get the balance?”

Then, consider this new show, which is a spin-off of the National Geographic series Doomsday Preppers:

Doomsday Castle

 Then, watch this spoof of Doomsday Castle — and of the Doomsday Preppers series as a whole — by the very funny folks at The Onion:

Then, on the Doomsday Castle Facebook page, see the producers laugh along with The Onion at the spoof of their own show: “It was funny.” 

Doomsday Castle Facebook
Then, notice The Onion spoof is actually “presented by” the National Geographic Channel (click image to enlarge):

The Onion and Doomesday Castle

In other words: Doomsday Preppers and Doomsday Castle is one long joke on the preppers themselves, all orchestrated by the executives at the National Geographic Channel.

Dear John,

In the audio clip (above), you challenged the National Geographic staff to consider a question which you presented like a Zen koan: “How do you [make TV shows] in a way that doesn’t seem exploitative, or holding someone up to ridicule? How do you get the balance?”

It’s easy: If you produce two TV series about preppers, then don’t pay The Onion to produce a parody that mocks and ridicules preppers.

It’s nasty and deeply dishonest to set people up as the butt of a joke, and then broadcast the joke to millions of people, while you and our “partners” at News Corp count up the profits.

This is a painfully cynical way to run a business. Our Society — and our society — deserve so much better than this.

John Fahey National Geographic


What is Must-See TV?

The Future of TV, a recent report from industry analysts at Needham & Company, assesses the ability of internet video companies (e.g., Netflix, YouTube, Hulu) to unseat the incumbent TV titans (e.g., our Society’s “partners” at News Corp).

Here’s one item that caught our eye:

Figure 4 captures the responses to our question, “Please list which TV channels you must have available online for you to turn off your TV subscription.” We did not give respondents a list of TV channels, so their responses were unaided.

must see tv

Discovery comes in 6th, while the National Geographic Channel is… nowhere to be found. Could that be one reason the National Geographic Channel is producing this (suicide) stunt?

Alex Honnold skyscraper climb

After all, there’s nothing quite like producing a global television event featuring the possible death of a young adrenaline junkie to get folks talking about your media brand.

Read the whole report from Needham & Company here.

John Fahey & The Lurid-o-meter

If Alex Honnold plunges to his death this autumn
during his skyscraper stunt for National Geographic,
who will be held accountable?

Here’s John Fahey describing his “right to veto” programs slated to appear on the National Geographic Channel (which is majority owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation):

If a young man killing himself on live TV does not qualify as “lurid” in John Fahey’s mind, then what does?

Alex Honnold

≡ Audio clip from John Fahey’s interview with Bob Garfield
of On The Media, March 30, 2012. Listen to the whole thing here

Religion, ridicule & reality TV

A few weeks ago, Laura Kwerel, a producer for Interfaith Voices, interviewed me about National Geographic’s TV series Meet The Hutterites.

Our Q&A airs this week on 60+ radio stations in the United States and Canada:

The Dark Side

News item: This autumn, executives at National Geographic — John Fahey (Chairman & CEO), David Lyle (CEO of the National Geographic Channel), and Howard Owens (President of NGC) — will produce a global television “event” featuring Alex Honnold, who will attempt to free climb the side of skyscraper on live TV. The dramatic hook: Will Alex slip and fall to his death? 

From Jan Adkins

Have a drink. Oh, you’re a recovering alcoholic? Oh, come on; you know you want a drink. Have a drink. Six years sober? Good for you. That’s probably enough. Have a drink. It’s bad for you, it brings out the worst parts of your personality? That’s okay: we’re all like that, we all have dark sides. Since all of us share the dark, dark must be good. Anything’s okay if we all do it. Have a drink.

Jan Adkins

Jan Adkins

Here, kid, try some of this crack cocaine. It will make you feel weird and cool. It’s against the law? Ridiculous. Anything’s okay if we all do it. I’m bad for offering you something unhealthy and illegal? But it’s something everyone wants: look at the ratings it’s getting! Crack is obviously popular, clearly something the people want, so how can I be wrong in filling a need? Okay, so I fill the need for my own profit; isn’t that what capitalism is all about? Try a jolt of this crack. You’ll learn to love it.

Let’s go to Bedlam and make fun of the crazies. It’s wrong to amuse ourselves at the cost of someone’s dignity? Ridiculous. We all do it; how can it be wrong? Seeing people who are plainly beneath us will make us feel better, more righteous, more superior. Bad to do it for profit? Isn’t that what capitalism is all about? Appealing to our basest instincts? How can they be so bad if everyone has them. Make fun of defenseless people! Feel better about yourself! You deserve a break today!

Let’s use this empty temple as a video arcade and crack house. Good location, just up the street from the White House. It was for sale; we got it for cheap. Important, even holy services were held here? Ridiculous. That was then; this is now. No one cares about ethics or superlatives; this is the Age of Glorious Mediocrity. If some old farts practiced a religion of enlightenment and exploration, here, it couldn’t have been important. They wouldn’t have sold us the temple, would they? And who would leave greedy nihilists in charge of a holy place unless it didn’t matter? Nice building. Maybe we can sell the fixtures. Hell, maybe we can sell the inmates.

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