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

Report: NGS under criminal investigation

National Geographic bribery probe vocativ

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.

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The story spreads via Twitter:

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

Tut tut tweets Zahi Hawass bribery NGS 1

Tut tut tweets Zahi Hawass bribery NGS 2

 

Tut tut tweets Zahi Hawass bribery NGS 3

Egyptians “need a strong dictator”

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Emeritus Zahi Hawass
shows his true colors, yet again:Zahi Hawass Smithsonian Fall RiseRead the whole thing here.

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More Zahi Hawass Hijinks can be found here.

The Zahi Hawass Mystery (cont’d)

Zahi Hawass Terry Garcia

Zahi Hawass and Terry Garcia (via drhawass.com)

Terry Garcia, Executive Vice President for National Geographic Mission Programs, picked up the phone when I called his office in mid-September to ask him some questions, including a few about Zahi Hawass. (Formerly the Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, Dr. Hawass is also a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Emeritus.)

Although Terry didn’t have time to chat, he sent me an email later in the day, which initiated the following exchange:

{ click to enlarge emails }

The Zahi Hawass Mystery continues….

NGS contract with Zahi Hawass is ruled illegal

Zahi Hawass
is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Emeritus
,

and the former head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities. Egyptian court ruling antiquities

{ Read the whole thing here. }

Related notes (via a variety of sources):

  • This ruling is not a conviction of Zahi Hawass. However, the judge did determine that when Dr. Hawass signed the contract with National Geographic, he violated Egyptian law.
  • Why was the contract illegal? Because it was not signed with a government, museum, or scientific institute — a clear violation of Article 10 of Law #117. According to one source, Zahi tried to persuade former U.S. ambassador Margaret Scobey to officially endorse the exhibit, which would have made the contract a legal agreement with a foreign government, but she refused. Her letter to that effect was apparently introduced as evidence during the hearing.
  • The court also ruled the contract was a violation of Egyptian law because then-President Mubarak never approved the deal.
  • Minister of Antiquities Mohammed Ibrahim says he will comply with the court order and will review the legal steps needed to bring Cleopatra home.
  • What about the Tut exhibit, which is now on display in Seattle, Washington — also under the auspices of National Geographic? Another court case begins in early October to determine whether Tut should return home, too.
  • In Egypt, Zahi Hawass, who was a staunch defender of President Mubarak to the bitter end, remains in legal jeopardy. And as one very prominent face of the old regime, Zahi is not a popular man in Egypt. According to one source: “The contracts for the exhibits might become part of charges against Zahi for accepting bribes. Now we know it was Zahi himself who signed the contracts (and not some other Egyptian government official) with National Geographic and AEG/AE for the exhibits, and we know from the 990 forms he was taking payments from National Geographic at the same time. This is a crime under Egyptian law and it may be a violation of the FCPA [Foreign Corrupt Practices Act] in the U.S. as well. … Investigators are working hard to collect more documents to build a watertight case against him. Zahi may be referred to trial within weeks.”

Does this mean that our Society may have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act? Let’s hope & pray that we have not.

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This illegal contract — and the disturbing possibility of bribery and corruption charges — reminds us of two stories we posted last year….

The first story is about Terry Garcia, the Society’s EVP for Mission Programs who worked closely with Zahi Hawass for many years. In May 2011, President Obama nominated Terry to become the next Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce. But when the nomination stalled months later, Terry withdrew himself from consideration without explaining why.

Terry Garcia timeline

(I called Terry’s office last year for comment, but he was “in a meeting” — and never called back.)

Zahi Hawass Terry Garcia

Zahi Hawass and Terry Garcia (via drhawass.com)

The second story is Zahi’s very public embrace of Terry Garcia — and Tim Kelly & John Fahey — just as the Senate nomination process began in May 2011, and just as Zahi’s government career in Egypt was crashing & burning along with the Mubarak regime. “Terry is one of the greatest friends that I have ever had in my life,” Zahi begins his blog post. “When I think about my closest friends, Terry is at the top of the list!

Zahi then describes how Terry was a key player in the funding and organization of the Tutankhamun exhibition. At the end of the post, Zahi says: “I have faith that my two other good friends at National Geographic, John Fahey and Tim Kelly, will continue to support Egypt in the way that Terry has in the past.”  (Read the whole thing here.)

Given that Zahi probably knew that his dealings with National Geographic were legally questionable, his energetic and very public embrace of Terry, Tim, and John sounds less like an endorsement or a heartfelt “thank you,” and more like an attempt to share the glare of a media and legal spotlight which Zahi must have worried he might ultimately occupy alone.

It’s almost as if Zahi is saying: You and me, guys — we’re all in this together! 

For the sake of our Society’s reputation, it would be helpful to hear something — anything at all — from Terry, Tim or John about their dealings with Dr. Hawass, whose status inexplicably changed last year from National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence to National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence (Emeritus).

“The blackness of a chilly winter night….”

Mubarak in cage NYTimes headline

Note the language used by the Egyptian judge:

CAIRO — An Egyptian judge on Saturday sentenced former President Hosni Mubarak to life in prison for the killing of unarmed demonstrators during the first six days of protests that ended his rule. …

Reading his decision, Judge Rafaat waxed poetic about Mr. Mubarak’s government and the uprising that ended it. Mr. Mubarak’s rule was “30 years of intense darkness — black, black, black, the blackness of a chilly winter night,” the judge declared, when officials “committed the gravest sins, tyranny and corruption without accountability or oversight as their consciences died, their feelings became numb and their hearts in their chests turned blind.”

“The peaceful sons of the homeland came out of every deep ravine with all the pain they experienced from injustice, heartbreak, humiliation and oppression,” he added. “Bearing the burden of their suffering on their shoulders, they moved peacefully toward Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt’s capital, demanding only justice, freedom and democracy.”

According the judge’s verdict, Mubarak is an “accessory to murder” in the killing of more than 240 demonstrators in the last six days of January 2011.

Here’s Zahi Hawass delivering a passionate and public defense of then-President Mubarak on February 6, 2011:

Which begs the question: Why is Zahi Hawass a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Emeritus — a title which is an honorific?

Wasn’t Zahi’s lack of honor the reason the Society removed him from our payroll in the first place?

John Fahey National Geographic 150x150

Zahi Hawass is back in the news — and so is our Society

Last June, I posted a news item about accusations that Zahi Hawass — a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence (Emeritus) — had taken revenue from overseas exhibitions of rare Egyptians artifacts and funneled the cash to the family of toppled President Hosni Mubarak.

This week the story has taken a new and troubling turn — especially for our Society:

Zahi Hawass new charges April 2012

Ahram Online, Monday 2 Apr 2012

General Prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud on Monday referred charges of wasting public money and stealing Egyptian antiquities against Zahi Hawass, former minister of state for antiquities to the Public Fund Prosecution office.

Nour El-Din Abdul-Samad, Director of Archeological Sites, had filed the accusations against Hawass, and requested that the objects in question be returned to the Egyptian Museum.

The Public Funds Prosecution office also received other charges accusing Hawass of wasting public money and exposing Egyptian antiquities to stealing in collaboration with former regime members.

Hawass is accused of sealing a deal with the American Geographical Society [National Geographic Society] to display rare Egyptian antiquities in exhibitions across the United States and Australia, violating the law of protecting antiquities.

Hawass admitted in a television talk show that he had a 17 million dollar deal with the American Geographical Society [National Geographic Society] with regard to a Tutankhamun exhibition to raise donations for Suzanne Mubarak’s association, wife of former president Hosni Mubarak. Suzanne Mubarak’s association was a private association not a state body, and as such Hawass was not legally allowed to use his position as a state minister to raise funds for it.

The charges relate to Hawass agreeing to transfer and display 143 objects from the Egyptian Museum to Washington DC in 2003. The antiquities have yet to be returned to the museum.

These exhibitions violate the antiquities law that prohibits renting Egypt’s heritage.  {emphasis added}

From the Egypt Independent:

… In March 2011, Hawass denied signing an agreement with the American Geographical Society (National Geographic). Rather, he claimed that it was protocol whereby Egypt received a cat scan machine worth US$5 million for Egyptian scientists to conduct research on the mummy of Tutankhamun, in return for National Geographic to film the scientific work.

At the time, National Geographic was to pay an additional US$60,000 to the treasury of the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

If these charges are true, and Zahi Hawass really did commit a crime, then two other stories from last year suddenly seem relevant again….

The first story is about Terry Garcia, the Society’s EVP for Mission Programs who worked closely with Zahi for many years. Last May, President Obama nominated Terry to become the next Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce. But when the nomination stalled months later, Terry withdrew himself from consideration without explaining why.
Terry Garcia timeline

(I called Terry’s office last year for comment, but he was “in a meeting” — and never called back.)

Zahi Hawass Terry Garcia

Zahi Hawass and Terry Garcia (via drhawass.com)

The second story is Zahi’s very public embrace of Terry Garcia — and Tim Kelly & John Fahey — just as the Senate nomination process began last May, and just as Zahi’s government career in Egypt was crashing & burning along with the Mubarak regime. “Terry is one of the greatest friends that I have ever had in my life,” Zahi begins his blog post. “When I think about my closest friends, Terry is at the top of the list!

Zahi then describes how Terry was a key player in the funding and organization of the Tutankhamun exhibition. At the end of the post, Zahi says: “I have faith that my two other good friends at National Geographic, John Fahey and Tim Kelly, will continue to support Egypt in the way that Terry has in the past.”  (Read the whole thing here.)

Given the recent criminal allegations by Egypt’s General Prosecutor, Zahi’s energetic and very public embrace of Terry, Tim, and John begins to sound less like an endorsement or a heartfelt “thank you,” and more like an attempt to share the glare of a media and legal spotlight which Zahi must have worried he might ultimately occupy alone.

It’s almost as if Zahi is saying: You and me, guys — we’re all in this together! 

For the sake of our Society’s reputation, it would be helpful to hear something — anything at all — from Terry, Tim or John about their dealings with Dr. Hawass, whose status inexplicably changed last year from National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence to National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence (Emeritus).

Pharaoh… Chaos… Pharaoh: That’s History, Zahi-style

Zahi Hawass History Catches Up GlobalPost

From GlobalPost:

… It has been said that in order to know the future, you have to know the past. An expert on the vast history of Egypt, and the archeologist’s extensive knowledge of the past has [Zahi Hawass] worried about what lies ahead.

“Not learning from history will leave us in a state of confusion during these coming times,” Hawass said.

He likened the Egyptian revolution to a similar one that took place four millennia ago, which he said was the first revolution in ancient history and the first-ever interim period.

“Over 4,000 years ago, a king ruled Egypt at the age of 8 and stayed in power until the age of 98,” Hawass says. “When he became old, his power decreased, and the power of his cronies increased. This is what happened with Mubarak as well.”

That ancient revolution lasted 150 years, and the interim period was characterized by chaos, crime, and a lack of security, according to the archaeologist.

Hawass also voiced his concern about the upcoming elections. “It will be hard to ensure free and fair elections,” he said. “Egyptians are used to fraud.”

What exactly is the lesson that Zahi Hawass — National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Emeritus — wants us to learn from the history of ancient Egypt? That without a Strong Man, society descends into chaos and crime? That the “interim period” is simply the gap between one dictator and the next? (He seemed to say as much back in February, when he spoke up forcefully and publicly for Egypt’s long-ruling Strong Man.)

The story that Zahi has spent his life celebrating — and which National Geographic never tires of documenting — is not a model for our future, but a dead weight that drags us all back to Pharaoh.

The good news is that ancient Egypt has long served not as democracy’s North Star, but as its opposite — as the historic (and cinematic) counterpoint to a very different, and far more hopeful, worldview:

The world’s most powerful question

“Why?
If we don’t ask that, we’ll never find out.

 

The Unraveling of Zahi Hawass

Why is Zahi Hawass, once a celebrated National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, now an Explorer-in-Residence Emeritus?

He bet on the wrong horse. And so did the National Geographic Society.

Mubarak on trial

August 3, 2011

CAIRO — An ailing Hosni Mubarak, who served longer than any ruler of modern Egypt until he was overthrown in a revolution in February, was rolled into a courtroom in a hospital bed on Wednesday and charged with corruption and complicity in the killing of protesters. The trial was a seminal moment for Egypt and an Arab world roiled by revolt.

Even the most ardent in calling for his prosecution doubted until hours before the trial began that Mr. Mubarak, 83, would appear, a reflection of the suspicion and unease that reigns here. As a helicopter ferried him to the courtroom, housed in a police academy that once bore his name, cheers went up from a crowd gathered outside.

“The criminal is coming!” shouted Maged Wahba, a 40-year-old lawyer.

The sheer symbolism of the day made it one of the most visceral episodes in modern Arab history. In a region whose destiny was so long determined by rulers who deemed their people unfit to rule, one of those rulers was being tried by his public. …

As a headline in a popular Egyptian newspaper read: “The Day of Judgment.”

Read the whole thing here.

February 6, 2011:

It’s no secret that we believe National Geographic should have cut ties with Zahi a long time ago. His public embrace of what he calls an Arabic “idiom” is a disgrace and an embarrassment to our Society — and to any society that celebrates freedom, human rights, and democracy.

Egypt NGS products horiz

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When the leaders of a Society know who they are — and who they are not — it shows.

NGM cover flag1943

July 1943

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