Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Polar Bear Dies, National Geographic Lies

SPOTLIGHT: The iconic magazine is now a purveyor of propaganda.

BIG PICTURE: On her blog last week, zoologist Susan Crockford called our attention to a startling admission over at National Geographic. It acknowledges publishing fake news. Or, as it more delicately puts it, we “went too far in drawing a definitive connection between climate change and a particular starving polar bear.”

An “Editor’s Note” explains the magazine added a wholly misleading caption to a video of an emaciated polar bear filmed last August. When it published this video on its website in December, National Geographic declared: “This is what climate change looks like.”

Actually, this is what dishonesty looks like. Neither the magazine nor the person who did the filming knew anything about that bear. It might have been stricken with disease. It might have sustained an injury that impeded its ability to hunt. As the Editor’s Note now admits: “there is no way to know for certain why this bear was on the verge of death.”

Weak and in distress, it was nevertheless made use of. First by Paul Nicklen, who encountered it two days before he took the video. Rather than notifying a conservation officer so the bear could be euthanized and the equivalent of an autopsy performed, Nicklen instead telephoned for video equipment and a team of “storytellers.” 

The next humans to make use of this bear’s suffering were officials at the magazine. What people won’t do for clicks. Deliberately misleading the public, they cast climate change as the villain. The result was a wildly successful piece of propaganda. 

Nicklen’s partner, Cristina Mittermeier, writes in an essay published below the Editor’s Note this month:

It became the most viewed video on National Geographic’s website – ever. News organizations around the world ran stories about it; social media exploded with opinions about it. We estimate that an astonishing 2.5 billion people were reached by our footage. [bold added]

National Geographic‘s Instagram account indicates that a photo of this bear, taken by Mittermeier, was ‘liked’ nearly two million times. Among the hashtags the magazine appended to that post:

  • #StopFossilFuels
  • #FaceofClimateChange
  • #bethechange
  • #NoArcticDrilling

Need it be said there’s little chance Nicklen, Mittermeier, or the rest of their team could have traveled to the Arctic without fossil fuels? Need it be said that the vast majority of the photos ever published by National Geographic would not have been taken without fossil fuels? Need it be said that fossil-fueled vehicles have transported copies of this magazine to people’s mailboxes for decades?

Fossil fuels make it possible for us to explore the natural world, to pursue its mysteries, to witness its momentous beauty. Advocating the obliteration of a product central to your business model is a special kind of lunacy.

click to enlarge

But that’s how far National Geographic has fallen. Significantly, the Editor’s Note includes no apology to readers – and no promise to stick to the truth from now on.


Polar Bear Facts & Myths: A Science Summary for All Ages
Susan J. Crockford

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This entry was posted on August 3, 2018 by in media and tagged , .
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