NBC Sports Network has decided to cancel an outdoors hunting show that featured a lobbyist and strategist for the National Rifle Association hunting in the African wilderness after the host compared his critics to Hitler. Tony Makris, the host of Under Wild Skies and a long-time NRA strategist, faced criticism last week after an episode of the show featured him shooting an unsuspecting African elephant in the face. Makris then chased down the still-alive elephant, shot it again, and celebrated with a bottle of champagne.
Hunting elephants is legal in Botswana, where the episode was filmed, but it won’t be in 2014, since the government is concerned with declining wildlife populations. Elephants are considered vulnerable by the World Wildlife Fund, and as the Los Angeles Times noted, other high-profile African hunting trips have drawn criticism too. Makris was having none of the criticism, though, so he went on an NRA-sponsored radio show and accused his critics of practicing “animal racism” for thinking it was wrong to hunt African elephants. He then added, “You know, Hitler would have said the same thing.”
That led to NBC’s decision to cancel the show.
“Under Wild Skies will no longer air on NBC Sports Sports Network due to the program’s close association with its host, whose recent comments comparing his critics to Hitler are outrageous and unacceptable,” the network told Deadspin in a statement. “NBCSN will continue to air all of our other quality outdoor programming.”
Makris seems like a genuinely deplorable guy — his marketing agency was behind an infamous NRA-sponsored ad accusing President Obama of being an “elitist hypocrite” on guns after the Sandy Hook massacre — but the real question here is about NBC Sports Network, which seems quite willing to cozy up to the NRA whenever it has the chance. In addition to taking NRA-sponsored content like Under Wild Skies (which is paid for and produced by sponsors like the NRA, not produced by NBC), NBC Sports also drew criticism last year for sponsoring America’s largest gun show. The Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show was billed as an outdoors and hunting expo, but as I wrote at the time, it seemed aimed more toward people who wanted to buy, sell, trade, and look at high-powered military- and law enforcement-grade weapons and ammunition.
NBC’s sponsorship of the SHOT Show was questionable because it helped muddle the distinction between responsible gun ownership and guns that don’t have a place on our streets or in our homes at a time when America’s gun debate was raging. Its promotion of Makris and Under Wild Skies is similarly questionable because it clouds an ongoing debate, at least in African nations, about responsible hunting practices. Promoting responsible gun ownership and hunting practices is part of outdoors programming, a niche on which NBC Sports relies heavily. Relying on the NRA to help fill that spots NBC Sports should fill with its own programming isn’t just lazy, it also means promoting and handing over programming to an organization that cares more about clouding smart discussions about gun ownership and hunting than it does about advancing them. The result is a show and a network that failed viewers long before Makris started referencing Hitler.