Hutterites want apology for NatGeo television show
This undated image released by National Geographic Channels shows Hutterite Judy Hofer picking carrots from the garden in King Colony, Mont. "Meet the Hutterites," a National Geographic documentary series about a small religious colony in rural Montana. Leaders of a Hutterite colony are demanding to meet with the head of the National Geographic Society after they say a reality show on the National Geographic Channel misrepresented life on the Montana colony and harmed their members. The King Ranch Colony says residents were pressured and coerced to fabricate scenes to boost ratings, and they are want a public apology and a pledge that the 10 episodes never air again. (AP Photo/National Georgraphic, Ben Shank)
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Leaders of a Hutterite colony are demanding an apology from the National Geographic Society and a pledge that it never again broadcast a television show they say misrepresented their way of life and damaged their reputation.
National Geographic Channel CEO David Lyle said Wednesday an apology is unwarranted because the show gave a fair and accurate depiction of colony life.
Caught in the middle are the stars of the show who say they have been told by elders to "tell the truth" but some of whom now fear possible excommunication.
"That's what I'm scared of," said Bertha Hofer about the possibility of being cut off from the King Ranch colony.
King Ranch colony minister John Hofer, Bertha's brother in law, wrote a July 31 letter to National Geographic Society chairman and CEO John Fahey that "American Colony: Meet The Hutterites" was supposed to be a National Geographic Channel documentary about the German-speaking agricultural community of Protestants in central Montana.
Instead, Hofer said, the producers turned it into a reality TV show that encouraged discord within the community by pitting generations against each other. Situations and story lines were invented and the people were told what to do and say while the camera was on, he said.
The result was an inaccurate depiction that has damaged the reputation of Hutterites everywhere, he said.
"We feel we were ambushed and publicly humiliated by the producers of Meet the Hutterites, and by the National Geographic Society," Hofer wrote in his letter to Fahey. "King Ranch Colony did not sign up for this sort of abuse."
Hutterites are Protestants of German descent whose traditional, religious-centered lives have been compared to that of the Amish and Mennonites, but they live in commune-like colonies in rural areas of the western U.S. and Canada.
They also make use of some technology, especially when it comes to agricultural production. But the extent to which the Hutterites let in the modern world and the effect of that on their cultural and traditional values is one of the themes in the 10-part series about the King Ranch colony 10 miles west of Lewistown that aired earlier this year.
Producer Jeff Collins said he believes the negative response to the series originated with Hutterite elders in Canada. Those elders, he said, are unhappy that the Hutterites on the show chose to use the camera to talk about education, the role of women and the struggles of adapting to modern ways.
Most on the King Ranch colony are pleased with and proud of the show, Collins said, but he believes they are now under external pressure to lodge a protest.
"I knew this show would provoke controversy but I never knew the length the elders would go to regain some of the control they feel they lost," Collins said.
In June, the bishops for the three sects of about 50,000 Hutterites in 500 colonies in North America said in a joint statement that they were "deeply disappointed" in the show and that it presented a "distorted" and contrived image of their faith.
Lyle said he stands by the producer and that the show went through National Geographic's fact-checking protocol.