Under Wild Skies host Tony Makris, whose National Rifle Association-sponsored hunting show was dropped by NBC Sports Network after he compared critics of his shooting an elephant on-air to Adolf Hitler, says he has no regrets and doesn't take issue with the network for dropping his program.
Makris, who hosted the show on NBC Sports for more than five years dating back to when the channel was known as Versus, says his critics wrongly went after him and forced the network to cancel the show.
“NBC had to do what they had to do and I certainly understand it, I'll move on, I've been doing this for 21 years, not the first time an elephant show has aired,” Makris said Monday in a phone interview. “It doesn't affect me one way or another.”
Makris certainly doesn't lack for other opportunities. As president of the Mercury Group, he leads the NRA's public relations effort and is responsible for what The Washington Post called “a long line of bare-knuckled NRA advertisements.”
Asked if the show will return elsewhere, Makris said, “I'm sure it will, I don't know yet, but I am sure it will. There are a lot of hunting shows on television, there are hunters in the world. There are 25 million hunters in America. If you look at the comparisons between the pro-hunting and the anti-hunting side, the pro-hunting side has a lot more people, it's just that they're not as belligerent or threatening or vile ... The show will stop when I decide to stop it.”
But as of now the show is off the air after a whirlwind week. On September 24, Deadspin posted a clip from the most recent episode of Under Wild Skies in which Makris twice shot an elephant in the face during a hunting trip in Botswana (while hunting elephants is currently legal in that country, a ban goes into effect in 2014).
Following days of outrage and a petition calling for NBC Sports to cancel the show, on September 26, an NBC Sports Network spokesperson said that they would not air that episode of the program again. But the same day, Makris took to NRA News to respond to critics by claiming they advocated for a form of “animal racism” by suggesting that it was acceptable to hunt some animals but not others, and concluded that “Hitler would have said the same thing.”
On September 27, Media Matters posted video of Makris' comments. The next day, the network announced that Under Wild Skies had been canceled because Makris' “recent comments comparing his critics to Hitler are outrageous and unacceptable.”
Makris defended his Hitler reference to Media Matters, claiming he was making a larger point about giving one group more rights than another.
“Take it in context, what was actually said, I said that 'look, if you think that one class of animal is more special and deserving than the other because it is smarter and more majestic and to your liking, Hitler would have said the same thing,'” he stated. "That turns it into all sorts of horrible accusations and all that I meant was that Hitler thought the Aryan nation and the Aryan race was special, smarter and more deserving ... wasn't that what this was all about? Then they come out and say that I compared my critics to Hitler, no I didn't. I'm trying to show you the falseness in that sort of thinking.
“I didn't compare them to Hitler, or anybody else to Hitler, I just said he would have said the same thing. So put another name in there, Stalin, Mao, totalitarianism and genocide started, in every single case and all of those heinous people, with one group is more special than the other so it is fair for you to kill the others.”
Makris was cagey about the NRA's connection to the show, saying only that it was a sponsor and that he's not an NRA lobbyist. Network documents describe the program as “NRA Sports Under Wild Skies,” while NRA documents call it one of the “programs to recognize successful hunters” that the organization has “conducted.”
Makris claimed Monday that much of the opposition was based on edited video and blamed those who organized the petition for his ouster, not NBC Sports.
“This came from the animal rights extremists that started in Australia and England, it didn't even start in the United States,” Makris said. “Somebody can get a full-fledged media campaign going, with nothing in it being true, and it just flies and then NBC gets so frightened by it, they cancel the show, I'm sitting here going, 'Wow, that's just sad, it is not the America I grew up in.'”
Makris said he found out about the decision on Friday: “I said, 'guys, I understand what you're up against, I see what's happening and I understand.'”
NBC Sports did not respond to a request for comment.
“It's business, it's business,” Makris said about NBC Sports. “They were very supportive for the whole time I was on there until there's controversy and this has happened with other people in the past. You get a bunch of people that are willing to sit all day long and write hate mail and death threats.”
In an apparently related move, Outdoor Channel, which had aired reruns of Under Wild Skies, has recently placed a notice on its website that states: “Under Wild Skies is airing on another network.” Since the controversy began videos from previous shows have been removed from the website.
Outdoor Channel did not respond to a request for comment.
Makris, who declined to comment on Outdoor Channel, said he will not back down and even claimed the attacks on him will end up hurting the elephants his critics seek to protect.
“For the foreseeable future the animal rights and anti-hunting crowd has won, but you don't have to take my word or their word anymore, just wait and see what happens,” he said. “And I predict what will happen is poaching will get started in true earnest and the elephant herds will be decimated in the next 3 to 5 years in record numbers. That happens; the people that criticize me and what I did will own it, and I promise you, they will not accept responsibility for it.”
He later added, “This is just the animal rights folks decided they were going to pick another target and they will pick another target after this, and I understand that.”