Righting America

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Attacking the Media for Reporting the Facts | Righting America

by William Trollinger

Borrowing from the Donald Trump playbook, Ken Ham has again lashed out against the media:

There are times I just get so tired of the secular media’s bias against Christians! Actually, what the secular media does a lot in politics (spread misinformation) has been done against Answers in Genesis, the Creation Museum, and [the] Ark for many years.

The source of Ham’s ire is a recent Lexington Herald-Leader article:  “Ark Encounter has been ‘very busy,’ founder says. Admission numbers show decline.”  According to the article, Ark Encounter attendance this past September was 69,207, which marks a 17 % drop from the 83,330 who visited the previous September. These attendance numbers come from the nearby town of Williamstown, which “calculates the number of tickets sold” from the money it receives from the Ark — 50 cents per ticket – for a “safety fee” that pays for emergency vehicles.

This image shows the full length of the Ark Encounter, a large replica of Noah's Ark.

View of Ark Encounter. Photo Credit: Susan L. Trollinger (2018).

The math seems pretty straightforward, and the calculations are based on payments made to Williamstown by Ark Encounter. But Ham has multiple complaints:

  • No one interviewed him.
  • The safety fee “cannot be used as basis for calculating an accurate attendance count,” because, as he explains elsewhere, it does not take into account children under the age of 5 who get in free, as well as folks who have purchased lifetime and annual attendance passes.
  • The article fails to credit the Ark with creating a “tourism boom” in northern Kentucky, a boom evinced by the fact that business at B & B Riverboats – located in Newport, along the Ohio River – has “doubled since the Ark opened.”
  • While this “attack piece” is designed to hurt the Ark, it may instead hurt Williamstown, in that “commercial developers” may read this and “become skittish about developing [local] hospitality venues.”
  • Most important, “the ultimate source for this article is not AiG but local atheists [emphasis Ham’s] who have continued to voice their disdain/hatred against the Ark (and Creation Museum) and do all they can to spread misinformation in their failed attempts to undermine the phenomenal success of the Ark and Museum attractions.”

There is much that could be said about Ham’s response. As regards including lifetime and annual passholders in the attendance numbers, Ham could simply provide those numbers. (Side note: all of this raises the interesting question – at least for Williamstown – as to whether folks purchasing such passes are paying a safety tax). Moreover, it is not at all clear why non-paying visitors – including infants and toddlers – should be counted in attendance numbers.

As regards B & B Riverboats, it may simply be a coincidence that they have done well in the 28 months since the Ark opened – a possibility that is more likely given that this boating enterprise is located 40 miles to the north of the Ark. And as concerns Ham’s claim that this article may hurt Williamstown, it must be said developers are not going to be dissuaded by a local newspaper story: if they conclude – and apparently they have not – there is money to be made, they will put up hotels.

Most troubling is Ham’s employment of the ad hominem fallacy. And it is not at all clear whom precisely he is attacking. Given that Williamstown city officials are the source for the Lexington Herald-Leader article, are they the disdainful, hateful, and misleading “local atheists”? Or is it Mike Stunson, the reporter who wrote the article?

In his blog post Ham also notes that “Ark attendance was actually up for the second year of operation.” This seems an oddly misplaced point, given that the article centers on the decline in Ark attendance in its third September of operation as compared to its with second September.

That said, it is interesting to note that – as reported by Williamstown – paid attendance in the Ark’s second year of operation was 862,471. This is a far cry from what Ark officials claimed in the feasibility study designed to convince Williamstown to award Ark Encounter $62 million in Tax Incremental Funding while also allowing the Ark to forego paying 75% of its property taxes for three decades. In that report Ark Officials asserted that there would be 1.2 million to 2.0 million visitors in the first year, with an average increase in attendance of 7% per year over the next ten years.

The discrepancy between the feasibility study (and even more extravagant promises from Ham) and the reality on the ground is never acknowledged by the folks at Ark Encounter. And the discrepancy only gets larger over time. Whatever might be said about media bias, these are facts.

Facts that Williamstown residents have to live with.