Ken Ham is clearly frustrated by the recent media coverage of Ark Encounter because so much of it has focused on how the attraction really isn’t helping the local economy, or bringing in as many visitors as Ham himself predicted, or even influencing people’s views on the Creation myth.
It’s not that those reports are inaccurate. They’re just not the puff pieces Ham wants to see.
In a post he made yesterday for Answers in Genesis’ website — as always, with the “assistance of AiG’s research team,” whatever that’s supposed to mean — Ham attempted to show how the media is biased. He came up with the analogy of a farmer who builds “an innovative barn to house animals during the winter,” only to be screwed over by a reporter who obviously has an agenda.
The interview with the fictional reporter starts out innocent enough:
Reporter: “Have you had animals die during the winter?”
Farmer Brown: “Oh yes. I’ve lost a couple here and there over the years. But I’ve invented some innovative features in this new barn to help keep this from happening.”
Reporter: “Are you going to share your barns with your neighbor’s animals?”
Farmer Brown: “Well, they are only big enough for my farm animals. My neighbors will have to build their own barns — but I’m happy to show them what I did and share my knowledge with them.”
Reporter: “What would happen if you didn’t have this barn?”
Farmer Brown: “Well, some of my animals might die because of the severe weather conditions, and I don’t want that to happen of course. I lose money when any of my animals die.”
It’s a little tough to decipher, but I’m pretty sure this is what he means:
— “Have you had animals die during the winter?” = Have there been stumbling blocks along the way for Ark Encounter?
— “Are you going to share your barns with your neighbor’s animals?” = Will you hire employees who don’t share your Creationist worldview?
— “What would happen if you didn’t have this barn?” = Would the city of Williamstown suffer even more if the Ark wasn’t there?
Ham then posted an article written by that same biased fictional reporter to give you a taste of what anti-Creationist Fake News™ looks like:
In an interview today with Farmer Brown, who acknowledged he has built a unique facility to supposedly protect animals during winter, Brown declared that he would not help his neighbors by housing any of their animals in his barns.
One of the nearby farmers commented, “He probably received government assistance to build his nice new facilities. But he won’t let us put our animals in them, and I expect some of my animals will die as a result. If he received government assistance, his barn should be open for all to use.”
His closest neighbors refused to comment, but were clearly very upset by what Farmer Brown was doing.
You get the idea. The farmer was honest about the situation, but the reporter had an agenda, so it made the farmer look awful.
My favorite part of that fake article is how Ham pretends journalists blatantly inject their own opinions into straight news articles. This is what his fictional journalist writes:
On a personal note, when I shared this information with some of my young colleagues at the paper, they all said that Brown’s answer gives them a feeling that he must be hiding something.
My editor and colleagues at the paper told me to make sure I would ferret out Farmer Brown’s real agenda. After sharing all the facts with the paper’s staff, I sensed that they (especially the millennials) had a strong feeling that something very sinister was going on with Brown’s barns.
That’s… not how journalism works.
But okay, Ham’s trying to make a point, so he exaggerated some things. The more important question is whether he made his overall point. Did he succeed in that goal? Not even close. And it’s worth looking at why his analogy fails because it sheds light on his misguided thinking. At the very least, it suggests that Ham should fire his “research team” because they make him look like an idiot.
For example, Ham suggests that the media is focusing on the low attendance (animals dying!) despite all the positives of his Ark. But Ham’s the one who created this problem because he predicted there would be nearly 2 million visitors during the Ark’s first year. (The actual number, which the state hasn’t released yet, appears to be around half of that, according to public statements from Answers in Genesis.)
It’s not biased to point that out. When reality doesn’t match the expectations, it’s reasonable to remind people of those expectations. It’s the same reason journalists are right to compare Donald Trump‘s promises from the campaign trail with what he’s actually done in office — to show people the enormous disconnect between his lofty goals and his complete incompetence (not to mention the outright lies).
Ham also suggests he shouldn’t be blamed for the struggles in Williamstown because, without the “barn,” even more “animals” might have died. He believes his farm “will be a great help” to the community! His point is that Williamstown was already dying due to a poor economy (and other economic forces), but Ark Encounter gave it a shot of adrenaline!
What he neglects to mention is how he found an anemic town and made it even worse.
Remember: The land on which Ark Encounter is built — all 98 acres — was sold to him for $1 instead of fair market value. Williamstown officials gave Ark Encounter a $62 million interest-free loan and a 75% break in property taxes over the next 30 years. That money would normally be going back into the community; instead, it’s going to helping Ham pay off his loans. Everyone who works at Ark Encounter has $2 taken from every pre-tax $100 they make in order to — wait for it — help Ken Ham pay off his loans. That’s money that could be otherwise spent at local businesses. The state of Kentucky controversially agreed to give Ark Encounter a 25% refund in sales taxes earned over the next 10 years, possibly worth more than $18 million. So money that would’ve gone to the state and its taxpayers are — you guessed it — going to help Ken Ham pay off his loans.
The point is that Ham thinks he’s helping Williamstown with this attraction when he’s more like a preacher asking poor people for tithes. He’s taking already-scarce resources from people who don’t have all that much to begin with. He’s a leech, not a savior.
And finally, Ham says he has no intention of sharing his “barns with [his] neighbor’s animals” — that is, he’s not going to hire everybody in the community. Jobs at Ark Encounter are reserved only for those who agree with his fundamentalist Christian worldview that says the Earth is 6,000 years old and LGBT people shouldn’t have equal rights.
The problem with that is that Answers in Genesis leaders suggested employment would be open to everybody in Williamstown when they were trying to get the city to give them what they needed to build the Ark. AiG general manager Mike Zovath told citizens in 2011, “We would like to hire local folks, but we have to follow state and federal laws regarding hiring and are not able to give preferential treatment. That would be considered discrimination. If you’re qualified, apply for a job.” That, to any reasonable person, means anyone who has the requisite skills should be eligible for a job. But Answers in Genesis didn’t actually mean that. In fact, jobs are not available to Jews, Muslims, atheists, and Christians who accept science. Zovath knew that. But he never said it before hiring began.
Williamstown Mayor Rick Skinner even said on Facebook in 2015 that jobs at Ark Encounter would not require people to sign a Statement of Faith. That comment was later deleted.
Ham seems to think those hiring restrictions were a given — what else would you expect at a Christian attraction? — but they weren’t. Since Ark Encounter was getting public money to build the boat, there was a reasonable expectation that hiring would be non-discriminatory.
Are you getting the picture?
Articles about Ark Encounter aren’t negative because reporters are out to persecute Christians or make Ken Ham look foolish. They’re negative because Ham’s team constantly misled people about how they would run the Ark and what it would do for the community.
By the way: Ken Ham’s other big attraction never received the same kind of criticism. When people go after the Creation Museum, it’s all about the nonsense inside the building.
But when reporters write about Ark Encounter, the focus is on what’s happening outside of it. That’s Ken Ham’s fault. He took vital resources from a town that staked so much on this attraction’s success. And the early signs show that he’s not delivering on any of his promises.
(Image via Shutterstock)