Newsweek or “News-Weak”?

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Over the years, AiG has witnessed that the US media have become more like the tabloidish and sensationalist British and Australian press. Not just content with reporting straight news, more newspapers, magazines, and news websites today are injecting commentary and editorial bias into their coverage of stories. This is particularly true when they report on Christian news items.

This growing editorial slant was certainly on display in a recent Newsweek article about our Ark Encounter project, which was circulated worldwide through the well-trafficked website of MSN. In what can only be described as a hit piece that resembled the worst of the British tabloid media, this well-read Newsweek article needs to be addressed by AiG.

Newsweek resides primarily on the web. It had ceased print production years ago but that edition has recently resumed. With its website, Newsweek articles now see a broader distribution than the print edition has ever seen. Along the way, it has been losing its journalistic integrity and quest for fairness as it finds itself having to compete with sensationalistic web-based “news” sites that follow the British tabloid model.

A Visit from a Newsweek Reporter

On December 4 of last year, a young lady representing herself as a Newsweek reporter (though I would call her a commentator) spent a day with various staff at Answers in Genesis. She visited the Creation Museum, the AiG Ark design studios, and the Ark Encounter construction site. We were very welcoming and open with her, giving her hours of our time. I was interviewed as well as several other staff members. Of course, we were aware that the final story might have negative elements, but if you don’t cooperate with mainstream media then they are more likely to write a story that is even worse and regurgitate false information, unless we have the opportunity to dispel some of the myths.

Some of what she writes is just plain childish and silly, as she seems to be cutesy and also sensationalistic.

Her lengthy article (or should I say her anti-Christian commentary?) appeared on the Newsweek website January 16, and then was featured on the MSN websites around the world (and no doubt on other secular sources). Some of what she writes is just plain childish and silly, as she seems to be cutesy and also sensationalistic. For example, she mentioned “headless mammal replicas,” referring to some of the unfinished sculpted animals for the various exhibits that will go inside the Ark, and claimed that Noah’s Ark was home to “2,000 seasick animals”—how would she know they were “seasick”?

One particular comment helped sum up her attitude (and her agenda). Patrick Marsh is the creative genius behind the incredible exhibits of the Creation Museum and now the Ark Encounter. He is a world-renowned art director whose designs include the popular Jaws and King Kong attractions at Universal Studios in Florida. A considerable number of very qualified and talented artists/sculptors/fabricators work under Patrick at the design studios for the Ark and Creation Museum. For instance, Kristin Anderson is a set designer who trained at the famed California Institute of the Arts, a school formed under the direction of brothers Walt and Roy Disney. And we have a staff designer who worked in the Hollywood film industry. In addition, we have many more highly trained and skilled professionals working in the design studio.

So how does this Newsweek commentator describe Patrick and his very professional, and talented team? “Behind the scenes and running this circus is Vice President of Attractions Designs Patrick Marsh.” Describing Patrick as running a “circus” exposes the bias of this commentator against the Ark project.

By the way, many secularists have grudgingly admitted to us that our Creation Museum is the best-looking, most high-tech museum they have ever visited in the world. We also hear that kind of comment from many secular reporters who have been impressed with the high quality of the museum. The Ark will be of the same quality or better, yet the reporter disparagingly called the design studio a circus.

Another example of silliness as she takes a tabloid approach is seen in this statement about the Ark construction site:

The ark—which is still being built at the end of a very long, carefully guarded dirt road with a sign marked “Danger . . . Keep out”—is hidden from public scrutiny, and for good reason.

Really? I was at the Ark site yesterday, and I saw no signs saying “danger.” Even if there was such a sign, the Ark is a very busy construction site and workers need to be careful about potential dangers! By law, other kinds of warning signs need to be posted, and we comply. But the word danger? No. And the road into the site is not “guarded.” But like any major construction site (or any major public facility for that matter), we do have a security vehicle that can be seen on the property at various times. It would be reckless of any construction site not to have any security in this day and age to thwart any possible theft or vandalism. And we have additional news for the Newsweek commentator: the road she drove on to the Ark site was the construction entrance, not the future main entrance for future guests, and it is paved. Off a country road, we blacktopped a construction road like a two-lane highway. It is not what she called a “dirt road,” as if to cheapen the Ark project.

Also, the Ark construction site has not been “hidden from public scrutiny.” During the summer, AiG opened a visitor observation deck near the construction site so that any person could view the Ark’s construction (from a safe distance). However, in order to finish the Ark by July 7, it’s now a very hectic construction site with huge vehicles moving in and out as they pass the visitor observation deck, and so we have closed the deck. Still, the Ark site is visited by up to 150 construction workers at any one time on site, and we have daily deliveries from various companies, visits by several county and state officials, media, and others who come on the site.

In addition, the commentator’s claim that creationists “argue that their worldview deserves as much classroom time in public schools” suggests that she believes AiG wants to force the teaching of creation into government-run schools. We have written many times that we do not, arguing that mandating a creationist curriculum into schools will probably be counter-productive.

Tax Dollars and the Ark Encounter?

I wouldn’t bother answering all of Newsweek’s silliness, including the accusations about future Ark employment and the Ark’s funding that are already explained correctly and in detail on our website (had she bothered to have checked). But one final thing here, which shows how context and careful research by a reporter are needed before making ignorant public statements. I refer to her article’s section about the TIF district. Most people do not understand this complicated incentive (called Tax Increment Financing) that is common across the nation, and I hope I won’t lose you here. The reporter claims:

What neither of them mentioned in conversations with me or in their many blog posts on the subject is that, as part of the TIF agreement, employees working within the TIF district will be subject to a 2 percent employment tax on gross wages for the next 30 years. In other words, $2 out of every $100 earned by people working at or around the park will go directly to paying off the attraction.

So while tax dollars might not actually have been used to build the ark, a boatload that would otherwise go back into the community will instead be used to pay off Ark Encounter’s debt.

Well, here is what she is not telling you about the TIF (and I don’t think she has a clue anyway). First, let me say that perhaps the most frustrating thing to read on the Newsweek site (of the many problems we have with its commentary) relates to TIFs. It’s frustrating because TIF documents related to AiG are all public record and have already been covered in the press. Yet this young “Woodward and Bernstein” wannabe makes it sound as if we’re hiding the TIF aspects and she has found her “gotcha” moment. Now, we simply don’t mention the TIF to reporters because perhaps 1 in 1,000 readers would even know what it is, it is highly complicated, and I don’t understand it all myself.

Furthermore, the TIF has nothing to do with funding the Ark’s construction. TIF benefits that might come to us begin after the Ark is open. But the unwary Newsweek reader is led to the false conclusion that money is being taken out of government coffers and away from social programs to fund the Ark.

The unwary Newsweek reader is led to the false conclusion that money is being taken out of government coffers and away from social programs to fund the Ark.

Any qualifying project in this TIF district in Grant County, Kentucky, is eligible to receive TIF benefits if they meet the requirements—and AiG does. So why does the commentator make a big deal of this? After all, there are many TIF districts in Kentucky and many more around the country, and they bring new tax revenue to areas and benefit things like local schools and libraries. The Newsweek commentator apparently believes Christian organizations should not receive TIFs, even though it’s entirely legal. In her world, all groups can apply for incentives except Christian ones. It only reveals her anti-Christian bias and a desire to see Christian believers treated as second-class citizens.

TIFs, as a form of incentive to have projects built in a TIF district, are similar to the tourism tax rebate incentive that is available in Kentucky, which many attractions (e.g., a bourbon distillery center) currently receive. We have applied for the rebate and it was rejected by the state (after an initial acceptance) and is now being litigated.

At the risk of your eyes glazing over regarding this TIF matter, it is important for us to correct a major section of the commentator’s article and the false impression it gives about the Ark’s finances. So we had our attorney comment further about the TIF and he stated that the commentator is wrong on another count:

The author is even more wrong regarding the Ark Encounter TIF. In most circumstances the payroll tax revenue is shared between the project and the government. This means that a portion of the payroll taxes that would otherwise be available for general government use is used as an incentive for the private project. In the case of the Ark Encounter, there is no general payroll tax in effect. Therefore, while the Ark Encounter will receive the payroll taxes from the project, there are no payroll taxes being diverted from the government, since neither Williamstown nor Grant County imposes any payroll taxes on its businesses.

When the commentator says that a “boatload” of money is going back to the Ark through the TIF, we must point out that it is ultimately offset by the great amount of money that the Ark will pour into the community. That’s why incentives like these are offered, and yet the Newsweek commentator somehow thinks this was nefarious for us to pursue and must be exposed. And why has this commentator singled us out about TIFs and not other projects in TIF districts?

Bottom-line: TIFs are offered to encourage big projects to build in an area (we could have built the Ark elsewhere), and TIF-related projects greatly benefit local services like schools and libraries. AiG is not taking advantage of the citizenry, for the net gain to the community will far offset the financial benefits to the Ark down the road. Our attorney noted:

Prior to the Ark Encounter project, the entire TIF district generated local property taxes of $43,792. Once the first phase of the Ark is completed, it is estimated that the Ark will generate $605,059 annually in local property taxes, net of any TIF incentives that have been granted by the City of Williamstown and Grant County.

Well, maybe all this TIF stuff has put you to sleep! But the commentator’s claims here were so wrong that we had to respond in some detail.

The Ark—A Vessel of Salvation

But, all in all, this piece is still good publicity for the Ark Encounter, set to open in six months. And besides, most people are astute enough to pick up a very obvious media agenda to recognize it as a hit piece!

I’m reminded of these verses of Scripture:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. (Matthew 5:10–11)
Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man’s sake. (Luke 6:22)

The commentator ended her article with a sentiment from Bill Nye, TV’s “the Science Guy”:

Given the way AiG rejects scientific evidence, he thinks it might not be so bad if the ark park goes the way of the Titanic.

Well, in one way comparing the Ark and the Titanic is a good way to end her article, as the comparison allows us to point out the reason we are building the Ark. Noah’s Ark was a vessel of salvation and today we are using it as a picture of salvation in Jesus Christ. Those who went through the door to the Ark over 4,300 years ago were saved. On the other hand, the Titanic ended up being a vessel of death and those like Bill Nye who reject the modern-day Ark of Salvation, Jesus Christ, will sadly experience what the Bible calls a “second death”: eternal separation from the Lord Jesus Christ. AiG is building the Ark to do our best to throw a “life jacket” to people like the Newsweek commentator and Bill Nye so they will be saved from the Titanic of death.

Journalistic ethics are eroding in America. Newsweek’s new style of journalism (i.e., less news and more commentary) reflects a decline in integrity seen today in much of the secular media. Newsweek has moved into the tabloid category.

Editor’s Notes:

We guess that we may not be the first to suggest that this increasingly sensationalistic news source be dubbed “News-Weak.”

The commentator also made a big deal about Ken not getting up from his chair to greet her when she arrived in Ken’s office with “an assistant” (actually, one of AiG’s co-founders). Ken has a severe, painful chronic back problem and sometimes it is very difficult for him to get up from a chair.

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