On planned Noah's Ark theme park, NPR doesn't tell the hull story

Mosaic of Noah's Ark in the Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily.    
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Mosaic of Noah's Ark in the Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily.

NPR raises an eyebrow but mostly keeps an even keel in a report on a tax break for a planned creationist theme park in Kentucky. But the shallow draft of the story is less a voyage than a deluge of story links.

Answers in Genesis, which opened its dino-friendly Creation Museum in 2007 in Petersburg, Ky., now wants to build a fullsize replica of Noah's Ark and the Tower of Babel. For this so-called Ark Encounter, the state tourism board approved $18 million in tax breaks, though the state legislature still must ratify it.

The primeval story of a world cataclysm, and one man's effort to obey God through it all, has long captured people's imagination -- the epic film Noah,  released in March, has earned $359 million worldwide thus far. But NPR's focus is on the government's role in what it calls a "controversial" project.

Yet this article, part of NPR's  breaking news section called "The Two-Way," is a very brief 417 words and offers little background. Ken Ham, head of Answers in Genesis, is mentioned high in the story, yet he's never quoted directly. He's cited mainly for having debated Bill Nye, the so-called Science Guy, on creation versus evolution.

And that recap, in shipping terms, lists a little:

The debate, which was streamed live online, pitted Ham's biblical literalism, which among other things includes the belief in a 6,000-year-old Earth and that humans and dinosaurs co-existed, against Nye, who argued for Darwinian evolution.

Apparently, NPR thought biblical literalism needed spelling out, but Darwinian evolution was self-evident. Nor does the article quote Ham or anyone else connected with the project.

I suppose we readers were supposed to raise our own eyebrows at the thought of public resources going to something as extreme as a Bible story. But it's not unheard-of for government to sponsor something religious.

In South Florida, where I live, there's the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, run by Palm Beach County. Every fall, the park holds a Lantern Festival, when participants float paper lamps on the lagoon "which, in accordance with Japanese custom, guide the departure of ancestors’ souls who have come for a brief visit among the living."

For background on the Ark Encounter, readers have to click the eight links to other stories, like one last January. Among those are a report by Maryanne Zeleznik of WXVU, the NPR affiliate in Cincinnati. Her July 30 article is actually more informative than the patchwork Two-Way piece.

Zeleznik doesn't quote Ham, but she does quote his vice president Mike Zovath. He compares the tax breaks to "state sponsorship of the arts and performance venues."

“They’re not sponsoring the speech of actors and stand-up comedians," Zovath said. "So they’re not sponsoring that anymore than they’re sponsoring what goes on at the Ark Encounter, whatever that might be.
"This is purely an economic issue.”

The Cincinnati story even quotes something similar from Ken Williams, chairman of the state finance board. He says that a "preliminary analysis" indicated an economic benefit for Kentucky.

“They could produce a good amount of tourism for the state of Kentucky," said Williams, who was appointed by Gov. Steve Beshear, a supporter of the project. "It could help the hotel industry, the restaurant industry in that entire area. So if that is the case, and it does boost tourism, then they, yeah, they meet that criteria.”

Only then, to my surprise, does NPR bring up questions of a First Amendment entanglement. And even then, it merely links to a webpage of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Maybe it's because that organization made its last statement on the "Ark Park," as it was once called, back in March 2012. NPR evidently didn't ask for a fresh statement.

Other NPR links on the Ark matter are rather stale. A story from January says that attendance at the Creation Museum topped 400,000 during its first year in 2007, but "has steadily declined since then." But the only evidence it offers is an outside article on attendance through June 30, 2012. As long as NPR was talking to Zovath, why didn't they ask him about the last two years?

So the coverage could have been worse. Some secular media get biased and mean-spirited whenever they write up beliefs more conservative than, say, the Episcopal Church. Still, for depth and breadth and original reporting, NPR's Ark coverage doesn't float my boat.

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