Category: The Main Agenda

Statement on Ken Storey

For more than twenty years, I worked in attractions and cultural institutions, often in positions with the title Manager or Director, and I’ve been writing professionally and blogging about a number of attractions-related topics for the past fifteen years. I enjoy sharing my knowledge and research, which is why I do not mind being cited or quoted in articles and social media, even if the person quoting me has a different outlook. In fact, I encourage it.

Ken Storey, writing in the Orlando Weekly, has gone beyond this by transmogrifying my writing, beliefs, and even my biography in order to support his theses. In all my years of writing, Mr. Storey is the only person I’ve encountered who has significantly botched both the story of my life and the content of my writing – and on a serial basis.

To understand how, here are a few examples of numerous such instances.

“After years of unsubstantiated rumors, it looks like Six Flags may finally be headed to Orlando” Orlando Weekly, November 12, 2018:

Storey wrote: “Through ThemedReality, Kleiman has fueled the pro-captivity side with massively detailed posts that regularly serve as talking points. On the site, Kleiman has been upfront in his outrage regarding the move by SeaWorld to phase out orca breeding and transition to more educational based animal interactions.”

If you click on them, you’ll notice that neither of the links in this paragraph lead directly to my writing. The first one (“pro-captivity side”) links to a Kings Island fan group chat board, where at the time you could link to an early blog post on ThemedReality. This ThemedReality post was about media and corporate duplicity, not aboutpromoting the “pro-captivity side”. Although not currently available on this blog, and I’ll explain why shortly, this post was ported in 2014 to my other blog, “The Mid-Cap Chronicles”, and it can be read here.

The second (“talking points”) links to the Facebook page “Stand With SeaWorld” and its link to an article on the website “Behind The Thrills”, an article that I had no involvement with. I wasn’t even mentioned in this particular Behind The Thrills article. Of the 80+ comments on the Stand With SeaWorld Facebook post, none of them are from me. Talking points are clearly coming from elsewhere.

It is odd that Mr. Storey would position me as “pro-captivity” at a time I had developed (and still maintain) longstanding relationships with animal activists working on welfare issues in Asia and Eastern Europe. At the time of Mr. Storey’s story, the ThemedReality blog was already nearing 70,000 views, most of them from the animal activist community.

As you can tell from the stats above, Mr. Storey’s stories only contributed to 71 hits for the entire year. Through this and reference monitoring on other Storey stories linked to the ThemedReality blog, it becomes apparent that the vast majority of his readers are not clicking on the links. Instead of reading what I wrote, they are perceiving my work as manipulated by Mr. Storey.

Regarding the statement: “Kleiman has been upfront in his outrage regarding the move by SeaWorld to phase out orca breeding and transition to more educational based animal interactions,” here is text from a 2014 blog post contradicting Mr. Storey’s inaccurate assertion. Although I respect the beliefs of many who disagree, I stand by what I wrote six years ago. I think it was the right decision, even though I don’t believe it was properly implemented.

So I prefer a strategy that would benefit SeaWorld, its visitors, and the animals’ welfare.  Many former SeaWorld trainers that I’ve spoken to or listened to advocate this plan, at least in part.

End the captive breeding.  The gene pool can only go so far before defects from inbreeding start to show.  Eliminate wild capture or the importation of wild caught orcas from international parks or the importation of orca sperm from donors in other parks.  Essentially, the current SeaWorld populations will die out within fifty years, but it won’t spell the end of SeaWorld.  The chain existed before housing captive orcas, it will exist after.

Eliminate the choreographed shows.  Keep the trainers, but instead of having them instruct the orcas to perform behaviors on cue, have them encourage the orcas to perform natural behaviors at their own whim.

In addition to predating Mr. Storey’s story by four years, this post’s appearance on the ThemedReality blog and its Mid-Cap Chronicles port, available to read by clicking here, both appeared online months before the hiring of Joel Manby as SeaWorld CEO, who implemented versions of both strategies.

“SeaWorld’s largest shareholder may be pushing the company into bankruptcy” Orlando Weekly, June 24, 2020

Mr. Storey’s most recent SeaWorld story, the third Storey story in a thirty day period to target the company’s Chairman of the Board, misrepresents one of my most recent blog posts. At one point he states: “Later on in the post, Kleiman explains, ‘I have a strong feeling the company is contemplating filing for bankruptcy.'”

I did indeed state this.

He continues:

“The claim is especially surprising coming from a reporter who is known for his connections to SeaWorld, which date back to his own time at the company decades ago, along with personal connections to SeaWorld San Diego.”

I believe I understand why he’s stating this in such a fashion. If a person with close personal connections to the company states the company might be contemplating filing for bankruptcy, then it must be news!

I outlined my association with the company in this blog post.

That association ended 33 years ago and I have visited the company’s parks a total of three times – once as a tourist and twice as a journalist – in those 33 years. Most of my SeaWorld connections have moved on to other zoos and theme parks, which is why I mostly get my SeaWorld information the old fashioned way – I send questions and requests to the company through the appropriate media relations channels, which I base on extensive research involving court documents and government filings (the kind of research that’s both time consuming and a big financial investment out of my own pocket). That’s why it’s so irritating to put so much effort into seeking and reviewing primary source material only to have those efforts misrepresented in such a manner by someone I barely know.

This misrepresentation is no more apparent than in another of Mr. Storey’s statements: “Kleiman’s conclusion is built around what Scott Ross, chairman of the board and founder partner at Hill Path Capital – SeaWorld’s largest shareholder – is willing to do to finally move beyond SeaWorld.”

Here is the complete text of the blog post to which Mr. Storey is referring

When I wrote this post, I was examining what was taking place at the time with companies big and small across multiple business sectors – not just attractions and theme parks. When companies started closing due to the COVID pandemic, vendors, especially smaller, family-owned ones started worrying if they’d survive if they weren’t paid. To ensure they got payment, they started placing liens on projects. SeaWorld was the recipient of a higher than normal number of liens.

Was SeaWorld considering bankruptcy? It certainly was an option and the post presents clues on how the company, along with its largest shareholder, was taking preemptive measures to offer early bonuses, protect assets, and sell some surplus animals to get some quick cash (a well trained dolphin can garner a quarter million dollars).

In the ThemedReality post Mr. Storey is referring to, I never wrote nor even thought while writing that the company’s lead owner and Chairman of the Board was attempting to drive the company into bankruptcy so he could “move beyond SeaWorld.” Bankruptcy was apparently contemplated by the company, as it has been by many companies during the COVID-related closures, but I did not find, and still can not find, any evidence that bankruptcy was advocated by the ownership. Instead, actions taken by Hill Path and SeaWorld throughout June, July, and into the present, indicate a desire to avoid any kind of insolvency whatsoever. In my next blog post (which was originally slated for this slot), I’ll present evidence, some of it well published, some of it not, but in the public record, of why the company will remain solvent for the next few years.

A few days after Storey’s bankruptcy story ran, the theme park website BehindTheThrills.com ran an article that, in it’s first half, highlighted inconsistencies in Mr. Storey’s story. The second half of the Behind The Thrills article was about PETA encouraging SeaWorld to replace its dolphins with robotic ones. It was included because Mr. Storey’s bankruptcy story was cited by PETA in an open letter to SeaWorld Chairman Scott Ross:

June 26, 2020

Scott Ross

Founder and Managing Partner

Hill Path Capital LP

Dear Mr. Ross,

I’m writing on behalf of PETA following the Orlando Weekly‘s recent article suggesting that SeaWorld is considering filing for bankruptcy and may be looking to “offload” some or all of the animals in its parks in order to reduce animal care costs and make the park more appealing to potential buyers. If either or both of these points are true, SeaWorld must stop breeding more dolphins and whales. As you are the chair of the company’s board and the founder of its largest shareholder, Hill Path Capital LP, we look to you to take that step.

Instead of producing generations of animals to suffer in cramped tanks at its parks—something the public has shown it doesn’t support—SeaWorld could easily install cutting-edge forms of entertainment that allow ticket-holders to feel that they’re interacting with real animals when they’re not. This move would save you significant money, as there would be no animal care expenses, and it would win back visitors who now shun the parks. Animatronic dolphins look, feel, and act just like real dolphins, and interactive digital aquariums have been called the way of the future.

As COVID-19 continues to threaten SeaWorld, a marine park in Australia is proposing to move the dolphins it has to a seaside sanctuary. The National Aquarium has also chosen to send dolphins to a sanctuary, and The Whale Sanctuary Project plans to build the first refuge for whales in North America. PETA’s offer still stands to donate a significant sum toward building a seaside sanctuary if SeaWorld will agree to stop breeding dolphins and whales and release them into it.

May we hear from you?

Very truly yours,

Ingrid E. Newkirk

President

Perhaps Mr. Storey was unaware of this letter when he wrote in a tweetstorm:

In the same rant (his words), he also wrote:

Another thing Mr. Storey may not be aware of is that for the past few years, I’ve been an occasional contributor to Behind The Thrills. They were kind enough to contact me in advance of publication and asked me to check the accuracy of the portion of their article that pertained to my blog post and Mr. Storey’s representation of it. With a minor correction, it went online with my consent and full blessing.

To the contrary, Mr. Storey and the editors of Orlando Weekly have never bothered to contact me to vet Mr. Storey’s stories. Nor have they had the courtesy to notify me of their pending publication.

I found out about the November 2018 article via an email from a well known animal activist, who told me, “I don’t get it. I’ve known you for five years and this isn’t you.”

I found out about the June 2020 article when a SeaWorld contractor called me, yelling into the phone, “What do you mean they’re getting rid of all the animals?”

Remember folks, if it’s in a Ken Storey story and it’s not a direct quote, it’s not me talking.

The next step

These are just a few of many points where Mr. Storey misrepresents me through malice, negligence, or omission. Regardless of how much he writes about me, he continues to show an incomprehension about who I am, what I write, and why I write it. As he has himself expressed concern that he was maligned by the national media for his own writing, I would have expected otherwise.

That said, this is not the blog piece I intended on posting today, but the situation has gotten out of hand and I want to share what I’m doing about it.

It is my belief that Mr. Storey’s continued misrepresentation of my writing, my beliefs, and my biography have negatively impacted my professional reputation and affected my ability to gain new clients for my work as an independent contractor. As a result, a few days after Mr. Storey’s bankruptcy story went to print, my legal team advised me to remove and archive all posts from this blog in order to mitigate further malfeasance.

At the same time I removed the posts, my legal team began an extensive investigation into Mr. Storey’s articles, social media posts, comments on websites, and even the brief period he and I direct messaged each other. This investigation looked at content going back to 2011, the year I launched the ThemedReality blog.

Based on his prior behavior, I would not be surprised if Mr. Storey argues with my points to “prove” his accuracy, becomes combative, portrays himself as victim, or labels me any number of less than desirable terms.

This will be the last time I will offer public comment about Mr. Storey in any internet medium, as this has now become a legal matter. I advise Mr. Storey to reciprocate this action for the same reason.

The person who best understands a life lived is the person who lived it.

The person who best knows what’s written is the person who wrote it.

Why California’s theme parks won’t open like the rest of the country

As a basis for this blog post, I will be using an article I wrote for InPark Magazine. The article took two weeks to develop, compose, and undergo editing. State officials and theme park management were interviewed and everything was vetted.

“When will California’s theme parks reopen?”

InPark Magazine. July 13, 2020

That’s reporting and them’s the facts. Now, on to opinion.

This is what I believe:

  • California’s theme parks will likely not open in 2020 as “theme parks” – in particular, no rides nor indoor attractions.
  • Parks will open under the guise of Stage 2 businesses that they can meet reopening guidance for.
  • While Six Flags Discovery Kingdom has reopened as a zoo, under the moniker “Marine World Experience,” I’m highly skeptical that SeaWorld San Diego will open this year. Unlike Discovery Kingdom and the SeaWorld parks in Texas and Florida, the San Diego park operates on land leased from the city. It is currently under a rent deferment due to the situation surrounding COVID-19, as are most businesses on city-leased land surrounding Mission Bay. However, under its lease agreement, SeaWorld is required to make an annual minimum payment to the city of just over $10 million. Once operations recommence, the city also gets a percentage of parking, admissions, food and beverage, and other revenue streams. With competition in the market from the San Diego Zoo, Birch Aquarium, and SEA LIFE Aquarium, and the Summer season pretty much a wash, it looks like the park might actually lose less money by remaining closed for the rest of the year than reopening to a low admission cap and just animal attractions.
  • While the Disneyland Resort could extend Downtown Disney by opening the Main Street and Buena Vista Street sections of its theme parks under the guise of a shopping mall, it might be better off by following the Knott’s strategy by opening select areas of its parks for ticketed events with capped attendance. Other parks, depending on location, will likely find opening select sections of their parks under the guise of shopping malls or for limited ticket events to be a profit risk.
  • Some parks with go kart tracks, laser tag, and miniature golf could try to open under FEC guidelines. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has many such participatory activities.
  • Having been to the Marine World Experience, and having talked with folks who have been to other Six Flags parks that have opened around the country, I’m comfortable that the theme park industry has their act together. In fact, I felt more comfortable and safe at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom than I do at my own local grocery stores.
  • But it’s not up to the parks. It’s up to the individual states. And here in California, the state bases its regulations on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases , hospitalizations, and deaths reported in each county. As they increase, businesses are forced to re-close or modify operations for a prescribed number of weeks. And each time that happens, the reopening road map gets pushed back and the opening of theme parks gets farther and farther away.
  • I consider the Summer season to be over. Schools are about to start up again and most districts have elected to go virtual in the Fall. I don’t expect the state to permit theme parks to open earlier than September, which means they’ve missed out on most weekday family visitation at a time when interstate and international tourism is pretty much nonexistent.
  • They could open around Labor Day weekend, which would place them in the perfect position for Halloween events. However, I don’t see how Halloween Horror Nights, Haunts, and Scary Farms can take place under current guidance, unless there are no scare zones with fog machines and guests wander through mazes two or four at a time with monsters and ghouls living on the other side of plexiglass. I anticipate some major cancellation announcements of theme park Halloween events within the next few weeks.
  • They could reopen around Thanksgiving for the holidays. It would be a true Christmas miracle. That’s hoping, of course, that the predicted second wave of COVID-19 doesn’t hit around Sept – Nov, pushing state approval of theme park openings back even further.
  • My best guess is that, especially with the Rose Parade being cancelled – and that’s almost six months away! – parks won’t reopen until the beginning of 2021. This means that 3/4 of the 2020 fiscal year for California’s parks (1/2 for Disney, which starts its fiscal year in October), would be considered a wash.

So that’s my opinion.