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Harold Camping, the radio personality who predicted a biblical rapture would claim the lives of about 200 million people three days ago, now says the world will end on Oct. 21. That’s good news for thousands of reporters and commentators who can belittle him for another five months.
Even though the number of Camping’s true believers is minuscule (the San Francisco Chronicle reported “hundreds” of followers believed his prediction that the rapture would occur at 6 p.m. this past Saturday), his prognostication generated at least 27,000 news articles and was fodder for TV comics and radio talk show hosts for weeks.
It’s an astonishing amount of media attention, especially considering Camping made similarly wrong predictions in 1988 and 1994.
Last week, for example, Jon Stewart showed clips on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show of media accounts of Camping’s ruminations that millions would die Saturday, then joked: “He’s 89. Actuarially speaking, he’s probably not that far off.” Then he used Camping’s prediction to goof on CNN, Fox News Channel and others that were warning of rising debt in the U.S.
And Monday, David Letterman read a Top 10 list of “Harold Camping Excuses.” No. 8: “Dates got screwed up because of the Jewish holidays.”
Jimmy Kimmel said on his ABC late-night show last week: “The world is ending on Saturday. It would really, really suck if we only get to live three weeks longer than Bin Laden.”
More serious takes on the matter also populated the Internet and airwaves. Syndicated radio talker and columnist Dennis Prager, for example, wrote Tuesday that Camping’s religious prophecy of doom was no more ridiculous than similar secular ones, like when the United Nations predicted six years ago there would be 50 million global-warming refugees by 2010.
But there is one industry that is probably done milking Camping’s prediction: billboards. Camping, after spending millions of dollars to publicize his Rapture prediction on 5,000 billboards worldwide, said he had no plans to do likewise for his Oct. 21 do-over.
Before announcing he was done speaking with the media, Camping told reporters in Alameda, Calif., during one of a few post-Saturday interviews that he now believes God made the necessary judgments on Saturday, just as he predicted, but the whole Armageddon thing won’t occur until Oct. 21.
He added that he no longer needs to advertise it because “the world has been warned,” according to The New York Times. ”We don’t have to talk about this anymore.”
Tell that to TV comics.
Meanwhile, typing “Harold Camping May 21 prediction” in a Google search yields 5.8 million results, many of which lead to angry bloggers accusing Camping of profiting from his prophecy, which is probably an incorrect assumption.
Camping runs Family Stations, which operates radio stations in roughly 150 markets and is worth from $85 million-$125 million, depending on the source. But the wealth comes primarily from Camping’s prescient decision to buy up radio licenses on the cheap beginning in the late 1950s.
MinistryWatch.com, which tracks the financial dealings of Christian ministries, said in 2007, the most recent year it delved into Family Stations, that the entity collected $22 million in revenue but spent $35 million. On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported Family Radio – the primary asset of Family Stations – was worth $104 million, including $34 million in stocks and other securities.
The nonprofit company encourages donations, and detractors assume that it collected a boatload of them to help it spread the word about Saturday’s non-rapture. More likely, though, it didn’t collect nearly enough to cover the cost of advertising, which The Christian Post estimates at $100 million.
In one of his post-Saturday interviews, Camping dodged a question about how much money was raised because of the prediction, but he made it clear there were no plans for refunds.
He has said similarly on his radio show, Open Forum, as portrayed in this YouTube video where a caller asks: “On May the 22nd, do they get a refund?”
“We’re not telling anybody what they are to give,” Camping says. “May 22nd will be the second day of Judgment Day … It’s going to be a horror story that we absolutely cannot conceive of.”
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