Neil Postman wrote in his brilliant essay “Silent Questions” that the questions we ask determine the answers we get. Check out the Fox News topic question here, as submitted to Crooks and Liars by a reader:
If you can’t read it clearly, it says, “ECONOMIC DISASTER IF LIBERALS WIN THE “WAR ON CHRISTMAS”?
I mean, come on. Pretending this question isn’t loaded and biased is like pretending Rush Limbaugh actually does research or Josef Stalin was a humanitarian. The bold shamelessness makes me laugh. “Fair and balanced,” indeed.
As Postman would note, this question is constructed to be answered with a simple yes or no; no complexity or nuance allowed here. Furthermore, the question’s weight is slanted toward a “yes” answer because in classic alarmist fashion, it poses a (fake) crisis. As with manipulative news show teasers, such as “the five signs of cancer that could save your life! The news at eleven!” this is a cheap ploy to create much sound and fury to get people to watch, in this case, idle and vapid chatter about a non-issue.
The question also presupposes several factors. The most glaring and biased idea is that liberals, apparently a monolithic entity, are waging a war on Christmas. They aren’t. (Can one even wage a war on Christmas? Postman would surely ask.)
The second presupposition is that economic disaster looms ahead. Yes, many businesses, most of all toy stores, do the bulk of their business in the Christmas season (I believe 25-30% is fairly common for retail businesses). As I recall, Christmas shopping did fall somewhat in 2001 after 9/11, but all the conservatives crow about how great the economy is now! Has there been some major article plausibly predicting economic disaster I’ve missed?
(Ah. But you see, the liberals want to ruin all that prosperity, because it will make Bush look bad! Liberals hate a strong economy. And they hate Christmas! And we are but their willing slaves unless we throw off their oppressive yoke and reclaim all three branches of government! Er, wait. Let me think of something about those damn hippie atheist teachers. That might play better.)
I know I won’t do any Christmas shopping because of those damn liberals. I’ll stay away from the stores and not even shop online just to spite them for practicing their so-called “religious tolerance," which we all know is nothing more than anti-Christian bigotry! When my mother looks at me with surprised and hurt eyes on Christmas morning, wondering where her gift is, I’ll shout, “Ask Howard Dean about your Christmas present!”
Does anyone truly feel Christmas is threatened? Sure, there may be isolated incidents of politically correct excess on the one hand, or overbearing religious intrusion on the other, but this just ain’t a burning issue. One of my Jewish roommates in college asserted that Chanukah, while celebrating a small miracle chiefly about tradition, cultural identity and not assimilating, was a minor holiday elevated to major status just to compete with Christmas (the big Jewish holidays being Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah instead, or even Passover). Still, most folks will take the care to wish Jewish friends Happy Chanukah versus Merry Christmas (or Happy Kwanzaa if they know one of the comparatively few people who practices it). What’s the big deal? I’ve never known a non-Christian to take offense at being wished a “Merry Christmas,” nor would anyone other than a zealot get outraged at being told, “Happy holidays.” Most devout Christian folks I know object to the crass commercialism of the season more than they fret over a choice of words; getting upset over a “Happy holidays” makes about as much sense as getting angry at someone who wishes you to “Have a nice day.”
(Instead of this focus on a non-issue, how about pressuring the airline companies not to jack up holiday airfare instead?)
But never let the lack of an actual crisis get in the way of hard-hitting news. Even if Fox did the “War on Christmas” story last year too, 'tis the seasonal gift that keeps on giving!
In this Fox News segment (you may have to scroll down a few), Neal Gabler make the point, citing an article by Michelle Goldberg, that the “War on Christmas” goes back at least to 1921 and Henry Ford and is a sham. Notice in this clip how Jane Hall is just yelled over (real gentlemanly behavior, fellas... a great job especially by the host for allowing it, and cutting off Jane Hall from responding to an ad hominem attack from Pinkerton). Pinkerton tries to argue that there is a war on Christmas, between the liberal media elites and the Christian masses; nevermind that you won't find a single major news outlet campaigning against Christmas! Meanwhile, Cal Thomas gets special mention not only for quipping that secularists worship April 1st as their holiday (what an intolerant, dismissive ass), but also for brazenly trying to argue that Jesus was intolerant! (Bravo. Try arguing that at a good seminary.)
The only reason to watch Fox News is those rare moments when the truth breaks through by a guest calling “bullshit” on the Fox crew. Jane Hall and Neal Gabler do just that:
Neal: ...I want to talk about the media angle because we have avoided it-it's the elephant in the room. It's Fox News. Come on-It's Bill O'Reilly, it's Sean Hannity, it's Gibson. They're demogogues who realized that in Christmas time you can-(garbled)- rouse the masses on this issue. They'll do it every Christmas. They did it last Christmas, they'll do it next Christmas.
Neal: We're at war, there's Darfur, there's an AIDS crisis and you're worried about whether people should say Merry Christmas? What world do you live in?
What makes all this hysteria from Fox News so much funnier is that Laura Bush said “Happy holidays” just last week, and the conservative commentators only seem to have caught up with this now, as the White House cards celebrating the “holiday season” arrive. The Washington Post reports:
"This clearly demonstrates that the Bush administration has suffered a loss of will and that they have capitulated to the worst elements in our culture," said William A. Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.
Bush "claims to be a born-again, evangelical Christian. But he sure doesn't act like one," said Joseph Farah, editor of the conservative Web site WorldNetDaily.com. "I threw out my White House card as soon as I got it."
Wow! Now that’s Christian! How dare you wish me well in a way that does not proclaim your religion is the same as mine!
Because, let’s face it, what the Christmas season is really about is intolerance. Keith Olbermann picks up on the ludicrousness of "Christian" intolerance as he names Fox News’ intellectual lightweight John Gibson his “worst person in the world” for 12/2/05. Olbermann explains, after discussing the runners-up:
But the winner, and this one comes with great personal pain because we were friends when he worked here and thereafter: John Gibson. Selling his new book about this phony-baloney war on Christmas, John revealed a very ugly side to himself. He is one of those people who think all religions but his are mistaken. You know, the way a lot of these religious nutbag terrorists think. "I would think," Gibbie said on a syndicated radio show, "if somebody is going to be -- have to answer for following the wrong religion, they are not going to have to answer to me. We know who they're going to have to answer to."
I'd tell you which religion John thinks is the only one that's right, but what's the difference? It's not the faith that's the issue; it's the intolerance.
Amen. I also read one blog comment that pointed out that's it rather funny that supposed "Christians" are so up in arms over a "Christmas tree" being called a "holiday tree," when it's just an adopted pagan tradition anyway: "Maybe I need to re-read the Bible, but I don't remember a big evergreen next to the manger."
There will be a lot of heathens burning this winter — Wait! Burning this Christmas! — I can promise you that! (Film at eleven!)