One long standing Christmas tradition at Fox news is perpetuating the mythological war on Christmas. While it is not a self-evident truth that Christmas is safe in the United States, the idea that there is such a war is as absurd as the claim that there is a war on pizza. Like Christmas, pizza is liked (if not loved) by nearly everyone. While Christmas is not here year round, during the Christmas season (which seems to be October to January) the trapping of Christmas are as ubiquitous as pizza.
A long-standing Fox tactic has been to scour the United States for the few incidents that can be cast as attacks on Christmas and then elevate them into a war. This same approach could be used to “prove” that there is a war on pizza—there are, no doubt, a few incidents that can be cast as attacks on the truth and goodness of pizza. The problem is, obviously enough, that a few isolated incidents do not constitute a war—especially when the incidents tend to be presented in an exaggerated manner. What is rather ironic about Fox pushing the idea of this war is Christmas is supposed to be a time for peace on earth and good will towards all. As such, Fox seems to have its own perpetual war on the spirit of Christmas.
This year has seen a slight modification to the war on Christmas script. Breitbart and Fox recently suggested that a Jewish family was responsible for the cancellation of A Christmas Carol, which was supposed to be put on as a play by students in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. While it is true the family wanted their child excused from the play, the play was cancelled for other reasons.
One of the reasons is that changes in the education requirements set by the state make it difficult for the needed classroom time to be used to prepare for the play. This does point to a real problem in public education but does not constitute a war on Christmas.
The second reason the play was cancelled was to be respectful of the cultural and religious diversity of the students. While some might be tempted to see this as a war on Christmas, being respectful of religious diversity in the public schools does not constitute an attack on Christmas. One way to look at this situation in a different light is to imagine that a public school was putting on a play with religious content that you strongly disagree with. If, for example, you are not a fan of Islam, imagine that the school was putting on a play about Ramadan. Or, as another example, that the play brought back that old-time religion and glorified Saturnalia. If either of these plays were performed at a public school, Fox and Breitbart would most likely cast these incidents as evidence of the war on Christianity.
An incident in which one’s faith fails to dominate is not evidence of a war on that faith or its holiday. Rather, it just shows tolerance and respect for others. Going back to the pizza analogy, to decide to not have a strict pizza only policy for school lunches is not a war on pizza. While most people like pizza, making everyone eat it all the time is hardly fair or tolerant.
Since I grew up “acting” in school Christmas plays and watching them, I do have considerable sympathy for the view that something valuable would be lost if schools cancel their Christmas plays. One solution is to have generic holiday plays. Another is to have a diversity of plays around the holidays to expose children to diverse religious views and holidays. These options do have problems, but are perhaps better than cancelling the school Christmas play. Or perhaps not.
The untruths presented by Fox and Breitbart are morally problematic, but this is compounded by the fact that it was suggested that a Jewish family was responsible for the cancellation. As would be expected, there were the usual responses to this story from the internet: calls to identify the “responsible” family and to act. As many other incidents have shown, these sort of online attacks can quickly escalate into unrelenting harassment and worse.
This ties into a classic anti-Semitic narrative and is consistent with the safe-space that Trump has created for bigotry. While people who are not Jewish or have little knowledge of history might be inclined to dismiss worries about the anti-Semitism inherent in such suggestions, this should be regarded as a real problem. While it would be a slippery slope fallacy to say that this story (or other incidents) will inevitably lead to something terrible, it would also be a mistake to not be concerned about where this path leads. After all, this sort of thing has played out in many times and places and it is best to address such things when they are small. After all, it is easier to extinguish a match than a forest fire.
It must be noted that Slate and other news sites claimed that a Jewish family fled the country out of fear they would be harmed as a result of this story. While the family did express concern, it is now claimed that they left for vacation. While some might be tempted to accuse Slate and others of running fake news because of their mistake, there are two easy and obvious replies. The first is that there seems to be no intent to deceive people with a claim that was known to be untrue—Slate and others presented the information available at the time. The second is that Slate and others updated the report to reflect the new and presumably correct information. Correcting errors is not something that is done in fake news.
If the error by Slate and the others was due to failing to properly investigate the claims, then they can be justly criticized for not being properly diligent. However, if the error was not due to negligence on the part of Slate and the others, then this should be regarded as a mere mistake—and one that was corrected. Slate could also be criticized for going with the original dramatic headline about the Jewish family fleeing the country; but the main criticism should still be on the error. This one error does not, obviously enough, invalidate the rest of the reporting—the other claims stand or fall on their own.
While Fox News’ war on Christmas and Christianity myths have merely been annoying and stupid in the past, they have the potential to cause real problems in the year to come. I certainly hope I am in error about this and hope that Santa did not give America a big box of lies and hate for Christmas.