With the Megyn Kelly "white Santa" story entering its improbable sixth day, Fox News has pulled out the big gun: Bill O'Reilly. Whenever Fox is in the headlines for an embarrassing gaffe or flagrant rupture of journalistic ethics, you can count on O'Reilly -- the network's most-watched and most doggedly loyal personality -- to do a little pinch-hit PR. O'Reilly defended his new primetime colleague's assertion of the historical fact of Santa Claus' whiteness as "totally harmless." The real bad actors, according to O'Reilly, are Fox News' critics and "the far left," who are obsessed with race ("any talk of skin color brings out the zealots") and jealous of how successful the network is.
But O'Reilly coming to bat for Megyn Kelly -- not just defending a colleague but the substance of her argument -- undercuts the network's already dubious campaign to present Kelly as an island of "Fair and Balanced" objectivity in a sea of conservative commentary.
Here's what O'Reilly said:
But in this case Miss Kelly is correct. Santa was a white person. Does that matter? No. It doesn't matter. The spirit of Santa transcends all racial boundaries. It's a spirit based on generosity, kindness to children, and magical moments. But for those who despise the Fox News Channel there's nothing magical about anything we do here. Again, a little history. When we first started up more than seventeen years ago, the mainstream media was dismissive -- believing CNN and MSNBC would crush us. And they were wrong. When that became apparent, the liberal media attacked and continues to do so today. Because they cannot defeat us on the media battlefield, the far left seeks to demonize Fox News as a right-wing propaganda machine and a racist enterprise. That's why Ms. Megyn got headlines about a Santa Claus remark that was totally harmless.
Let's set something straight here. For O'Reilly to reassert the whiteness of Santa and then say "it doesn't matter" isn't actually a defense of Kelly -- it's a repudiation. Kelly's segment was premised on the idea that Santa's whiteness does, in fact, matter. It was a response to a Slate article arguing that "Santa should not be a white man anymore" but should rather, to borrow from O'Reilly, "transcend all racial boundaries." Kelly's counterargument was, essentially, "Nope, Santa's white. Deal with it."
But on a broader level, what does it say about Megyn Kelly that Bill O'Reilly is defending her take on race and culture? This is the same Bill O'Reilly who defends "the white power structure that controls America" from "lefty zealots" who want "a new multicultural tide, a rainbow coalition, if you will" to replace "the white Christians who hold power." It's the same Bill O'Reilly who professed shock at the fact that Sylvia's restaurant in Harlem was no different from "any other restaurant in New York City. I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it's run by blacks, primarily black patronship." The guy has a record of race-baiting that stretches back years and years. This is Megyn Kelly's champion in the "white Santa" imbroglio?
That gets to the whole farce of presenting Kelly as the straight-shooting journalist type who's there to report the news and get the story. She's part of the Fox News culture. She's thrived within that culture for a reason. She caters to the conservative sensibilities of the Fox News audience while putting on an air of factual authority. Santa and Jesus are white, that's a fact. The New Black Panther scandal is exploding, that's a fact. And the fact that Bill O'Reilly thinks Megyn Kelly's "white Santa" remarks were harmless doesn't mean that Kelly didn't do anything wrong. It means she's more like Bill O'Reilly than she, or the Fox News front office, would have us believe.