Newspapers, commentators agree: Virginia, there is no War on Christmas

››› ››› SAM GILL

About this time last year, the media was abuzz with talk of a purported "war" on Christmas, a charge promoted by Fox News hosts Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, who blamed the supposed offensive on "secular progressives" who seek to drive religion from the public square. This October, O'Reilly resumed his fight against the "war" -- the same month the book The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought (Sentinel, 2005), written by O'Reilly's fellow Fox News host John Gibson, was published. The allegation of a secular conspiracy against the Christian holiday became a recurring theme on Fox News programs; for example, over the course of a five-day period at the end of November through early December, the network had devoted 58 segments to the topic.

Media Matters for America surveyed the newspapers in the Nexis database called "News, All (English, Full Text)" to examine how the allegations of a political attack on the Christmas holiday have been treated by editorial boards, columnists, and other commentators. Media Matters' survey was inspired, in part, by claims made by O'Reilly, who, on the December 21 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, complained about the press reaction to his Christmas crusade:

O'REILLY: The press, however, continues to run against the folks. Thirty-one -- 31 -- separate newspaper articles have attacked me in the past few weeks. Only three newspapers have stuck up for Christmas: the Ventura County Star, Investor's Business Daily, and The Wall Street Journal.

But a Media Matters review has found that O'Reilly underestimated both support for and opposition to -- on the opinion pages of the nation's newspapers -- the idea that there is, in fact, a "war" on Christmas.

For the purpose of analysis, the articles were divided first by "editorial" -- unsigned pieces that express the opinion of a newspaper's editorial board and thus the official position of the paper -- and "opinion pieces," signed commentaries that include op-ed pieces and columns that appear on a newspaper's editorial and opinion pages. We then sorted further into these two categories:

1) The author accepted the premise that there is indeed a "war" on Christmas or addressed a perceived erosion of Christian values through so-called "politically correct" modifications to Christmas traditions, greetings, and celebrations.

2) The author dismissed the claim of a concerted attack on the Christmas holiday, disputed the existence of any major affront to Christianity, or described the entire "conflict" as generally exaggerated.

Within each one of those two categories, Media Matters assessed the number of editorials and signed opinion pieces and the total number of articles that mention Fox News and/or Bill O'Reilly and/or John Gibson.


The war on Christmas is real

The war on Christmas is bogus




signed opinion pieces



editorials and signed opinion pieces that mention Fox News and/or O'Reilly and/or Gibson



Opinion pieces: The war on Christmas is real

Although O'Reilly claims that the Ventura County Star and The Wall Street Journal "have stuck up for Christmas," neither paper has taken a stance on the Christmas controversy; both, however, have run opinion pieces on the issue. The Star ran two opinion pieces on December 18 that essentially cancel each other out: 1) a column by commentator Richard Schaefer in which he condemned "modern humbuggers" who attack Christmas; and 2) a column by editor Joe Howry. From Howry's column:

The Star got caught up in the what do we call it thing last week when Fox personality Bill O'Reilly announced on his television show that The Star was the only newspaper he could find in the country that supported his stand that we had become ridiculously politically correct by not acknowledging that the holiday season is primarily the Christmas holiday and that we should call it as such. He also doesn't like the idea of taking Christmas out of greetings and public displays.

As much as I liked the idea of being singled out by O'Reilly for taking a courageous stand on the issue, the truth is, to the best of our recollections, we haven't taken that stand. Well, that's not altogether true, either. We have formed an opinion; we just haven't published it. Reluctantly, and without taking sides, we have come to the conclusion that the whole thing is kind of silly.

Similarly, while Wall Street Journal editorial page deputy editor Daniel Henninger spoke out against excessive political correctness regarding Christmas, he did not let Christmas pugilists like O'Reilly off the hook either:

War is hell, and Christmas as originally conceived was supposed to be about deliverance from that. Those insistent believers, non-believers and pundits who won't rest 'til their side wins the great Christmas war should come clean and admit that their favorite soul this time of year is and always has been Ebenezer Scrooge.

Oddly, five of the 14 opinion pieces that express a perceived erosion of Christmas hail from Canada, a country that O'Reilly attacked in a November 18 discussion with Fox News host John Gibson about the implications of the Christmas "war" purportedly being waged by "secular progressives":

Because if you look at what happened in Western Europe and Canada, if you can get religion out, then you can pass secular progressive programs like legalization of narcotics, euthanasia, abortion at will, gay marriage.

Editorials: The war on Christmas is real

Of the three editorials in favor of the idea that there is a "war" on Christmas, only an Investor's Business Daily editorial mentions O'Reilly, standing firmly in his camp and praising him for "leading the charge in exposing those striving to strip Christmas of all religious content and to suppress religious expression to make it easier to advance their secular agenda." The two other newspapers that "stuck up for Christmas," to use O'Reilly's phrase, were The Cincinnati Enquirer and The Augusta Chronicle (Georgia).

Opinion pieces: The war on Christmas is bogus

Several of the nation's leading commentators have taken notable issue with the idea of a "war" on Christmas, and some have been less than kind to O'Reilly. Here's a sampling of the 46 signed opinion-page pieces questioning O'Reilly's assertion of an attack on the holiday:

- BILL PRESS, syndicated columnist: "Haven't you heard? If you believe Fox News, this is the last Christmas we'll ever enjoy. We'll be lucky even to celebrate this one. Because, according to Faux News, Christmas is under attack."

- RUTH MARCUS, Washington Post editorial page staff: "If the anti-Christmas forces are winning, then the war in Iraq is nothing short of total victory."

- NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF (subscription required), New York Times op-ed columnist: "Perhaps I'm particularly sensitive to religious hypocrites because I've spent a chunk of time abroad watching Muslim versions of Mr. O'Reilly -- demagogic table-thumpers who exploit public religiosity as a cynical ploy to gain attention and money. And I always tell moderate Muslims that they need to stand up to blustery blowhards -- so today, I'm taking my own advice."

And how has O'Reilly responded?

O'REILLY: The usual committed left-wing ideologues -- like columnist Ellen Goodman, Bill Press, Nicholas Kristof -- are very worried about the Christmas deal, largely because the secular movement is getting its butt kicked. (The O'Reilly Factor, 12/13)

O'REILLY: Kristof, top to bottom, you know, is distorting, lying, you know, everything he can possibly do. (The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly, 12/19)

Editorials: The war on Christmas is bogus

O'Reilly has openly attacked several of the 14 newspapers (noted by an * below) whose editorial boards have cast a skeptical eye on his Christmas "war." A number of editorials have, indeed, been quite critical of the assertion by O'Reilly and others of a "war" on Christmas:

- From the December 2 The State Journal-Register editorial (Springfield, Illinois; subscription required):

To Gibson, O'Reilly and their legion of blogging, talk-radio-calling, letter-to-the-editor-writing disciples, this seemingly innocuous alteration of the greeting is merely Step 1 in a far more sinister plot. A sinister plot whose final solution is replacement of a decent, Christian majority society with a nation of godless, drug-addled cretins.

- From the December 3 Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Yet to hear some voices -- Bill O'Reilly's, for instance -- Christmas lies under siege. Unless defended, it even could disappear! What planet do these Scrooges inhabit?

- From the December 10 Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin):

Of course, boycotting Fox would include no longer watching "The O'Reilly Factor," whose host, Bill O'Reilly, is fomenting this year's hysteria over holiday semantics. But we would argue that "peddling filth" is a worse sin than selling merchandise under a "Happy Holidays" sign.

One O'Reilly response involved comparing the Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial -- whose criticism surprised him -- to the media in Madison, Wisconsin:

O'REILLY: Now, this is a conservative city, Richmond. I mean, this is not Madison, Wisconsin, where you expect those people to be communing with Satan up there in the Madison, Wisconsin, media. (The O'Reilly Factor, 12/13)

Editorials: The war on Christmas is real

The Cincinnati Enquirer, 12/5

The Augusta Chronicle (Georgia), 12/10

Investor's Business Daily, 12/16

Opinion pieces: The war on Christmas is real

Beth Joyner Waldron, The Christian Science Monitor, 12/1 (also appeared in Pittsburgh Tribune Review)

Joe Muench, El Paso Times, 12/4

John Geiger, National Post (Canada; subscription required), 12/5 (also appeared in The Vancouver Sun)

James Pinkerton, Newsday, 12/8

Frank Beckmann, The Detroit News, 12/9

George Mather, The Brockville Recorder and Times (Ontario; available on Nexis), 12/9

Dana D. Kelley, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (purchase required), 12/9

Ted Byfield, The Calgary Sun (Alberta), 12/11

Connie Woodcock, The Toronto Sun, 12/12 (also appeared in the London Free Press [Ontario], the Edmonton Sun [Alberta], and The Ottawa Sun)

Cindy Richards, Chicago Sun-Times, 12/14

Richard Schaefer, Ventura County Star (California), 12/18

James D. Slack, The Birmingham News (Alabama), 12/18

John Cartledge, The Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania), 12/20

Naomi Lakritz, Calgary Herald (Alberta, subscription required), 12/22

Editorials: The war on Christmas is bogus

The State Journal-Register (Springfield, Illinois; subscription required), 12/2

* Richmond Times-Dispatch, 12/3

* Austin American-Statesman, 12/10

* Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin), 12/10

* Charleston Gazette (West Virginia):

- 12/10

- 12/15

- 12/19

The Toledo Blade (Ohio), 12/11

The Boston Globe, 12/11

Guardian (Prince Edward Island; available on Nexis), 12/13

Philadelphia Daily News, 12/14

*San Francisco Chronicle, 12/18

The Roanoke Times (Virginia), 12/19

Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wisconsin), 12/20

Opinion pieces: The war on Christmas is bogus

*Thomas Tryon, Sarasota Herald Tribune, 12/4

Philip Gailey, St. Petersburg Times, 12/4 (also appeared in the Augusta Chronicle and the Biloxi Sun Herald)

*Adam Cohen, The New York Times, 12/4

Dianne Williamson, Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Massachusetts; subscription required), 12/6

*Joel Stein, Los Angeles Times, 12/6 (also appeared in the Grand Forks Herald, the Iowa City Press-Citizen, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

*Cynthia Tucker, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 12/7 (also appeared in The Times Union [Albany, NY], The Palm Beach Post [FL], and The Baltimore Sun)

*Bill Press, Star-Banner (Ocala, Florida), 12/4 (also appeared in the Sentinel and Enterprise, [Fitchburg, Massachusetts])

Marianne Means, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 12/9

John Tierney, The New York Times, 12/10

Michael McGough, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/10

Colbert I. King, The Washington Post, 12/10 (also appeared in The New York Sun)

*Ruth Marcus, The Washington Post, 12/10 (also appeared in the Monterey County Herald [California], the Times-Union, the San Jose Mercury News, the Tulsa World, and the Duluth News-Tribune [Minnesota])

*Ellen Goodman, The Boston Globe, 12/9 (also appeared in The Houston Chronicle, the Courier News [Bridgewater, New Jersey], Charleston Gazette [West Virginia], the Augusta Chronicle, the Saint Paul Pioneer Press [Minnesota], The Miami Herald, Buffalo News [New York], The Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and The Kansas City Star)

*Chris Satullo, *The Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/11

Dusty Nix, *Ledger-Enquirer (Georgia; available on Nexis), 12/11

John Laird, The Columbian (Clark County; Washington), 12/11

*Marcy Rothenberg, Daily News (Los Angeles), 12/11

Jim Buchanan, Asheville Citizen-Times (North Carolina), 12/11

*Kevin Horrigan, St. Louis Post Dispatch, 12/11 (also appeared in The Tribune [Port St. Lucie/Fort Pierce, FL], the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and the Tulsa World)

*Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times (subscription required), 12/11

Marsha Mercer, *Richmond Times-Dispatch, 12/11 (also appeared in the Winston-Salem Journal)

*Leonard Pitts, Buffalo News, 12/12 (also appeared in The Wichita Eagle, the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald, the Aberdeen American News [South Dakota], the Orlando Sentinel, the Chattanooga Times Free Press)

Jennifer Marks, Home Textiles Today (subscription required), 12/12

Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune, 12/13 (also appeared in The Baltimore Sun)

Richard Larsen: Ventura County Star,

Kathleen Merryman, *The News Tribune (Tacoma, Washington), 12/14

Rhonda Chriss Lokeman, Kansas City Star, 12/14

Randy Krebs, St. Cloud Times (Minnesota), 12/14

Charita M. Goshay, Copley News Service, 12/14

Jay Bookman, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 12/15 (also appeared in The Times-Union)

Patt Morrison, Los Angeles Times (registration required), 12/15

Dante Chinni, The Christian Science Monitor, 12/16

Carol Manda, Dayton Daily News, 12/16

Rodney Kennedy, Dayton Daily News, 12/16

Rev. John F. Hudson, Boston Herald (purchase required), 12/17

*Andrew Hunt, Record (Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario; subscription required), 12/17

*Jane Holahan, Lancaster New Era (Pennsylvania), 12/17

*Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times (subscription required), 12/18

Joe Howry, Ventura County Star, 12/18

*Lynne Van Luven, Times Colonist (Victoria, British Columbia; subscription required), 12/18

Tommy Denton, The Roanoke Times (Virginia), 12/18

Rev. N. Graham Standish, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12/18

*Peter Ames Carlin, Oregonian, 12/18

*Cynthia Tucker, The Baltimore Sun, 12/19 (also appeared in the Palm Beach Post and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

John Nichols, *Capital Times, 12/20

*Jeff Gelles, *The Philadelphia Inquirer, 12/20

Michelle Gillett, Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, Massachusetts; available on Nexis), 12/20

*Items marked by an asterisk (*) have been mentioned by Bill O'Reilly on either Fox News' or Westwood One's The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly.

NB: Media Matters for America employed the following Nexis search:

Christmas w/10 war OR political! correct! OR Bill O'Reilly OR John Gibson OR Fox News AND section (editorial OR opinion) -- Date Range: December 1-21, 2005.

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