On the December 12 edition of Comedy Central's The Daily Show, Jon Stewart asked who Fox News host Megyn Kelly was talking to when she declared that Santa Claus is white. From The Daily Show:
From the December 12 edition of MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes:
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If only Santa Claus were a homeless child.
Fox News host Megyn Kelly sparked outrage this week after insisting that Santa and Jesus were white:
KELLY: By the way, for the kids at home, Santa just is white but this person is arguing that maybe we should also have a black Santa. Santa is what he is and we are debating this because someone wrote about it.
Those controversial comments came in reference to a thought-provoking post penned by Slate columnist Aisha Harris that appeared under the headline "Santa Claus Should Not Be a White Man Anymore." Harris' piece is worth reading.
In short, she explains the confusion she faced as a child reconciling the ubiquitous images of a white Santa Claus with the one she experienced in her own neighborhood, where Santa Claus was black. It's a compelling take on the way media images and iconic cultural touchstones can marginalize:
I remember feeling slightly ashamed that our black Santa wasn't the "real thing." Because when you're a kid and you're inundated with the imagery of a pale seasonal visitor--and you notice that even some black families decorate their houses with white Santas--you're likely to accept the consensus view, despite your parents' noble intentions.
In an increasingly pluralistic society, Harris asks, shouldn't our seasonal icon be more representative of society?
It's worth asking why it is so important to Megyn Kelly that her audience (and the children she imagines are watching The Kelly File) maintain their conceptualization of Santa Claus as a white man. It's not as if Harris concluded that Santa should be a black woman. She proposed replacing Santa with a penguin.
Kelly helped cut her teeth at Fox as a member of Bill O'Reilly's culture warriors. In that context, her comments help explain the culture she is helping to defend: her own.
At the very least, Kelly's reaction to a non-white Santa demonstrates a troubling lack of empathy, but it is an empathy deficit that is becoming a pattern with Kelly, who went to great pains to portray herself as a non-ideological, serious reporter when she took over a primetime show.
Kelly has received some credit for speaking "truth to power" inside the Fox News bubble, in part getting accolades for aggressively challenging two of her male colleagues after they criticized female breadwinners as symptomatic of what is wrong with America in the 21st century. And there is no doubt that Kelly deserved credit for using her position of power to reject misogyny.
But her record of using that position of power to defend non-majority populations is sketchy when it comes to experiences outside her own.
After Kelly pushed back on one of her guests on Fox for referring to maternity leave as "a racket," Jon Stewart skewered her for having previously dismissed society's interest in making sure that workers have a basic level of benefits. Stewart demonstrated that Kelly's position on the danger of entitlements being "baked in the cake" was at odds with her newfound defense of workers being entitled to maternity leave.
In other words, the empathy deficit remained. It's just that Kelly's own culture now included maternity leave.
Kelly's warfare on behalf of her own culture taps into broader power dynamics that are at play throughout the media. As Media Matters has documented, broadcast and cable news is disproportionately the home of white men. And particularly in the arena of nightly television news, it is the dominion of highly paid elites who have the ability to set the agenda.
So it's important to look at the stories that don't get covered.
Megyn Kelly's rejection of a non-white Santa was one of 13 references to Santa Claus on major cable or broadcast news programs that night, according to Nexis. And the reasoning behind her discussion, Kelly explained on air, was that "somebody wrote about it."
The same justification could have been given for a discussion about homeless children. Yet by contrast, there were three references to homelessness that night. One of those came from a Fox host complaining that a Duck Dynasty star had been mistaken for a homeless person at a Caribbean hotel.
None of those segments told the story of Dasani, an adolescent homeless girl who formed the center of "Invisible Child," a New York Times expose by Andrea Elliot on homelessness in New York City running this week. According to Nexis, Dasani's story was the focus of only a single segment during evening and primetime news this week.
A senior attorney for Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a far-right legal organization beloved by Fox News personalities, cheered India's Supreme Court for reinstating that country's ban on gay sex, calling the decision a model for the United States. ADF's support for the decision came a week after Fox host Bill O'Reilly praised the group on-air.
On December 11, India's Supreme Court restored a colonial-era law banning "carnal intercourse against the order of nature." The ruling overturned a 2009 ruling by the Delhi High Court finding the law unconstitutional. Under the 1861 statute, gay sex is punishable by a fine and up to 10 years in prison.
Benjamin Bull, executive director of ADF Global, gave a December 12 interview with the news service of the anti-gay hate group the American Family Association and applauded the decision. Bull contrasted the Indian ruling with the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 Lawrence v. Texas ruling overturning anti-sodomy laws:
"When given the same choice the Supreme Court of the United States had in Lawrence vs. Texas, the Indian Court did the right thing," says Bull, which was choose to "protect society at large rather than give in to a vocal minority of homosexual advocates."
The net effect is to protect the integrity of the family and by extension to protect traditional marriage.
In the Texas case, the state's high court struck down sodomy laws in a 6-3 decision that affected similar laws in other states.
The Texas case "laid the groundwork for the invalidation of traditional marriage by a number of courts subsequent to that," the attorney explains.
The Indian Supreme Court saw what had happened there "and was wise enough not to want to go down that road."
"America needs to take note that a country of 1.2 billion people has rejected the road towards same-sex marriage, and understood that these kinds of bad decisions in the long run will harm society," he adds.
The language of the Indian statute is identical to that found in many other current and former colonies of the British Empire, including Belize. In that country, ADF has supplied lawyers to defend the criminalization of gay sex.
Undisturbed by the group's rabidly anti-LGBT positions, Fox News has long maintained a cozy relationship with ADF. In an interview on his December 2 show, Bill O'Reilly effusively thanked ADF senior vice president Doug Napier for his group's efforts to combat the manufactured "War on Christmas." "God bless you, each and every one," O'Reilly gushed. Before O'Reilly's sycophantic interview, Fox News contributor Erick Erickson solicited donations for the group. Meanwhile, Fox reporters Shannon Bream, Megyn Kelly, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck have hosted ADF lawyers for one-sided interviews on the imagined dangers of anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people.
With the ADF giving its full-throated backing to the Indian court ruling and urging the U.S. to "take note" of the development, the organization has again demonstrated that its claims of "defending freedom" are little more than an Orwellian fraud. The question is whether Fox will continue to play along; and based on its track record, it seems the answer is yes.
To hear conservatives tell it, Santa Claus is most definitely white, and his home isn't melting. At least that's what Fox News, with its recent barrage of attacks on an ad in which Santa warns about the impact of climate change on his Arctic home, would lead you to believe.
In December, the environmental group Greenpeace released an ad featuring the butler from Downton Abbey as a distraught Santa, who warns that as climate change drives continued Arctic ice melt, he may have to cancel Christmas. The ad calls for protecting the Arctic from offshore oil drilling, which, in a grim irony, is only possible in the region because of the ice melt.
The cheeky video was a "new low" achieved by "any-means-necessary" tactics, according to Fox News. It was also a chance to deny climate change. Rush Limbaugh declared "The ice is not melting at the North Pole," and a Fox News guest said "Santa's home is going to be fine ... for a long, long time to come." Fox News co-host Eric Bolling claimed contrary to any temperature record that "the globe is getting colder":
But Santa is right: the North Pole is melting. Arctic ice registered a record low in 2012 in line with a long-term melting trend. The sea ice extent in 2013 was not as low as 2012's (as was expected), but it was still among the lowest extents in the 35-year record, and does not represent a "recovery":
As evidence grows that former Republican Senator Scott Brown is going to run for Senate in New Hampshire, he continues to cash a paycheck from Fox News, where he's currently employed as a contributor. Brown is just the latest in an ever-expanding roster of conservative Fox employees who have used a job at the network to set up a run for political office.
Fox hired Brown in February after his failed re-election bid for the Massachusetts Senate seat he won after the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy. The network had been perhaps his biggest champion during his successful 2010 senate run, allowing Brown to plug his fundraising website on-air while hosts and contributors fawned over him.
Since taking the Fox job, Brown has repeatedly dropped hints that he might consider challenging Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) in 2014. According to National Journal, while Republican leaders in the state previously dismissed Brown's supposed interest in running as a "fallen political star desperate for attention," they have "begun taking Brown seriously." Though he is scheduled to give a speech at the New Hampshire GOP's holiday fundraiser later this month, Brown continues to play coy about whether he has made up his mind about a run.
At Politico, media reporter Dylan Byers explains that the best indication of whether Brown is serious about running is whether Fox News severs his contract, as they did in 2011 when former employees Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum were in the early stages of mounting presidential bids. (More recently, Fox terminated former contributor Liz Cheney's contract when she formally announced her run for the Senate in Wyoming.)
Until such time as Fox ends his contract, Brown will operate in an ethically dubious grey area. It benefits him to delay a formal declaration of any kind so that he can continue to utilize his Fox platform, while both Brown and the network reap rewards from the related "will he or won't he" attention. As Byers explains, "you can rest assured that he'll use the Fox News platform to prove his conservative bonafides to Granite State voters." And in recent weeks, Brown has done just that.
Fox News hosts used meaningless hand gestures to mock the interpreter at Nelson Mandela's memorial service who reportedly did not use standard sign language, even after another news organization apologized for a similar sight gag.
As NPR reported, there is "outrage among many in the deaf community" after it was revealed that the interpreter who was assigned to translate speeches for the hearing impaired during the December 10 ceremony did not use standard American or South African sign language. Wilma Newhoudt, a Deaf member of South Africa's parliament and vice president of the World Federation of the Deaf, tweeted that the interpreter was using meaningless hand gestures and suggested he be removed from the stage. The interpreter defended his work before claiming that suffered a "schizophrenic episode" during the memorial. An investigation is pending.
Fox News reported the story with Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade making meaningless hand gestures and waving his arms around while his co-hosts laughed.
Later in the show, America's Newsroom co-host Martha MacCallum meaninglessly moved her hands around while attempting to sign "I love you."
NBC's Today show apologized for similarly mocking the incident on December 11, after a producer mimed fake sign language during the broadcast. Minutes after the gag aired, a representative for the show tweeted "We aired a joke in our 9:00 hour that was offensive. We apologize to our viewers."
FoxNews.com reported on the Today show segment, noting that many in the Deaf community were offended.
Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto is blaming "the war on men" supposedly waged by "Barack Obama's America" for the school suspension of a six-year-old Colorado boy for sexual harassment.
First-grader Hunter Yelton made national news this week following his suspension from elementary school for sexual harassment after he kissed a female classmate on the hand. While the nation debated the appropriateness of the punishment, Taranto espoused a new theory in a December 11 piece for The Wall Street Journal: Yelton is the "littlest casualty in the war on men."
"In Barack Obama's America, even a small boy can become a sexual suspect," Taranto wrote, claiming the boy's school was "following orders from Washington" when it issued the suspension. As evidence, he cited an April 2011 letter from then-Assistant Secretary of Education, Russlynn Ali, which reminded schools, colleges, and universities receiving federal funds of their obligation under Title IX to respond to allegations of sexual violence and sexual harassment at their facilities.
Taranto decried these sexual harassment regulations as unfairly policing men, going so far as to suggest that sexual harassment is normal male behavior that has become stigmatized (quote marks are his own):
As amusing as the story of Hunter Yelton is, however, it is an example of a dire and widespread problem. "Sexual harassment" rules are ostensibly sex-neutral, but in practice they are used primarily to police male behavior. Feminists like Hanna Rosin note with triumph that girls and women do better in school than their male counterparts. One reason is that normal female behavior is seldom stigmatized or punished in the name of "civil rights."
And while college "justice" is often downright oppressive, the excesses of contemporary feminism know no age limits. As the story of Hunter Yelton demonstrates, the war on men is also a war on little boys.
Taranto's theory quickly made it to Fox News, where The Kelly File devoted an entire segment to speculating whether the Obama administration shares blame in the child's suspension. In response to host Megyn Kelly's question, "does the administration have a hand in this," conservative radio host Dana Loesch repeated Taranto's argument, claiming regulating sexual harassment "polices male behavior, it's the persecution of a guy."
From the December 11 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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Fox Business host David Asman baselessly speculated that health care reform's Medicaid expansion could bankrupt states, a prediction at odds with economic experts who have declared the expansion "a very favorable financial deal for states."
The Affordable Care Act allows states to expand Medicaid programs to provide coverage for people whose income falls below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Initially, the federal government covers the full cost of new enrollees. After 2016, the federal government will continue to pay 90 percent of the program's cost.
On the December 11 edition of Fox News' America's News HQ, Asman warned that new Medicaid enrollees who became eligible for coverage due to the Affordable Care Act's would be covered at "an extraordinary extra cost to taxpayers." Asman went so far as to claim the cost could bankrupt states:
ASMAN: States are spending 30 - 40 percent of their entire budget on Medicaid. And as these more people sign on to Medicaid because of Obamacare, they're going to not only cost us taxpayers more money on the federal level, but they may make some states go bankrupt, because they won't be able to keep up with all those extra Medicaid patients.
Expanding Medicaid would not only not bankrupt states, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), it "will add very little to what states would have spent on Medicaid without health reform." CBPP found that "Expanding Medicaid is thus a very favorable financial deal for states":
Right-wing media launched a series of sexist attacks on Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt after she took a photo with President Obama during the Nelson Mandela memorial service, calling her "Denmark Babe," "Danish Pastry," and referring to her as a sexual object.
Fox News' Sean Hannity falsely claimed that a background check occurs on every gun sale in America to attack an ad that calls for action on gun violence in memory of the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
The December 10 edition of Hannity included a segment on a new ad called "No More Silence" from gun violence prevention groups Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG). The ad depicts a moment of silence for victims of the Newtown tragedy while also advocating for action to be taken on gun violence to prevent future tragedies. Asking if the ad was "politicizing tragedy," Hannity made a number of false claims about gun violence during the segment:
After American Values Institute Executive Director Alexis McGill Johnson said that action on gun violence would include reforms so that "every gun sold has a background check," Hannity replied, "We already have that." (Both MAIG and Moms Demand Action make expanding checks a major component of their advocacy.)
In fact, a significant number of firearms are sold without background checks through so-called private sales, often at gun shows or over the Internet. Gun shows and websites that specialize in private sales have been linked to illegal trafficking operations, both narcoterrorismand international terrorism, and serve as conduits for individuals who would fail a background check because they are prohibited by law from owning a gun. Indeed, research has shown that a large percentage of criminals obtain firearms through private transactions.
A new academic review from the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy contradicts Fox News' conflation of violence and mental health, finding that the two are only related under narrow circumstances and that the vast majority of people with mental health conditions are not violent. The report calls for developing better "evidence-based criteria" for determining who is more likely to commit acts of violence and prohibiting them from owning guns.
The December 11 report is the work of mental health and gun violence researchers from top universities and research programs including the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. The report emphasizes a commitment to create evidence-based gun violence prevention policy recommendations that are informed by "the best available research" on gun violence and mental health.
While noting that it is important not to stigmatize those with mental health conditions, the Consortium's report recommends expanding the federal prohibition on gun ownership by individuals adjudicated as having a serious mental health condition to also include persons receiving involuntary outpatient treatment when a court has ruled the person is a danger to themselves or others.
The Consortium's approach, where the recommendation is based on academic research, stands in sharp contrast to Fox News' reporting. Indeed, Fox News' coverage of the relationship between gun violence and mental health has often failed to provide a nuanced picture of what is a complex issue, with the network unfairly stereotyping individuals with mental health conditions as prone to violence and using mental health to distract from the most significant factor in much of gun violence: access to firearms.
The latest development in the never-ending soap opera of congressional budget negotiations is that Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) are close to reaching a limited deal to partially replace spending cuts imposed earlier this year (the much-maligned sequestration). The details of the deal are not known, but that hasn't stopped conservative activist groups and pundits from denouncing Ryan -- a long-time conservative hero for his austere budget proposals -- as a sellout.
The Washington Post laid out what little is known about the emerging deal:
Senior aides familiar with the talks say the emerging agreement aims to partially repeal the sequester and raise agency spending to roughly $1.015 trillion in fiscal 2014 and 2015. That would bring agency budgets up to the target already in place for fiscal 2016. To cover the cost, Ryan and Murray are haggling over roughly $65 billion in alternative policies, including cuts to federal worker pensions and higher security fees for the nation's airline passengers.
Salon's Brian Beutler notes that if the deal ends up looking like this rough outline, then there's no real reason for conservatives to be all that upset: "If inked, it wouldn't raise revenue through the tax code, and would protect the Defense Department from sequestration's most severe cuts. At the same time, some of the savings in the deal would likely come out of the hide of federal workers."
And yet, the outcry from activists was swift. Groups like Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity, and FreedomWorks are urging conservative members of Congress to vote against the budget deal, even though they don't know what the deal actually looks like.
Appearing on Fox News on December 10, Stuart Varney trashed the deal, calling it "a handshake deal. It does absolutely nothing to resolve the basic problems which we're facing. It does not tackle entitlement reform, it does not tackle tax reform, and it does nothing to drastically reduce the debt."
Fox News hyped baseless claims from fast food industry sources that the recent fast food protests were nothing but "rent-a-mob[s]" and misleadingly cited national labor statistics to minimize the fast-food workers' apparent need for increased wages.
On the December 10 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade suggested that there was a "secret ingredient" in the December 5 demonstrations by fast food workers and their advocates in support of minimum wage increases, asking Fox contributor and anti-union activist Mallory Factor to weigh in. Factor claimed "it was rent-a-mob. purely rent-a-mob," and that "these guys were getting $50, $75 in Seattle, for instance" -- claims which he sourced to the National Restaurant Association. Responding to Factor's assertions, Kilmeade did note that the director of the Fast Food Forward campaign, a group that had helped organize the protests, had denied allegations that protesters had been paid, yet then went on to mislead about the economic factors fueling the protests by claiming that only "2 percent of the workforce are minimum-wage workers and only 1.5 percent of them support their families or themselves on that salary."
Kilmeade's claim that only 2 percent of the workforce is paid the minimum wage references national workforce data, and does not reflect the reality of low wages in the fast food industry. In fact, an August 2013 study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) found that about 13 percent of fast food workers make at or below the federal minimum wage, and about "70 percent of fast-food workers fall in the range between the current $7.25 federal minimum wage and the $10.10 level." From CEPR:
A study by researchers from the University of Illinois and the University of California-Berkeley found that 68 percent of fast food workers are the primary wage earners for their families, and CEPR noted that "more than one-fourth" of all fast food workers are responsible for raising at least one child. According to CEPR, 40 percent of fast food workers are over the age of 25, and of the fast food workers that are above age 20, "almost 85 percent have a high school degree or more and over one-third have spent at least some time in college (including about 6 percent who have earned a college diploma)."
Furthermore, Factor's characterization of the fast-food demonstrators as "rent-a-mobs" echoes a discredited anti-labor line of attack that has been pushed by notorious restaurant industry lobbyist Richard Berman and his anti-labor front groups, The Center for Union Facts and ROC Exposed, as well as by Walmart. The fact that Factor only cites a claim from the National Restaurant Association, an industry lobby group, that the protesters were "paid demonstrators" as a source for his "rent-a-mob" claim does not lend his argument much credibility.
Image via Steve Rhodes