Pennsylvania news outlets are reporting that a Jewish family fled Lancaster County in fear after stories from Fox News and Breitbart.com suggested they could be partially to blame for the cancellation of an elementary school Christmas play. The family cited comments from Breitbart readers about doxing the family (“It would be nice if we had the addresses”) for their decision to flee, saying they feared another “pizza incident,” referencing a situation in which a man opened fire in a Washington, D.C., pizzeria after reading fake news stories.
LancasterOnline.com reported in a December 22 article:
A Hempfield elementary school is under fire for ending its longstanding production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” and a Jewish family has fled the county in fear because it’s being blamed for the cancellation. The unfolding controversy at Centerville Elementary School played out this week in national conservative media outlets including FOX News and Breitbart News Network, which portray the school’s move as part of a “war on Christmas.” The school, however, has said it put an end to the play this year because it took 15 to 20 hours of classroom time to produce.
The fifth-grader’s parents, who spoke to LNP on the condition that they not be named, say they didn’t complain about the play or request that it be canceled, but just asked in September if their child could be excused from the play, and were told yes. Since the school announced the cancellation in November, however, they say the child has been harassed by classmates. Principal Tom Kramer, who is in his first year at the school, posted a letter on the school website on Dec. 15 confronting rumors “that one or two families influenced this decision” to cancel the play. “That’s just not true,” he wrote.
Since the Fox and Breitbart stories, a spokeswoman for the school district said, the school has received at least 200 emails and phone calls either supporting or objecting to the decision or asking for additional information. The Jewish student’s parents say some of the reactions to the stories frightened them. After seeing reader comments like “It would be nice if we had the addresses of those concerned citizens and, I bet, this info is known to people living in the area” on the Breitbart story, the parents pulled their child out of school and headed out of the area for a bit. “There’s no way we’re going to take a chance after the pizza incident,” they said, referencing the man who fired an assault rifle in a Washington D.C area pizzeria after reading a fake-news story that said Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of there.
Both Fox & Friends Sunday and Fox News Radio’s Todd Starnes covered the story, as did Breitbart, pushing local parents’ claims that the school canceled the play because of a Jewish student’s parents complaining about the line “God bless us, everyone.” Fox News has done hundreds of stories highlighting a so-called “War on Christmas” going back at least 12 years, covering its invented narrative to such a ludicrous extent that some Fox hosts have actually spent more time on the topic than on, say, veterans or actual wars. Fox has pushed the “War on Christmas” narrative so much, for so long, that according to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Fox may have changed Americans’ preferences for the holiday greetings they prefer to hear.
The climate Fox has created with its “War on Christmas” has turned frightful, rather than delightful. Thanks to the attention it received from right-wing media outlets, the Pennsylvania family feared for its safety. The story had zero national news value, yet Fox pushed the narrative to continue its “War on Christmas” drivel. Fox and other conservative outlets should use this incident to reflect on the repercussions of their culture war next time they want to complain about Starbucks cups. But it doesn’t show signs of stopping.
UPDATE: The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued a press release on December 22 stating that the organization spoke to the family who reportedly fled and they clarified that their departure was in fact a planned vacation. The headline for this piece has been clarified to reflect this new information.