QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
That's why nobody sticks up for Christmas except me. Did Peter Jennings stick up for Christmas last night? I don't believe he did. How about Brian Williams, did he? Did Rather stick up for Christmas? How about Jim Lehrer -- did he? Did Larry King -- hello -- I love Christmas -- did he? No.
-- Bill O'Reilly, The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly, December 9, 2004
This week, Media Matters for America documented the prevalence in the media of the loaded themes of race, racism, bigotry, tolerance, and intolerance. Media conservatives, particularly on FOX News, railed against what they identified as a creeping secular effort to undermine Christianity in the United States.
On December 5, we noted that Creators Syndicate, a company responsible for syndicating the columns of numerous well-known pundits, had distributed a column in which author Samuel Francis argued that a Monday Night Football ad had promoted the "fairly radical concept" that "interracial sex is normal and legitimate." This prompted Media Matters for America President and CEO David Brock to write to Creators Syndicate President and CEO Richard S. Newcombe questioning his company's decision to distribute Francis's columns. Brock's letter pointed out that their "willingness to distribute such abhorrent views calls into question the syndicate's ethical and editorial standards."
Anthony Zurcher, a Creators Syndicate editor, responded to Brock's letter in an article by Dave Astor in the journal Editor and Publisher. Zurcher defended Francis's column, saying that while he did not agree with it, he didn't think it was "so reprehensible" that its distribution should have been stopped; he stated that the column discussed a "very sensitive topic." Zurcher's response made Media Matters for America -- and no doubt many others -- wonder what Francis would need to have written to meet Zurcher's "so reprehensible" threshold.
Also this week, conservative pundits labeled incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) a racist for his December 5, 2004, comment on NBC's Meet the Press that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has been an "embarrassment." As Media Matters for America noted:
These condemnations follow a pattern among conservatives of attacking Democrats and progressives whenever they criticize minority nominees appointed by President Bush. Hannity illustrated this pattern on the December 7 edition of Hannity & Colmes, saying, "There is a level of liberal bigotry and bias against conservative minorities that needs to be dealt with in this country. ... With the way Clarence Thomas and Condi Rice is [sic] treated, Miguel Estrada, Janice Brown, Priscilla Owens [sic], there is institutionalized bias against minorities that are conservative." On November 26, right-wing pundit and author Michelle Malkin asserted that "underlying liberal bigotry" is responsible for "how liberal columnists and cartoonists are treating minority conservatives." When Democrats blocked controversial judicial nominee Miguel Estrada in 2003, MSNBC host and former Republican Representative Joe Scarborough observed that "a Hispanic comes up who's a conservative and the Democrats are blocking his nomination," asking: "Are the Democratic senators racist?" Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter labeled Democrats who questioned the qualifications of Thomas and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice as "racist."
The Washington Times made a more specific charge, equating Reid's criticism of Thomas with former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's (R-MS) praise of Strom Thurmond's segregationist 1948 presidential campaign. In addition, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter were a bit confused about the race of certain people: Hannity incorrectly included judicial nominee Priscilla Owen (who is white) in a group of "conservative minorities," while Coulter described white New York Times media critic Caryn James as a black liberal and referred to her as an "Uncle Tom."
In his December 7 New York Times column, David Brooks described a purported new demographic -- he called them "natalists" -- of people who are having large families and are seeking the safety, cleanliness, and wholesomeness of red state outer suburbs as ideal locations for raising children. Politicians will pander to this demographic, Brooks predicted. But the data does not support his thesis -- unless one limits the analysis, as Brooks apparently did, to one demographic, procreative white people. As Media Matters for America noted:
In purporting to identify a significant political trend in states with the fastest growing populations, Brooks cited [eugenicist defender Steve] Sailer's findings: "As Steve Sailer pointed out in The American Conservative, [in the November 2 election] George [W.] Bush carried the 19 states with the highest white fertility rates, and 25 of the top 26. John Kerry won the 16 states with the lowest rates." But aside from Sailer's reference to "white fertility rates," there is no other mention of race in Brooks's column. In fact, Brooks's thesis falls apart when broader data is considered.
In suggesting that these "natalists" account for the population increases among the fastest-growing regions in the country, Brooks ignored what is in fact the fastest growing demographic in the country and in these regions -- Hispanics. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in all ten of the fastest-growing states -- including six in the Southwest -- Hispanics increased their percentage of total population, while white population rates went down.
Sailer has been popular with Times scribes lately. Previously, Times "Political Points" columnist John Tierney quoted Sailer, labeling him an "IQ expert."
Last week, FOX News host Bill O'Reilly declared "even Jewish people like Christmas" while discussing a complaint by the Committee to Save Merry Christmas that there is "intentional and deliberate exclusion of 'Merry Christmas' in the Federated Department Stores advertising and decorations."
However, when a Jewish caller to the December 3 Radio Factor told O'Reilly he objected to "Christmas going into schools," O'Reilly informed him:
O'REILLY: All right. Well, what I'm tellin' you, [caller], is I think you're takin' it too seriously. You have a predominantly Christian nation. You have a federal holiday based on the philosopher Jesus. And you don't wanna hear about it? Come on, [caller] -- if you are really offended, you gotta go to Israel then. I mean because we live in a country founded on Judeo -- and that's your guys' -- Christian, that's my guys' philosophy. But overwhelmingly, America is Christian. And the holiday is a federal holiday honoring the philosopher Jesus. So, you don't wanna hear about it? Impossible.
After Media Matters for America highlighted this quote, Anti-Defamation League (ADL) president Abraham Foxman sent a letter to O'Reilly, stating that the ADL was "deeply offended" by his remarks. In response, on the December 9 Radio Factor, O'Reilly referred to Foxman as "a nut" and called Media Matters for America "the most vile, despicable human beings in the country. Excerpts from the show are available here. As Media Matters for America noted:
- O'Reilly had previously praised Foxman over the fact that he had not condemned Passion of the Christ for being anti-Semitic.
- Contrary to O'Reilly's assertion, Media Matters for America provided the full context of the December 3 interaction, providing text and audio, and made clear that he was indeed talking about Christmas.
O'Reilly wasn't the only FOX News personality to claim Christians and Christmas are under attack. As Media Matters for America noted, Sean Hannity and other conservative media figures claimed that Cupertino, Calif., teacher Stephen J. Williams was fighting a school ban on the Declaration of Independence. But there was no such ban. Stevens Creek Elementary School school prohibited only Williams's supplementary teaching materials that selectively chose excerpts from the Declaration of Independence making reference to God -- along with other handouts that appeared to proselytize Christianity. A December 8 San Francisco Chronicle article noted that parents had complained about Williams, stating that his teaching "crossed the line into evangelizing." In response, Stevens Creek Principal Patricia Vidmar began reviewing Williams's lesson plans and supplemental handouts in advance.
The truth didn't stop Hannity -- broadcasting live December 8 from Cupertino -- and FOX colleagues Brit Hume (11/24); Chris Wallace (12/5); FOX News contributor Newt Gingrich (12/6); and host John Gibson (11/26), as well as MSNBC's Monica Crowley, from claiming that the Declaration of Independence was document non grata at the school.
In addition, O'Reilly and Hannity, as well as several of their FOX News colleagues, have identified what they believe is a widespread and sinister attack on Christmas, hyping stories that claim the holiday is "under siege." The problem, as Media Matters for America has identified, is that their conclusion is based in part on a litany of anecdotes, offered up by O'Reilly, that don't hold up to scrutiny.
The United Church of Christ (UCC), meanwhile, is filing two petitions with the Federal Communications Commission, arguing that "two network owned-and-operated television stations in Miami be denied license renewals for failing to provide viewers 'suitable access' to a full array of 'social, political, esthetic, moral and other ideas and experiences." According to a December 9 UCC press release, the action is a response to the networks' refusal to run a UCC ad. From Media Matters for America's item detailing the issue:
Media Matters for America noted the networks' rejection of the UCC ad on December 1. In particular, Media Matters contrasted CBS' history of airing ads that support Bush administration policy with its purported justification for rejecting the UCC ad, in part because "the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman." Noting that there is no discernible inconsistency between a church's message of inclusion and the administration's support of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, Media Matters asked: Even assuming such an inconsistency does exist, how does CBS justify rejecting an ad that purportedly conflicts with the Bush administration's views, given CBS' apparent willingness to air advocacy ads that support administration policies?
On December 3, CBS contacted Media Matters with a written statement to make the case that the network's policy on advocacy advertisements is consistently applied, but it failed to explain why the network ran advocacy ads that support Bush administration positions while rejecting those the network deemed contrary to administration policies.
The UCC's Office of Communications has established a website that encourages visitors "to send an 'informal objection' to the FCC to support UCC's petition challenging pending license renewals of CBS and NBC-owned TV stations in Florida."
Finally, Media Matters for America discussed the accusation by David Horowitz, editor in chief and co-founder of the right-wing website FrontPageMag.com, that Media Matters had labeled actor Bill Cosby a "racist." Horowitz's claim was not based on anything written by our staff, but on a comment from one of our readers. Horowitz frequently accuses individuals and institutions of being "racist" -- despite his own admission that the word has the "power wound and to kill, it should be used cautiously, especially by those who have the authority to make it credible -- minorities themselves."