From the January 16 edition of Fox News' The Kelly File:
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Fox News joined other right-wing media and misrepresented new federal guidelines designed to reduce the disproportionate number of minority students who are unfairly suspended, expelled, or arrested for disruptive behavior in school.
On January 8, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice issued new guidelines to help public schools "administer student discipline without discriminating on the basis of race, color, or national origin." The guidelines, which are not mandatory, are in response to statistics and analyses that suggest that students of color are significantly more likely to be punished than their similarly-situated white classmates. This means that students who are already disadvantaged will lose out on crucial school time not only due to unfairly punitive disciplinary measures, like suspension, expulsion, or even arrest, but unfortunately due to racial discrimination as well.
In a January 13 segment on The Kelly File, host Megyn Kelly and her "Power Panel" agreed that "zero tolerance" policies are overbroad and ineffective. But Kelly still erroneously insisted that kids "cannot be suspended" under the new guidelines and that they "suggest[ed] punishment should be based on race. " Her panelists, who included both a Fox legal analyst and a blogger for the right-wing Washington Free Beacon, agreed, arguing that the guidelines are "handcuffing our educators" and inappropriately "bringing race into it":
After assuring a GLAAD official that she would challenge an anti-gay hate group leader on his history of extreme rhetoric, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly welcomed Family Research Council president Tony Perkins to defend a Duck Dynasty star, never mentioning his nor FRC's anti-gay extremism and hate group designation.
Phil Robertson of A&E's popular Duck Dynasty show, made national headlines this week after calling homosexuality illogical and comparing it to bestiality during an interview with GQ magazine. Citing his remarks, on December 18 A&E announced it would be placing Robertson on indefinite hiatus.
During the following evening's edition of The Kelly File, Kelly invited on GLAAD's Jeremy Hooper followed by Family Research Council (FRC) president Tony Perkins to discuss Robertson's anti-gay comments.
Hooper challenged Kelly to hold Perkins accountable for his anti-gay record and vile rhetoric, to which Kelly promised, "What specifically? Because I'll ask him."
But Kelly never asked Perkins to explain his extreme stances against the gay community, nor did she acknowledge that the FRC is a designated hate group. Instead she merely identified FRC as "a group whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and culture from a Christian world view"--a description that continues Fox's trend of referring to anti-gay extremism as Christianity. Perkins went on to defend Robertson as upholding "biblical morality" and attack homosexuality as "sexual immorality."
At what point will Fox News stop conflating anti-gay bigotry and Christian religious belief?
Phil Robertson, one of the stars of A&E's Duck Dynasty, has been put on indefinite hiatus by the network following criticism of a number of anti-gay and racist remarks he made in an interview with GQ. In the interview, Robertson refers to homosexuality as a "sin," comparing it to bestiality and calling gay sex illogical:
"It seems like, to me, a vagina--as a man--would be more desirable than a man's anus. That's just me.I'm just thinking: There's more there! She's got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I'm saying? But hey, sin: It's not logical, my man. It's just not logical."
"Everything is blurred on what's right and what's wrong," he says. "Sin becomes fine."
What, in your mind, is sinful?
"Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men," he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: "Don't be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers--they won't inherit the kingdom of God. Don't deceive yourself. It's not right."
In the aftermath of his anti-gay comments, several Fox News employees have rushed to Robertson's defense, depicting him as a run-of-the-mill Christian who espoused mainstream Christian theology. Host Sean Hannity described Robertson's comments as "old fashioned traditional Christian sentiment and values." Fox reporter Todd Starnes claimed his comments reflected "the teachings of the Bible." And Fox Business' Dennis Kneale claimed Robertson had just "stated his religious beliefs."
But not everyone at Fox News is so quick to accept Robertson's anti-gay comments as what they believe to be basic Christian dogma. During the December 18 edition of Hannity, Fox News analyst Peter Johnson Jr. seemed hesitant to describe Robertson's remarks as "religious," saying, "I wouldn't accept that that's a religious view":
From the December 18 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Rush Limbaugh Show:
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From the December 17 edition of MSNBC Live:
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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."
From the December 16 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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The real-world impact of opinions like Megyn Kelly's was on display this week when a black ninth grader was chastised by his teacher for dressing like Santa Claus, because according to him, Santa is white. Comments such as these are not only offensive, they erode a child's self-image, as a clinical psychologist told CNN.
Fox's Megyn Kelly sparked much controversy on December 11 for insisting that Santa was, and is, white, in response to a piece by Slate columnist Aisha Harris on how the universal image of a white Santa can be difficult for minority children to reconcile with their own experiences. Kelly later accused her critics of race-baiting and targeting her simply because she worked at Fox.
On December 16, CNN Newsroom highlighted Kelly's comments when telling the story of a black student at Cleveland High School in New Mexico who was rebuked by his teacher for dressing up in a Santa outfit. According to host Wolf Blitzer, "the teacher reportedly told the ninth grader that he couldn't dress as Santa because he was of the wrong skin color."
Comments like these, and Kelly's, are harmful to children, as clinical psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Gardere illustrated to CNN's George Howell:
HOWELL: So when a child hears comments like that from Megyn Kelly, or from a teacher who puts his opinion out there, like we heard in New Mexico, what does it do to the child's self-image?
GARDERE: It begins to erode that child's self-image. We are a society that says that we are all equal and we can all participate in something that is generic, as Santa Claus.
Following the episode, CNN reported, the student's father said his son "really wants nothing to do with Christmas this year."
The incident at Cleveland High School is a stark real-life example of the effect that comments like Megyn Kelly's can have on children. A teacher's ridiculing the student for daring to be black and dress as Santa Claus reflects Kelly's view that Santa is invariably a white man, and minority children should simply get over it. Kelly herself summed it up well: "Just because it makes you uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change."
Megyn Kelly is insisting that critics who took her to task for insisting that Santa Claus is a white man were motivated by a "knee-jerk instinct" to "race bait," a hollow claim given Kelly's own history of using race to stoke fears of minorities.
Kelly triggered outrage on December 11 when she insisted that Santa was -- and is -- a white man, comments that came in response to a Slate column arguing that the universal portrayal of Santa as white can alienate and ostracize minority children. On December 13, Kelly responded to her critics by accusing them of race-baiting and targeting her simply because she worked at Fox:
Kelly's claim that her critics were motivated by a desire to use racially provocative language to trigger an emotional reaction is not just self-serving, it also underscores Kelly's own history of using race to stoke fears of minorities.
In 2010, Kelly was one of the loudest voices at Fox News pushing its aggressive campaign to exploit racial tensions over a voter intimidation case in Philadelphia.
During a two-week stretch in July of that year, Kelly's daytime show devoted a staggering 45 segments and 3.5 hours to hyping politically motivated and completely discredited allegations that President Obama and Eric Holder were manipulating the Justice Department in order to protect the New Black Panther Party from prosecution over charges that it intimidated white voters during the 2008 election. Kelly's over-the-top race baiting led Gawker to ask whether she was "obsessed" with the New Black Panthers. Dave Weigel wrote, under the headline "Megyn Kelly's Minstrel Show," that Kelly was exploiting racial tensions in a dangerous way:
Watch her broadcasts and you become convinced that the New Black Panthers are a powerful group that hate white people and operate under the protection of Eric Holder's DOJ.
Her own Fox colleague, Kirsten Powers, even called Kelly out for what she called "doing the scary black man thing" by dishonestly hyping the case.
When Kelly transitioned from her daytime "news" show to a prime-time slot, she told the Los Angeles Times that she was a journalist, not an ideologue. So it's telling that in addressing her critics, Kelly claimed that she was simply asking whether the depiction of Santa Claus as a white man should change.
In reality, Kelly was not only adamant that Santa remain white -- settling the debate in a manner more in line with an ideologue rather than a journalist. She also protested against the very idea that society would change its icons in order to accommodate minority groups who find those images to be alienating:
KELLY: Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change. Jesus was a white man, too. He was a historical figure. That's a verifiable fact -- as is Santa.
That conclusion, which highlights the way Kelly uses her position of power to assert and defend her cultural dominance, led Jon Stewart to point out the oppressive nature of Kelly's stated position.
In a lengthy profile just before her white Santa comments, The Washington Post referred to Kelly as "queen" of television news who, unlike Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, whose opinion shows appear before and after The Kelly File, "markets herself as a break in the clouds, an interlude of lucidity, a host who protects her viewers by condensing complex issues into digestible bits, by cross-examining news analysis with zero tolerance for guff."
But the reality is that Kelly's brand of ideological demagoguery is very much in line with the race-baiting that has been central to the culture wars that have always been fought on Fox News.
From the December 15 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
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Fox's Megyn Kelly attempted to justify her insistence that Santa Claus was a white man, accusing critics of blowing her remarks out of proportion and targeting the network.
Kelly sparked widespread outrage this week when she insisted to "kids watching at home" that, like Jesus, Santa Claus is a white man. Her remarks came during a discussion on The Kelly File about a post by Slate's Aisha Harris, which detailed the alienation Harris felt as a child reconciling the ubiquitous images of a white Santa with the black Santa she experienced in her own neighborhood.
On December 13, Kelly defended her 'white Santa' comments as a "tongue-in-cheek message" for kids, which she argued was justified because she was merely acknowledging that "we continually see Saint Nick as a white man in modern day America." She also blamed critics of Fox News for ginning up the controversy by race-baiting and assuming "the worst in people":
KELLY: This would be funny if it were not so telling about our society, in particular the knee-jerk instinct by so many to race-bait and to assume the worst in people, especially people employed by the very powerful Fox News Channel.
I acknowledged -- as Harris did -- that the most commonly depicted image of Santa does in fact have white skin. By the way I also did say Jesus was white. As I learned in the last two days, that is far from settled. For me, the fact that an offhand jest I made during a segment about whether Santa should be replaced by a penguin has now become a national firestorm says two things. Race is still an incredibly volatile issue in this country, and Fox News, and yours truly are big targets for many people.
Later in the program, Kelly hosted political analyst Zerlina Maxwell to discuss the 'white Santa' controversy. Maxwell explained that her family, like Harris', had a black Santa in their household when she was young. Rather than attempting to identify with Maxwell, Kelly responded that many Fox viewers took issue with the suggestion that a white Santa could alienate black children, asking, "Why is white skin alienating? And why is that not racist?":
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.