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The Cold War on Christmas

The ConWeb takes a less aggressive approach to promoting its "war on Christmas" concept -- which includes pretending that it hasn't aggressively promoted it.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 12/20/2006
Updated 12/22/2006

The days of running press releases unchallenged as a tactic in the purported "war on Christmas" have apparently passed.

That was WorldNetDaily's modus operandi the past two years in promoting the conservative idea that atheists, liberals and the ACLU are conspiring to wipe all traces of Christmas from American life in favor of a generic, politically correct "happy holidays" greeting. As ConWebWatch detailed, those press releases, issued by conservative legal groups such as Liberty Counsel and the Alliance Defense Fund, told only one side of the story -- WND made no effort to get the other side -- and were misleading or, in more than one case, factually incorrect.

This year, however, WND made an effort to get away from its wholesale regurgitation of press releases -- it's almost as if WND editors sat down with the folks at ADF and Liberty Counsel and hammered out a new approach -- and attempted some original reporting on that so-called "war on Christmas." Unfortunately, that didn't make WND's articles any less slanted.

One way it has done that is play semantics games with those who it has criticized. A Dec. 7 article by Joe Kovacs -- apparently, WND's designated war-on-Christmas reporter -- attacked Sen. Patty Murray for using the term "holiday tree" to describe the Christmas tree in front of the U.S. Capitol. The next day, an unbylined article detailed the argument that WND tried to draw a Murray staffer into:

"She was speaking to a crowd, and she said what she said. This is the holiday season, we're just thrilled that the tree is from Washington state. It's just a time to bring everybody together to celebrate the season," Alex Glass, Murray's communications director, told WND.

When asked if there were any objection to calling the tree a "Christmas tree," she said the senator doesn't have a policy.

"I think, you know, whatever people want to call it, we are accepting of all of it," Glass said. "It's a time to remember what the season is about."

And that is? Celebrating, of course.

And what are we celebrating?

"The season," Glass said.

And what is the season?

"I'm not going to get into semantics with you guys," she said.

Thus, Glass was as successful at keeping "Christmas" out of a discussion about "the season" as Murray was at keeping it out of her comments about the tree at the lighting ceremony.

The headline of the article read, " 'Christmas' is 'semantics' to Democrat Sen. Murray," but WND also proved it had no problem playing a game it claims to deplore.

A Dec. 8 article not only revived an unsubstantiated bit of Clinton-bashing, it revived one of the loonier of the old Clinton-bashers.

The article claimed that the novelty chain Spencer Gifts has removed from its retail website "[p]ornographic ornaments, reportedly similar to those used in the Clinton White House." The source for this claim is Florida lawyer Jack Thompson, who claimed that the "ornaments are similar ... to the ones former FBI Agent Gary Aldrich described in his book, 'Unlimited Access.'"

Aldrich has never substantiated this claim, beyond adding a purported photo of one ornament in a later edition of the book. Further, as Margaret Carlson wrote in a July 15, 1996, column:

This is ludicrous. First, the entire press corps sees the tree and would notice three hens fornicating. Second, all the decorations sent in from artists are screened for appropriateness (two were tossed), logged in and photographed in October. Pornographic paraphernalia in the Blue Room has the ring of one of those preschooler fantasies elicited by overeager therapists in the McMartin child-sex-abuse case.

Also, consider the record of the person making this claim. As we've detailed, Jack Thompson is the kind of rabid Clinton-hater who would buy into Aldrich's claims without question. As ConWebWatch has detailed, Thompson was even more obsessive about Clinton's attorney general, Janet Reno, having lost an election to her in 1988; during that election, he claimed that Reno was unfit for the job because, as a closeted lesbian with a drinking problem, she was great candidate for blackmail by the criminal element. Lately, he has been crusading against video games he has deemed too violent, including America's Army, which is given away free by the federal government as a military recruiting tool.

So we have a fringe fanatic making a fringe claim. And WND treated it as legitimate news. 

This isn't to say that WND didn't fall into the press-release-spouting trap. A Dec. 7 article by Kovacs was centered on repeating unchallenged claims by the American Family Association campaign that the clothing chain The Gap is, in Kovacs' words, "silencing the word 'Christmas' in stores and many of its commercials." While Kovacs wrote that "No one from Gap Inc. returned repeated calls for comment," there is no evidence he made any further effort to tell the company's side of the story after his article went to print. While Kovacs did note an instance of a Gap commercial that used the word "Christmas" -- which counters the AFA's claim that it "could not find a single instance in which Gap-owned stores use the term 'Christmas.' Not a single time!" -- instead of explicitly calling the AFA on its error, Kovacs still inserted links in his article to the AFA's anti-Gap campaign on the words "contact Gap."

A Nov. 28 article by Kovacs similarly promoted a conservative group's claims -- this time, the American Center for Law and Justice -- but it carried a misleading headline: "Christians blast Chicago for 'Nativity' movie ban." But Chicago didn't ban the movie "The Nativity Story"; as Kovacs wrote, the city merely prohibited ads for the movie at a holiday festival on city property. (Unlike with the Gap, Kovacs did include response from a city official.)

WND also got to merge the "war on Christmas" with another one of its favorite causes: gay-bashing. A Nov. 10 article celebrated how Wal-Mart caved into to conservative pressure and will use "Christmas" instead of "holidays" during promotions, but pointed out how the AFA declared that it "doesn't redeem Wal-Mart's sudden lurch to the left when it joined the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce." By doing so, the article claimed, "the company is, in fact, contributing to the financial and moral agenda of the NGLCC."

Among the group's offenses, according to WND: "it has advocated attaching a pro-homosexual 'hate crimes' amendment to legislation intended to protect children from violent sex offenders." But WND doesn't explain any details about that amendment or why it was "pro-homosexual."

WND wasn't the only one keeping up the "war on Christmas" meme. Also working to keep it alive is the Media Research Center's newly formed Culture & Media Institute, headed by Robert Knight, formerly of Concerned Women for America. The institute's self-proclaimed mission is "to advance, preserve, and help restore America’s culture, character, traditional values, and morals against the assault of the liberal media.

In a Dec. 7 CMI article, Kristen Fyfe rhetorically asked why people think there is a "war on Christmas": "Because, Tiny Tim, there is." She later added: "The war on Christmas is not a figment of the imaginations of Fox News or conservative Christians, as the liberal media would have you believe."

These statements largely ignore the fact that conservative Christians like those at WND (not to mention Fox News) have worked hard over the past couple of years into blowing up scattered, unrelated incidents into that "war on Christmas."

Fyfe also wrote: "Led by Christian organizations like the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, the Catholic League, Liberty Counsel and the Alliance Defense Fund, the push back against Politically Correct Christmas is gaining momentum." But Fyfe erroneously called this a "grassroots movement"; in fact, these are groups that reel in millions of dollars in donations each year and have public-relations staffs whose job it is to promote their cause -- hardly "grassroots." (Update: The Religion News Service reports that the "war on Christmas" has been quite lucrative for these groups, selling thousands of bumper stickers, buttons and legal memos at a tidy profit. Perhaps that's why WND sought their cut of the action by selling "The Reason for the Season" auto magnets and "Just Say Merry Christmas" bracelets.)

We see that fund-raising component in Fyfe's article by her copious use of a certain bogeyman buzzword: She claimed that the "war" is "[l]ed predominantly by the ACLU (they’ll deny it of course, but ask the folks in Wilson County, Tennessee who are currently in court fighting the ACLU over – among other charges -- a kindergarten class singing two Christmas carols)." Indeed, "ACLU" appears eight times in her article.

Further, Fyfe ignored how organizations like WND promoted the misleading or false press releases from those groups and didn't tell their readers the full story.

Along with her copious ACLU references, Fyfe clearly has no problem ascribing the most negative spin to those who commit the offense of something other than "Merry Christmas." She wrote: "It seemed to culminate last year with Wal-Mart’s decision to forbid its employees to greet customers with 'Merry Christmas' " as if it were part of that purported ACLU plot -- and as if no greeting was offered at all. As the Chicago Tribune pointed out, the truth is much less nefarious: Wal-Mart simply tried out "Happy Holidays" and caved under the boycott threats of those, er, "grassroots" groups.

The "war on Christmas" may or may not be, in Fyfe's words, "a figment of the imaginations of Fox News or conservative Christians," but it is most definitely their creation -- and conservatives such as Fyfe and WorldNetDaily should honestly acknowledge that.

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