War on Christmas? Bah, Humbug.

Did you know that the War on Christmas, the misbegotten movement to ban nativity scenes at City Hall and replace “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays,” is in full retreat?  The media are turning a blind eye to one of our most important cultural and Constitutional conflicts.

Wal-Mart, the nation's largest private employer, announced in November that the company ban on “Merry Christmas” is over.  Employees don't have to say “Happy Holidays” any more, and the retail giant is even showcasing Christmas in its catalogs. This was a very important story, but where were the media?  North America has more than 1,400 newspapers, not to mention TV stations, cable channels, broadcast networks, and Web sites, but this great host of media organizations published only 64 articles on Wal-Mart's new Christmas policy in the four days following the announcement.   

The media have almost completely ignored the leading developments on the First Amendment issues in the War on Christmas.  Do we have the right to celebrate Christmas in the public square?  Is displaying a crèche on the courthouse steps the same as establishing a state religion?  Does the right not to be offended trump freedom of speech and religion? 

Berkley, Michigan's decision to take down the city's crèche after the ACLU threatened to sue received almost no coverage outside Michigan.  Southfield, Michigan tried to sell its menorah rather than display a crèche alongside it, triggering a public outcry, but the media ran fewer than a dozen stories. When St. Albans, West Virginia, tried to remove Jesus, Mary, and Joseph from a nativity scene, only a handful of papers found this nuttiness newsworthy.  You'd think the national media would have covered the St. Albans story for the laugh value alone.  What's left when you remove the Holy Family from a nativity scene?  Three wise men checking out a barn?

Only two First Amendment stories have achieved any national recognition at all. In the first, the Chicago mayor's office leaned on officials of the Christkindlmarket, a Christmas bazaar, to prevent New Line Cinema from advertising its brilliant new movie, The Nativity Story.  The city ludicrously claimed it feared offending non-believers.  How many people willing to shop at the Christ Child Market would be offended by a movie about the Christ Child's birth?  Chicago's action raises a major constitutional question: Does the government have the authority to infringe on our First Amendment rights merely to protect hypothetical people from being offended?  You'd think the media would jump all over this outrage, but fewer than 40 articles were published in the four days after the story broke, mostly by Chicago papers or smaller publications. 

The second story has received coverage far beyond its importance.  A Pagosa Springs, Colorado homeowner's association threatened to fine (but never actually fined) two residents for displaying a wreath featuring a 1960s-style peace symbol.  Some neighbors were offended by the wreath because of its implicit criticism of the Iraq war.  Others viewed the peace symbol, an inverted Christian cross with broken arms, as anti-Christian. Contemptuous of the actual offense to real people, as opposed to Chicago's hypothetical people, the national media leaped to the defense of the peace symbol wreath, with at least 41 stories in the first four days.  CNN weighed in, as did MSNBC's Keith Olbermann (twice), and major national newspapers including the Seattle Times, Houston Post, Denver Post, Kansas City Star, St. Petersburg Times, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and Chicago Tribune.  Even The New York Times ran a bylined story.

The curious coverage of Chicago and Pagosa Springs says volumes about the mindset of the so-called mainstream media.  The infamous Daley machine, brass-knuckled ruler of the third largest city in America, cracks down on a company advertising a nativity movie, and Big Media stifles a collective yawn.  But a puny homeowner's association in Pagosa Springs, Colorado threatens to fine somebody for using a wreath as a prop for the peace symbol, and even the Gray Lady wakes up and takes note.  Once again, the New York Times defies its own motto.  It isn't “all the news that's fit to print,” it's “all the news we care to print.” 

For Big Media, the peace symbol trumps the Prince of Peace.  But Big Media doesn't bother to report on the War on Christmas, because the liberal side is in retreat.

Brian Fitzpatrick is Senior Editor of the Media Research Center's  Culture and Media Institute.