JEREMY HOLDEN/Media Matters For America
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.
Here's how Kelly justified her insistence that Santa Claus is white while lashing out at her critics:
KELLY: Well, 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. Contrary to what my critics have posited, neither my statement nor Harris's, I'm sure, was motivated by any racial fear or loathing. In fact, it was something far less sinister. A lifetime of exposure to the very same, quote, commercials, mall-casting calls and movies Harris references in her piece. From "Miracle on 34th Street" to the Thanksgiving Day Parade to the national Christmas tree lighting, we continually see St. Nick as a white man in modern day America. Should that change?Well, that debate got lost, because so many couldn't get past the fact that I acknowledged, as Harris did, that the most commonly depicted image of Santa does in fact have white skin.