Skip to main content

Why the world went mad over Santa

By Timothy Stanley
updated 8:37 AM EST, Tue December 17, 2013
Revelers dressed as Santa Claus pose for a picture at Tompkins Square Park during the annual NYC Santacon on Saturday, December 14. Revelers dressed as Santa Claus pose for a picture at Tompkins Square Park during the annual NYC Santacon on Saturday, December 14.
HIDE CAPTION
SantaCon 2013 hits New York
SantaCon 2013 hits New York
SantaCon 2013 hits New York
SantaCon 2013 hits New York
SantaCon 2013 hits New York
SantaCon 2013 hits New York
SantaCon 2013 hits New York
SantaCon 2013 hits New York
SantaCon 2013 hits New York
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Fox anchor Megyn Kelly causes an uproar when she says Santa is just white
  • Timothy Stanley: Can we discuss something real, please?
  • He says issues that don't matter are given headline space above things that do
  • Stanley: American media and politics fall prey to sideshows too readily

Editor's note: Timothy Stanley is a historian at Oxford University and blogs for Britain's The Daily Telegraph. He is the author of "The Crusader: The Life and Times of Pat Buchanan."

(CNN) -- One of the problems with American politics is that it is falling prey to sideshows. Issues that really don't matter -- from the war on Christmas to anything Sarah Palin said recently -- are given headline space above things that really do. And too often the things that don't matter are about semantics; someone says something innocent and the entire media explodes in horror.

Step forward Megyn Kelly, one of those hyper-glamorous Fox anchors who deliver the news dressed for dinner. Kelly hosted a segment in reaction to an article by Aisha Harris on Slate, in which Harris complained that a white Santa is stigmatizing and suggested he be replaced by a race-neutral penguin (at the risk of excluding polar bears).

In the course of the Fox segment, Kelly addressed the audience directly and said, "Santa just is white." She went on to assert, "Jesus was a white man, too. It's like we have, he's a historical figure that's a verifiable fact, as is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy in the story and change Santa from white to black?"

Timothy Stanley
Timothy Stanley

The world went mad.

Accusations of Fox starting a race war flew around. MSNBC commentators pointed out that Jesus was certainly not white; one of them even wrote an emotional letter to Santa pleading for more tolerance. Saturday Night Live came up with the inevitable skit of an African-American Santa saying he is "as black as Hell."

Opinion: Santa's color isn't the important thing

All of which needn't have happened if Kelly's critics had watched the video and cut her some slack. The segment is jokey and she opened it by speaking to the kids at home, which is why she repeatedly reassured the audience that Santa is "real" (no one over 10 years old is that naive).

At first she dismissed Harris' argument as unnecessary and odd, but then actually came around to endorsing its sentiments, noting that it must indeed be painful to grow up in a culture surrounded by white idols. As for her assertion that Santa is white, her point was that he is universally depicted that way in popular culture. So, too, is Jesus, although it was ignorant of Kelly to imply that this is historically verifiable. Likewise, I suspect the entire segment would not have drawn such controversy if Fox had bothered to invite a single person of color to appear on the panel. There was a gross lack of sensitivity on display.

Megyn Kelly's 'White Christmas"
Critics pounce on "Santa's race" comment

All in all, Megyn Kelly is guilty of using lazy language. The debate surrounding her remarks is a classic example of the U.S. media talking to itself, of point scoring against competitors dressed up as serious political debate.

Both the left and the right do it.

Teacher to student: You can't be Santa -- you're black

For example, Al Sharpton and Bill O'Reilly have a long-running grudge that erupted again last week when Sharpton accused O'Reilly of trying to "disparage" Nelson Mandela. On the right, of course, Fox is no angel -- just take a look at the almost comical imbalance of its coverage of Typhoon Haiyan versus the problems facing Obamacare. Fox regularly obsesses about MSNBC's ratings, what its anchors say, as well as standard "liberals are trying to destroy the world" fare like killing Christmas.

Often, there is an unwillingness to show charity toward opponents.

When Michelle Obama suggested that sometimes it might be best if kids skip dessert, Sarah Palin parodied this as an authoritarian crackdown on liberty and openly fed her children s'mores on TV to make her point. Palin misinterpreted Obama's advice as an order; and much of the media misinterpreted Palin's joke as a serious statement. The original meaning and intent of the words that people used were largely forgotten in pursuit of a frivolous debate.

The reality is that for millions of Americans these issues don't matter one bit. They're too busy worrying about debt, taxes and the war on terror.

The most common reaction to the "controversy" over Santa's skin color would probably be, "I don't care." After all, he is NOT REAL. But unemployment, lack of health care, and terrorism, sadly, are real life issues. Can we discuss something real, please?

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Timothy Stanley.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:56 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
updated 4:15 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
updated 3:28 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
updated 11:35 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT