Fox’s ‘War on Christmas’ Forces Jewish Family to Flee for Safety [UPDATED]

The War on Christmas narrative took a dangerous turn at Centerville Elementary in Pennsylvania

A false ‘War on Christmas’ narrative promoted by both Fox News and Donald Trump’s conspiracy theory source of choice (Breitbart) resulted in a Jewish family fleeing their home fearing another Pizzagate-style attack. The story involves the cancellation of a school play a handful of parents blamed on the Jewish family despite the school administration’s assurances the family had nothing to do with it. Rather than fully investigate the circumstances behind the cancellation, Fox and Breitbart attacked the family via fake news reporting basing their stories on aggrieved Christian parents in the district. Ultimately, the reporting placed the family’s lives in danger.

Trouble began several weeks ago in September when a Jewish family in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania requested their child be excused from an upcoming rendition of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

LancasterOnline reported on the incident:

A Hempfield elementary school is under fire for ending its longstanding production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” and a Jewish family has fled the county in fear because it’s being blamed for the cancellation. The unfolding controversy at Centerville Elementary School played out this week in national conservative media outlets including FOX News and Breitbart News Network, which portray the school’s move as part of a “war on Christmas.” The school, however, has said it put an end to the play this year because it took 15 to 20 hours of classroom time to produce. [SNIP]

The fifth-grader’s parents, who spoke to LNP on the condition that they not be named, say they didn’t complain about the play or request that it be canceled, but just asked in September if their child could be excused from the play, and were told yes. Since the school announced the cancellation in November, however, they say the child has been harassed by classmates. Principal Tom Kramer, who is in his first year at the school, posted a letter on the school website on Dec. 15 confronting rumors “that one or two families influenced this decision” to cancel the play. “That’s just not true,” he wrote. [SNIP]

Since the Fox and Breitbart stories, a spokeswoman for the school district said, the school has received at least 200 emails and phone calls either supporting or objecting to the decision or asking for additional information. The Jewish student’s parents say some of the reactions to the stories frightened them. After seeing reader comments like “It would be nice if we had the addresses of those concerned citizens and, I bet, this info is known to people living in the area” on the Breitbart story, the parents pulled their child out of school and headed out of the area for a bit. “There’s no way we’re going to take a chance after the pizza incident,” they said, referencing the man who fired an assault rifle in a Washington D.C area pizzeria after reading a fake-news story that said Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of there.

Of note, both Fox News (including a second mention by Christian persecution complex sufferer Todd Starnes) and Breitbart all published articles reporting misinformation about the cancelled production blaming the family without evidence or full interviews with the school.

In the Fox News article, the school’s official response is noted but anonymous parents’ complaints are given more weight and credence without reason:

Two parents at a Pennsylvania elementary school reportedly objected to a famous line in Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, leading the principal to cancel its Christmas play.

However, Abby Huntsman reported that  officials at Centerville Elementary School in East Hempfield Township said they dropped the play from their schedule because it takes too much time out of teaching academics.

But, Huntsman said the unnamed parents objected to Tiny Tim’s famous “God Bless us, everyone” phrase in the 19th Century classic. [SNIP]

“I hate to see traditions taken away in my own community,” local Constitutional attorney Randy Wenger told Fox News Radio’s Todd Starnes.

And yes, the man who cried Christian persecution Todd Starnes had his fingers in the pie as well seeing persecution of Christians where none existed. The ironic part of his attack on the family is its chilling effect of organizing bands of angry, violent Christians hell bent on ferreting our and doling out justice against a Jewish family who had nothing to do with the cancellation.

In his attack on the Jewish family Starnes said:

The fifth graders at Centerville Elementary School in Lancaster County, Pa., have been performing “A Christmas Carol” for decades. But this year that tradition came to an abrupt end.

Parents told local reporters the play was canceled because two parents complained about a line in the Charles Dickens holiday classic. [SNIP]

Kramer went on to reject reports that their decision was based on one or two families.

“That’s just not true,” he said.

He did not specifically address the parents’ allegations that the play was cancelled because of the line, “God bless us, every one.” But he did seem to hint at some sort of issue.

“Our decision is rooted in the desire to be respectful of the many cultural and religious backgrounds represented by the students attending Centerville Elementary,” he wrote.

That’s a mighty big clue, folks. In order to be tolerant and diverse, public schools have to eradicate any mention of God.

Starnes concluded his article stating, “But this year, I’m afraid Tiny Tim’s goose has been cooked by the Ghost of Christmas Intolerance. Bah, humbug indeed.”

Not to be outdone in targeting a Jewish family and continuing their streak of antisemitism, Breitbart reported:

Officials at Centerville Elementary School in East Hempfield Township said they canceled the play because it took too much time away from classroom instruction, but many parents believe it was because two parents complained about a line said in the play, Fox News reports.

The unnamed parents reportedly complained about the line “God bless us, everyone” said by Tiny Tim.

The aggrieved Christian parents in the Lancaster County community successfully whipped up enough antisemitic outrage to run a Jewish family out of town based on rumors. And Fox News was complicit in this attack.

Reporting on the attack and the history leading up to it, Media Matters noted:

Fox News has done hundreds of stories highlighting a so-called “War on Christmas” going back at least 12 years, covering its invented narrative to such a ludicrous extent that some Fox hosts have actually spent more time on the topic than on, say, veterans or actual wars. Fox has pushed the “War on Christmas” narrative so much, for so long, that according to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, Fox may have changed Americans’ preferences for the holiday greetings they prefer to hear.

The climate Fox has created with its “War on Christmas” has turned frightful, rather than delightful. Thanks to the attention it received from right-wing media outlets, the Pennsylvania family feared for its safety. The story had zero national news value, yet Fox pushed the narrative to continue its “War on Christmas” drivel. Fox and other conservative outlets should use this incident to reflect on the repercussions of their culture war next time they want to complain about Starbucks cups. But it doesn’t show signs of stopping.

A cursory inspection of the comments on the three articles demonstrates precisely why the family feared another pizzagate-style armed confrontation. Just as in the case of Comet Ping Pong, commenters called for releasing the family’s address and contact information with threats to run them out of town.

“It is unbelievable how cowardly we have become. TWO people can shut down a play supported by hundreds ?!?!? Why don’t the HUNDREDS tell the two to get the f’out, never come back, and not to ever sign up for a play again?” one person wrote at Breitbart.

“Like to find out the names of these parents, you know – So i could put them on my Christmas Card List,” another anonymous commenter said ominously.

Responding to that comment, someone added, “It would be nice if we had the addresses of those concerned citizens and,I bet, this info is known to people living in the area.”

Perhaps the most blatant and violent of the comments was one person arguing, “Exterminate them all.”

This is the direct result of fake news – the kind of news Fox News and Breitbart use as their bread and butter. How many more armed assaults need to occur before these outlets are held accountable for their reckless reporting?

UPDATE [December 22, 2016 @ 9pm ET]

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) spoke with the family who left town who stated the Lancaster Online overstated their fear(s).

While the family did leave town to go on vacation (not flee) they did tell the ADL that “the actual story content” did indeed frighten them (as did the vociferous antisemitic reactions on those articles).

Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.


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