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Wed November 30, 2011
Dear News Director, why do you hate Christmas?
I always enjoy the holiday related updates I get from friends and relatives at this time of year. Some send old fashioned Christmas cards, others send elaborate newsletters highlighting the successes (usually) of each family member from the previous year, and still others just send a quick email or Facebook post to say they’re thinking about me.
It’s also the time of year when I’m frequently accused by listeners of being a soldier in the war against Christmas.
This accusation might have been true the year nobody in the newsroom was thinking clearly and we mentioned in a news story (without a warning beforehand) that Santa Claus was not real. The hate mail I received for that mistake was deserved.
But I don’t understand why I’m also accused of “refusing to cover the fact” that President Obama and his family do not celebrate Christmas, or that the White House no longer allows religious themed ornaments, or that there has been an executive order requiring all the Christmas trees to be called Holiday trees.
None of these “facts” are actually true, and yet these urban legends appear in my inbox from listeners every year like so many unwanted fruitcakes and gifts of socks.
I always respond politely to these listeners (as station policy requires), to let them know that the reason we haven’t covered that story is because it is not, in fact, true. I’ll also suggest that in the future they check the information they receive in these types of emails at websites such as Snopes.com, Truthorfiction.com or Politifact.
I suppose I could just tell them not to believe anything they see in their emails. A recent Politifact survey found that only four percent of these “chain emails” were true. But if they followed that advice, they wouldn’t believe my emails.
Not all of them believe me anyway. One listener wrote back to tell me that Snopes.com could not be trusted. He read in an email (of course) that the website had a liberal bias and is financed by liberal philanthropist George Soros. (Look it up, it’s not true.)
How is it possible that people who are savvy enough on the internet to locate my personal email are not savvy enough to fact check this material before they forward it to me, along with their attacks on my ability to inform the public about these presidential attacks on Christmas? I can only assume they really want the urban legends they forward to be true, so it can justify whatever anger they have towards the politicians, the companies, or whatever the topic of the urban legend may be.
Part of our job in the news business is to educate and inform people as best we can. Sometimes that is done for a large audience over the air and on our websites, other times it is done one email response at a time, letting the writer know that Christmas, at least at the White House, is safe for now.