By Ruth Conniff
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A Fox News radio host came up with an inventive way to resurrect the network's imaginary "War on Christmas" this week, putting the administration of an unassuming Georgia elementary school at the epicenter of the right's favorite culture clash narrative.
Host Todd Starnes claimed on Tuesday that the administration of Brooklet Elementary School was so worried that children might receive religious messages in Christmas cards from teachers that they gathered them all up and hid them from public view.
"They took down the cards so the kids can't see them," a third-grade teacher's husband told the Fox News host. "Some of the cards had the word 'Christmas' and some had Nativity scenes... It's an attack on Christianity. It seems like every time we turn around, someone is offended."
Within hours of Starnes' commentary going out nationwide, eager rightwing activists in Georgia were whipping up a frenzy on Facebook, gathering petition signatures and vowing to storm the next school board meeting and retake Christmas for Jesus.
"This is a hate crime against children," one commenter declared. "USA [Board of Education] and leaders of this Government cabinet are the same Communist minded!!" another wrote, seeming to forget how a complete sentence is structured. "Remember folks, this is not a battle against the school board or even [Americans United for Separation of Church and State], but a battle against evil," a third person chimed in.
School officials were completely taken by surprise by Starnes's commentary and a flood of phone calls from angry conservatives was soon to follow. They ultimately issued a statement later in the day that disavows any satanic impulses or ill-will for the baby Jesus.
Unfortunately, today the school was terrorized by an intentional and vicious dissemination of untrue information that disrupted the good work going on inside. Fox News Radio Commentary Host Todd Starnes, acting on misinformation that neither he, nor his media outlet corroborated with the school system or Baker, misreported a story about student Christmas Cards being removed from the school. Baker did not receive any questions from the local community either.
The cards in question were not student Christmas cards, nor were they a student project or tradition. The cards are the personal family Christmas cards that faculty members share with one another. They are the personal cards from their homes that they would send to family and friends.
It has been a faculty tradition to post the cards on a small display board made of two pieces of red and green poster paper. The display in the past was posted in hallway outside the office workroom.
This year, due to a legitimate, personal privacy concern raised by one of the school's staff members, Baker moved the display to the opposite wall inside the office work room so that the staff member could still participate in the tradition. Baker wanted to respect the staff member's privacy and that of his/her children depicted in the Christmas card.
In other words: "The decision to move the [cards] had nothing, absolutely nothing, at all to do with any type of religious conversation that is going on in the county," Principal Marlin Baker insisted.
"I just couldn't believe that someone would make up some things like that," one of the school's teachers added, speaking to local NBC News affiliate station WSAV-TV.
Believe it or not, that's just how Fox News operates. And that's no exaggeration: it has actually been confirmed by science.
A University of Maryland study released in 2010 found that regular viewers of Fox News were much more likely to believe pervasive falsehoods than people who get their news from other news outlets.
Among other revelations, researchers learned that 63 percent of Fox News viewers believe President Obama isn't actually a United States citizen. A further 60 percent felt certain that climate change isn't actually a thing that's happening.
Amazingly, a whopping 91 percent of Fox News viewers said that the 2009 stimulus actually cost American jobs, even though the Congressional Budget Office reported that it added more than 3.3 million full-time positions to the U.S. economy.
Not that any of these facts help the administrators of Brooklet Elementary School.
"We don't want this misinformation to derail the positive work we are committed to with our community leaders," Superintendent Charles Wilson lamented. "I'm appalled by this attack on our school system, and on Brooklet Elementary."
Merry Christmas, indeed.
Photo: Flickr user Richard Elzey, creative commons licensed.