Megyn Kelly addressed the firestorm that erupted after she assured her viewers that both Santa and Jesus were white. But other than listening with grace and dignity to an African American guest explain what was offensive, I don’t think Kelly did herself any favors with her defense tonight.
To refresh your memory, Kelly hosted a discussion on her Kelly File show earlier this week about a column in Slate by an African American woman named Aisha Harris called, “Santa Claus Should Not Be A White Man Anymore.”
The comments that went viral were:
KELLY: And by the way, for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white but this person just arguing that maybe we should also have a black Santa but Santa is what he is. Just so you know, we’re just debating this because someone wrote about it, kids. OK, wanted to get that straight.
And then later:
KELLY: Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change. I mean, Jesus was a white man, too. He was a historical figure and that’s verifiable fact, as is Santa - I just want the kids watching to know that.
Tonight, Kelly largely ignored her comments about Jesus. But she insisted she was joking about Santa. She said:
In kicking off the lighthearted segment, I offered a tongue-in-cheek message for any kids watching, saying that Santa, who I joked is a real person whose race is identifiable, is white.
She played the clip and you tell me if you think she was being tongue-in-cheek because it didn’t seem like a joke to me. Furthermore, in the original discussion, she showed a picture of a white Santa and quipped, “Look at him. How can he be alienating?” I’d say she was joking there – but at Harris’ expense. Kelly also said in the original segment that before she read Harris’ piece, she had thought it “ridiculous” that “yet another person” (and I think it was clear whom she meant) was calling it racist to have a white Santa.
This reminds me of Bill O’Reilly’s visit to Sylvia’s restaurant in Harlem. You may recall that O’Reilly meant to praise the African American diners who were so upsacale that it showed how far we’ve come as a society. But he nonetheless revealed his hostility with comments like, “I couldn’t get over the fact… there wasn’t one person in Sylvia’s who was screaming, ‘M-Fer, I want more iced tea.’”
Just like O’Reilly, who later insisted his compliments about Sylvia’s had been twisted by his critics, Kelly now played the victim:
Cue the firestorm of controversy over my declaring Santa’s skin color. Many questioning whether I understand that Santa is a mythical figure. Others suggesting I am a racist who is outraged at the idea of a black Santa.
This would be funny if it were not so telling about our society, in particular the kneejerk instinct by so many to race bait and to assume the worst in people. Especially people employed by the very powerful Fox News Channel.
Well, Megyn, maybe you should remind yourself and your co-workers not to "race bait and to assume the worst" the next time Fox comes up with a racial attack on Oprah Winfrey or Melissa Harris-Perry. Because I recall you sneering about each of their racial sensibilities and using that in segments designed to racially malign them. That’s not counting your relentless efforts to paint the Obama Department of Justice as racially biased because of a decision not to prosecute a New Black Panther Party member – only to clam up once the allegations were discredited.
Kelly also said in her commentary about the Santa segment:
Contrary to what my critics have posited, neither my statement nor Harris’, 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.
So now she’s saying she wasn’t joking? That she had good reason to call Santa white? Well, it doesn’t matter. Because I’ll agree Kelly did not intend any harm, racial or otherwise, with her comments. But the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In this case, Kelly revealed a snapshot of her underlying racial attitude (just as O’Reilly did) that can’t be unseen.
As for the white Jesus, Kelly sloughed off that remark by saying:
By the way, I also did say Jesus was white. As I’ve learned in the past two days, that is far from settled.
Actually, what Kelly did was to use the “fact” that Jesus was white to justify keeping Santa white. I didn’t hear her make any claim to have been joking about that.
I do give Kelly credit for hosting and giving what seemed like serious consideration to Zerlina Maxwell, the African American guest who critiqued Kelly in a following segment. This is not something I would ever expect O’Reilly to do.
So was this a teachable moment for Kelly, even if a begrudging one?
That said, I think the bigotry is genuine. Much of the rest of it is calculated. So my guess is she is for maternity leave and, not caring much before then, was happy to promote the Fox News party line (pun intended).
That also said, I suspect her “Santa and Jesus were white” comments were not coming from her personal convictions but from an effort to counteract her sympathy for the woman who thought it was time to end white Santas. Not that the comments were not revealing of her underlying beliefs, or of her feeling the need to make sure she didn’t sound too racially sensitive – but I don’t think she personally thought that kids really needed to know Santa is white.
If I’m right, it would be ironic for Kelly to get into so much trouble when she was genuinely on the side of racial sensitivity. However, as I hope to make clear in a post later today, Kelly has a long record of promoting racial bigotry so I’m not crying for her. I do hope, as I said in the post, that this may be a teachable moment for her. Because while I despise her television personality – and I might well hate her in person, too – I do believe she’s not nearly as right wing or intolerant in real life as her Fox News persona. I also believe she has a sense of decency that has been subsumed by her ambition.
Kelly’s desperate attempt to deny and evade the truth of her behavior seems to get most of its vitriol from her concern that her Fox News persona is nowhere near as balanced as she herself may in fact be. In her personal life, she actually seems to be a fair amount to the left of her on camera persona. Her vicious on-air confrontation and slam on Mike Gallagher for questioning her maternity leave is solid evidence of this. But she knows that her on-air persona at Fox News needs to be as far right as possible, if she is to maintain a prime time opinion program on that network.
Her contention of equally challenging both perspectives in a debate on her program is instantly demolished by the multiple clips preserved on this site of her conduct in the new Prime Time show. The reality is that she regularly gives a deferential ear to the more extreme right wing positions espoused by her guests of that nature, just as she regularly yells at, cuts off and dismisses her more centrist guests.
If she’s trying to portray herself as a journalist, she’s sadly mistaken. But on the other hand, that’s been the pose of many Fox News personalities. The closest one they have to a journalist is Shepard Smith. All the rest are pundits at one level or another, repeating the opinions and positions of Roger Ailes. Kelly herself has made her living as just such a pundit. She should embrace it, not hide from it.
I’m sure the suits on Fox News love the publicity when it comes to making others angry, but when you are laughing at them is when they become defensive.
One thing is certain and that is we shouldn’t have any suspense on who is going to win the outrageous quote of the week. Just give it to her now.