John Leo, Sloppy Journalism, and Anti-Christmas (Mythical?) Anecdotes

In his most recent anti-PC rant, U.S. News columnist John Leo applies his characteristic sarcastic outrage to a subject that he loves to pontificate about — the problems of “PC” behavior. Christmas is being banned — or so Leo would have us believe. But Leo’s piece is sadly lacking in specific facts to substantiate that claim, as the most cursory examination of his piece makes clear.

After discussing the lack of “Merry Christmas” signs in Macy’s stores, Leo writes:

The sensitive executives at Federated are victims of the growing campaign to make people feel uncomfortable about Christmas, not just the religious feast but all the secular trappings, and even a mention of the word Christmas in conversation. Some public schools have been banning “Silent Night” and other carols from school concerts, though no court has ever ruled that these songs can’t be sung. In West Bend, Wis., the school district announced that students could not distribute religious Christmas cards. No law or court has ever ruled this way. The school district backed down when Liberty Counsel, a religious-liberties group, threatened to sue. The anti-Christmas lobby implies that schools can’t teach about Christmas and says creches can’t be placed on public property. Not so, as long as the teaching purpose is educational and the creche is part of a broad seasonal display.
Some PC people have begun to argue that even “Jingle Bells” is a church-state no-no. Santa Claus, a totally secular figure, is controversial because he was originally based on St. Nicholas.

Wow — that’s a startlingly high number of implications, innuendoes, and indirect arguments — all hallmarks of sloppy journalism. Note how few of Leo’s assertions are linked to any verifiable facts. In fact, Leo is making a startling six unsupported assertions (some of them compound) over this section, interrupted briefly by only one supported claim. Let’s count them:

1. There is a “growing campaign to make people feel uncomfortable about Christmas, not just the religious feast but all the secular trappings.” Who’s part of this campaign? Support, please. Oh, there is none.
2. “campaign to make people feel uncomfortable about . . . even a mention of the word Christmas in conversation.” An inflammatory claim, to be sure, and completely unsupported. If anyone is actually arguing that other people shouldn’t say “Christmas” in conversation — well, Leo sure hasn’t found them.
3. “Some public schools have been banning “Silent Night” and other carols from school concerts.” Where, John, where?
(Brief interruption for an apparently substantiated assertion — or at least one that can be tied down to a specific case somewhere — “In West Bend, Wis., the school district announced that students could not distribute religious Christmas cards.”)
4. “The anti-Christmas lobby implies that schools can’t teach about Christmas and says creches can’t be placed on public property.” The anti-Christmas lobby? Implies? Possibly the sloppiest sentence in the whole section, and that’s really saying something.
5. “Some PC people have begun to argue that even “Jingle Bells” is a church-state no-no.” Gotta watch out for those “some PC people.”
6. “Santa Claus, a totally secular figure, is controversial because he was originally based on St. Nicholas.” Lesson #167 in sloppy journalism: Use “is” construction to avoid actually having to find anyone who holds the view cited.

The irony is that when Leo discusses the nascent “counter-anti-Christmas” movement at the end of his piece, he is able to list several concrete examples. Apparently there is a real backlash against a perceived anti-Christmas movement. What is less clear from Leo’s piece is whether the perceived anti-Christmas movement is itself real, or simply a figment of editorialists’ imaginations.

43 comments for “John Leo, Sloppy Journalism, and Anti-Christmas (Mythical?) Anecdotes

  1. A quick google search for the term hanukwanszmas shows a number of on line sites compounding the seasons greatings into a secular seasonal greeting. Of course this is only my opinion, much like an editorial. Its not necessary for any journalist, asserting himself in an editorial, to provide any facts. Perhaps this is a problem with journalism itself.

    I may not be able to defend Leo’s journalistic quality and I’m not sure I want to, its not my job. But some of the things he mentions are valid. Macy’s has made a specific attempt to not use Christmas in any of its advertisings. There are schools banning Christmas programs. Public property is being denied the ability to use nativity scenes. If you google schools ban Christmas on Google news there are over 700 hits of articles and editorials regarding this alone. Nativity Banned has over 200.

    There may not be a central group heading up the “growing movement” but it is clear that socially there is a movement growing to ban Christmas. Essentially to hijack a Christian holiday and make it secular. Even the loved movie Miracle on 34th St. has a disgruntled Kris Kringle say how upset he is that people have forgotten the true meaning of Christmas. Amazingly, the movie makes no mention of the true meaning of Christmas.

  2. Oh, yes, let’s put the “Saturn” back in “Saturnalia.”

    I’m sorry to say that we were subjected to a version of this same “Christmas is endangered” screed from our Stake President during the ward Christmas program. Setting aside the fact that much of this appears to be a fund-raising ploy by the Christian right, it puzzles me no end how attempts to recognize pluralism — to acknowledge the simple fact that not everyone around us in our society is necessarily Christian, and might be celebrating some other holiday — is an attack on anyone’s faith.

    But what completely floored me was the claim that — even assuming that the premise is correct — the secularization of what is essentially a very thinly disguised pagan celebration should be taken as any kind of attack on our faith. The LDS tradition doesn’t particularly hold that Christ’s birth occurred on the day most of the world celebrates it, although any day that sectarian Christianity wants to think more about the Savior, I’m sure that we’d be glad to join in.

    But there’s no particular reason for us to be defensive about Dec. 25th any more than, say, April 6. In our theology, any given Sunday is more sacred than the date officially chosen for Christmas.

    In other words, this seems to me not only a silly and contrived fight, it’s not even our fight, and we probably ought to stay out of it.

  3. I had a pretty good Christmas this year. I didn’t have time to get all the decorations up, and our carol singing took a big hit this year, but we got candy passed out to people who needed it, and everybody seemed to get presents that made them happy. I’m heavily invested in Christmas emotionally and spiritually, even if not (as diogenes points out) theologically.

    So one of the nastier surprises this year was to find that every Christmas greeting had been turned into a political statement, thanks to a few hyperventilating right-wing pundits. No anti-Christmas lobby exists, so one had to be invented. You’d think that the spirit of the season would tend to discourage that kind of thing, but I guess not.

  4. John Leo, Sloppy Journalism, and Anti-Christmas (Mythical?) Anecdotes
    (Cross-posted at Times and Seasons). In his most recent anti-PC rant, U.S. News columnist John Leo applies his characteristic sarcastic outrage to a subject that he loves to pontificate about – the problems of “PC” behavior. Christmas is being banned…

  5. I can agree that December 25th does not hold any greater significance as a date even if it were the actual date the Savior was born. But this is the time and season that the Christian world has adopted as a date of recognition. I am not so concerned about Christmas Trees, Stars, angels, and Santa Clause, because these are already quite secular, regardless of their origins. Hmmm. Not worried about these traditionally Christian Chrismas icons because they are now secular. I wonder if that could happen to Christ himself.

    This week’s Easter sale, “We’re rolling back the stone of savings.” or “On the third day He is risen, and we’re resurecting prices of a biblical nature.”

    We have been counseled to stand in Holy places and find likeminded individuals, to stand alone fi necessary in the face of immorality. We are commanded to pray openly and in private, to declare Christ as the savior. If we allow the season set aside to remember him as such to be trivialized then we are failing this. Even if we as mormons don’t accept Dec 25th as his actual birthdate we recognize the season along with other Christians. Who else is more like minded than we are in Christ’s divinity than they? Who else are we to stand with?

    Let us look into the future after Christmas is secularized that we have forgotten Christ. Will Chanuka be next? Will the religious overtones of this holiday be replaced by a wintery mix of salutations? I hope not.

  6. The real question is why Times and Seasons needs to be a forum for those who think John Leo’s column is offbase. Is he Mormon? Has anyone here been talking about secular attacks on Christmas, let alone John Leo’s article in particular?

    This post is as shameful and sloppy as it argues John Leo’s column is.

  7. I don’t know how much support there is for the assertions that Leo is making. For all that I can tell, they may be totally valid. However, as laid out in his piece, he hasn’t nailed _anything_ down to specific facts, except for (1) no “Merry Christmas” at Macy’s, and (2) one particular incident in Wisconsin.

    Everything else is innuendo, generalization, and so forth. And that’s an awfully small number of solid, verifiable data points.

    Anyone can write a story using sloppy-journalist techniques like “some PC people” or “the anti-Christmas lobby” and skip the whole fact-checking process.

    For example:

    Kaimi Wenger is a victim of the growing campaign to make people want to eat fried ants, not just any old ants but army ants and even fire ants. Some public schools have been serving fried ants to schoolchildren, even though no court has ever ruled that this is required. In West Bend, Wis., the school district fed fried ants to ten classes. No law or court has ever ruled this way. The fried-ant lobby implies that schools should teach kids to eat fried ants. Some PC people have begun to argue that non-fried-ant dishes are a constitutional no-no. Regular school lunches are controversial because they don’t contain ants.

    I can write a story citing to unnamed or unspecified “some people” or “lobbies” or “are controversial” without any factual backing at all. And when journalists do this, it’s a red flag that they _couldn’t find_ underlying facts to support their assumptions. If they could have found facts, they would have cited to specifics, rather than “some people” and whatnot.

  8. Adam,

    If I cited to “some anti-PC people think Christmas is being banned” or “the anti-PC lobby implies” or “even the non-mention of the word Christmas is offensive” or other things, perhaps my post would be as sloppy as the Leo piece.

    But I don’t, and it isn’t.

    And Leo is a professional journalist, while I’m a blogger.

    And church members discuss the perceived “attack on Christmas” — so is it not relevant that a national journalist has apparent difficulty in finding any actual instances of this? Isn’t it relevant if (for instance) the perceived attack on Christmas is largely an urban legend?

  9. A better question is why Leo is worth targeting at all, or why anyone would read the US News for anything other than college rankings.

    Kaimi’s post isn’t shameful or sloppy; it’s just sad to waste such valuable ammunition on a secondary target. There are other columnists more worthy of scorn (*cough*Dowd*cough*).

    As for whether T&S is a good forum for this type of discussion, I say let he/she who has not written a wacky off-topic post cast the first stone!

  10. The real question is why Times and Seasons needs to be a forum for those who think John Leo’s column is offbase. Is he Mormon? Has anyone here been talking about secular attacks on Christmas, let alone John Leo’s article in particular?

    This post is as shameful and sloppy as it argues John Leo’s column is.

    Given the rather bizarre range of topics that Adam Greenwood has posted on in this forum, I can only view this comment as self-serving and hypocritical.

    I also hope, for the sake of his relatives and close acquaintances, that Mr. Greenwood is not nearly as arrogant and self-righteous in person as he appears to be here in text.

    I think an apology to Kaimi is in order.

  11. You made no effort to link it to the things Church members say.

    Nor did you make any effort to address the actual arguments. Instead, you found a particularly weak piece of journalism and attacked it.

    It would be as if I took a silly column by Dowd (thanks, Steve), trashed it (without offering any counterarguments of my own) and then defended it on the grounds that some liberal Mormons have the same views that she does and their views must be stupid or else why wouldn’t Dowd have written a better column?

  12. But Adam, a blog post is (or can be) an invitation for discussion. It’s not the same as a newspaper column, and need not contain a complete or airtight argument.

    I saw Leo’s column when it came out, and, like Kaimi, I was puzzled. I had not noticed the decline of Christmas at malls and department stores. Is this even true, or is it just true in New York, or is it a more general phenomemon?

    I, for one, am interested in discussion of this issue (but I’m less interested in bashing Leo in particular).

  13. Isn’t the article in question an opinion piece? Since when did journalists start sufficiently backing up opinion pieces? They are, by definition, just opinions. Yes, the guy does seem to fabricate support for his opinions by turning general ideologies into full-fledged conspiracies like “some PC peopleâ€? or “the anti-Christmas lobbyâ€?, but that has become the standard procedure for this type of piece. I thought the idea was to be inflammatory because inflammatory gets people riled up (and writing blogs).

    I read an opinion article on Yahoo News from a guy explaining that the Blue states really are full of more intelligent, better educated, and overall superior (read: non-religious) people. Inflammatory commentary was clearly the goal there too. Mission accomplished by both journalists…

    And while discussing the question of whether there really is an anti-Christmas movement afoot and how we Mormons ought to respond is a worthy one, I think Adam has a point in questioning the approach Kaimi takes. Is the complaint against the quality of journalism or the message content? Those are two very different discussions.

  14. I would agree with both Kaimi and Adam. As I read Leo’s article it appears in OP/ED. Its not a fact finding article of news, only opinion. Kaimi’s opinion that is is not newsworthy needs just as much backing as Leo’s article and therefore Adam’s rather opinionated account is also valid.

    I’m probably the only one whose opinion does not matter, since I am only a figment of your deranged imaginations.

  15. Kaimi, is an additional point of your post (besides outing sloppy journalism, even though it was an OP/ED piece) to claim that there is no “anti-Christmas” movement out there? By anti-Christmas I understand a movement to cleanse the holiday season of references to Christ out of concern for the feelings of those who are not Christian, whether because they adhere to a different religion or are atheists and don’t want to see Christmas as a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. I think that these impulses are out there, even if you might be right that there is no “anti-Christmas” lobby as a cohesive and funded group trying to expunge any reference to Christmas wherever it may be found. But does that mean that Leo is so off-base in noting anti-Christmas impulses out there? I have noticed that any mention of the word “politically correct” sends you into a fury, as if you are arguing that there is no such thing as political correctness. That in itself also seems a wild assertion.

  16. First, I want to apologize to all those concerned who have actually had to argue about this. I, for one, am hoping that Adam and Kaimi can make up and play nice after all this needless contention.

    Second, arguing is useless, because there is, in fact, a conspiracy afoot to steal Christmas. I’ve been in cahoots with these anti-Christmas crusaders since my teenage years, and I’m able to personally vouch for the truth of each of Leo’s assertions, all of which I’ve seen my bear eyes. We go by many names, but some call us, the Illuminati, the Shadow Government, or the Decision Makers.

    Having successfully setup the Federal Reserve, assassinated Lincoln and Kennedy, brought down Nixon, chlorinated drinking water, mutilated cattle, engineered the appointment of Wilfried Decoo as a blogger, abducted illiterate farmhands into flying saucers for medical testing, concealed UFO evidence, and blamed it all on the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers, we’ve now set our sights on stealing Christmas.

    And now that this Christmas season is over, we’re ready to begin our fund-raising drive to try to steal next Christmas. Anyone interested in currying favor with the powers that be can send cash (no checks or money orders, please) to me.

    In conclusion, you can all consider yourself warned: there will be no need for anyone to buy (or to plan to buy) presents for your for family or friends next Christmas.

  17. DKL,

    The check is in the mail. And don’t worry about how I obtained your mailing address either. :)

  18. Mr. Diogenes, I’ve met Adam in person, and he’s not arrogant, self-righteous, self-serving, or hypocritical. At least, not any more so than anyone else here, and in Adam’s case I detect if anything less than the usual dosage. What you have to understand, especially when he responds to you with a prefixed honorific like “Mr.,” is that Adam enjoys wearing golf caps and similar headgear. At least, he did as a freshman at BYU, and I’ve seen no evidence that that habit has changed. Just picture Adam in a golf cap, and a lot of things start making sense.

    Adam, I admit that I wondered a bit what made Kaimi’s post T&S-worthy. It’s a bit of a stretch, although not much: there have been several posts about Christmas here, and we’re constantly finding new ways to intersect with the pointless political debates of the day. I’d be just as happy to keep out of them–or to keep them out of here–as much as possible. That being said, I didn’t find Kaimi’s post any more of a stretch than some of your contributions, but to each his own.

    Charles, the institution of the editorial page is for people to express their opinions about facts, not to invent them. It’s dishonest of Leo to invoke an “anti-Christmas lobby” or a “growing campaign” that doesn’t, you know, exist. (And stupid people scattered across the country do not constitute a campaign or lobby.)

    Mark B., if I referred you to a news story at or, or linked to some fine commentary at, you’d probably be fairly skeptical of the content you found there. I think it’s marvelous that people from all over the political spectrum can meet here to agree and disagree on all kinds of things, but I’d prefer links to nonpartisan news sources.

  19. John,

    I’m agnostic on the underlying issue. I don’t have sufficient facts at my disposal to make an informed judgment one way or the other. I do have a strong aversion to the urban legends that often pass for accepted facts.

    If there are organized groups that exist and that are trying to remove references to Christmas, it shouldn’t be so hard to say “As the American Society for Removal of Christmas states, blah blah blah. As the chairman of American United for Secular Holidays argues, blah blah blah.” If there are no organized groups, then references to the anti-Christmas lobby are inappropriate. And some of Leo’s assertions — that some shadowy groups and/or people want to prevent the mention of Christmas in conversations! — don’t even pass the laugh test. Meanwhile, if any _actual_ “PC people” are saying that Jingle Bells is a church-state violation, can’t he mention them?

    Yes, the piece is op-ed, but Leo is a journalist, and when he _has_ facts, he mentions them. He mentions a Wisconsin district by name, and he mentions a number of “anti-PC” groups by name, quoting from them. This contrasts with the lack of any specifics regarding his more laughable assertions, such as any actual person who wants to prevent the mention of Christmas in conversations.

  20. Is this the same Adam Greenwood that posted a review of The Incredibles, barely related it to a gospel topic, and then refused to discuss that gospel topic? It seems that you are holding Kaimi to standards that you don’t bother with yourself.

  21. Uh,
    DKL’s apology is accepted.

    As is also the implied rebuke in Jonathan Green’s gentlemanly comment. I admit that I would prefer that somebody without sin be around to cast the first stone, but as they are not . . .

  22. Also, Jonathan Green, the cognoscenti call them “cloth caps.” Sometimes “newspaper boy caps” or “Newsies caps” when somebody refuses to understand. Never ‘golf caps.’

    Also, It’s not something I really like to advertise, but if it helps people not react so allergically to my commentary—I also now wear porkpies and fedoras.

  23. Adam,

    I’m holding out for photographic evidence. The only evidence that I currently have ( see )shows no sign of a fedora, porkpie, shepherd’s pie, or golf cap. Not even under a “living Constitution” theory of interpretation.

    And, if you’re relaying what the cognoscenti call them, does that mean that you’re a cognoscente yourself? I wasn’t previously cognizant of that.

  24. I confess that I have a subscription to U.S. News & World Report. My wife baught it from our niece who was selling it as part of a fund raising project for something. I think that it is by and large a useless publication. I should point out that I think Time and Newsweek are similarlly useless. Except that Time is even more useless. In fact Time is so incredibly useless that it is difficult to express how truely useless it is. In fact, Time’s best journalistic moments are inevitably when it features some recently released movie from Time-Warner on the cover. Apparently they get better journalists to write the paid advertising copy, which stands to reason. Otherwise Time sucks. Did I mention that it is also useless. Also, Newsweek is pretty dumb as well.

    So let me conclude my testimony by telling you that I KNOW as sure as I am standing here today that the only true and living news magazine is the Economist.

  25. Just in case my previous post did not make this clear, I think that Time is a really, really, really stupid news magazine. And it is useless. And stupid. And dumb.

  26. Adam, thank you for the clarification on terminology. I’ve been wondering for a long time the proper term for those things you wore, and now I know.

    Mark B., thanks for the link. Anything that liberals and conservatives deride in approximately equal measure will do.

    Nate, I agree that the Economist is about 100 times better than Time, Newsweek, and USN&WR combined. I would claim that the only true and living news weekly is Der Spiegel, but that might cause a few heads to explode.

  27. The Economist could kick Der Spiegel’s butt any day of the week and twice on Sundays. That is how cool and true and praiseworthy and of good report the Economist is. In fact, I think it is verifiably true that every single good piece that Der Spiegel has ever published was actually derived from the Economist’s Charlamagne collumn on Eurpoean politics. All of the sucky Der Spiegel pieces are cribbed from Time, of course. (Note: I have never actually read Der Spiegel. Or anything else printed in German. But I don’t think that is any reason to not express an emphatic and offensive public opinion on this topic.)

  28. While I don’t share the same degree of disgust towards Kaimi’s post as Adam G., I do find that Kaimi’s got some kind of bee in his bonnet lately. I found his post written before this, “Liberals,â€? “Tolerance,â€? and Other Canards of the Right to be out of line with what I’ve come to expect from Times and Seasons. That post is has even less to do with issues of concern to LDS folk than this one, and while it was reasonably well put together, there’s no reason why it couldn’t have lived over at the thread on A Bird’s Eye View.

    Perhaps Adam’s reaction is colored a bit by Kaimi’s previous post?

  29. As for the content of Leo’s piece, while it’s true that he doesn’t cite specifics, and should have, the trend he writes about has been fairly well commented on this past Christmas season. I know I’ve seen at least four or five stories/columns to the same effect.

    Since I’m not even a blogger, I won’t bother to cite sources, since I can’t remember them. One that stands out was a great interview (NPR? BBC? can’t recall) with some fundamentalist preacher who was encouraging his congregation and others to boycott stores that refused to include the word “Christmas” in their advertising. The questioner asked something like, “Doesn’t that amount to extortion?” followed by a long, awkward pause.

    And from the personal anecdote department, I grew up in Scarsdale, New York. When I was in junior high, the village made national news in a case argued before the Supreme Court over whether the village had the right to refuse to allow a group of churches to display a creche on public property (some info here — I’m not sure of the quality, you lawyer types.). Apparently, the creche was allowed to stand (I was young enough to not know what was going on).

    Ever since then, Christmas has been a touchy subject in Scarsdale. My mom, who works in the public schools, told me a few years ago that candy canes were forbidden in the schools because of their connection to the shepherd’s crook.

  30. Re: the usefulness of Time:

    It’s not an unbiased view, but NYPress is equal opportunity in the sense that they hate everybody. I particularly liked this comment on the White House’s contribution to keeping the Christmas spirit alive:

    “What kind of a maniac puts eagles in a Christmas tree? Are doves no longer ideologically acceptable—even as Christmas ornaments?”

    As for the Economist, my favorite is the full-page obituary at the end, where each week, some eminent figure appears. Usually, to my shame, I’ve never heard of them.

    It is expensive, but that’s why I use my surplus frequent flyer miles for the subscription.

  31. You are absolutely correct, Bryce I. Perhaps you’ve a second career as a psychologist?

  32. Adam–

    Nah, my wife would leave me if I tried to change departments again. Besides, my insight was drawn simply from my own, less intense reaction.

  33. Regardless of the state of Adam’s psyche or Bryce’s insight into it, I want it to be absolutely clear that I think that Time really, really sucks. Any questions?

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