Theoretically, Fox News’s least-serious on-air personality is Greg Gutfeld, the guy who hosts a humor-adjacent program in the channel’s late-night hours. But Gutfeld is continually challenged for that title by the guy who sits to his right on the Fox News show, “The Five”: Jesse Watters.
Watters isn’t unserious simply because he tries to work jokes into his patter, though he does do that (and generally to better effect than Gutfeld). He’s unserious because he’s not serious, because he elevates silly, unimportant issues and coats them with ridiculous rhetoric. It’s what’s helped make him one of the channel’s stars.
On Monday night, Watters again spent a few minutes of his audience’s time focused on a deeply unserious issue, albeit one on which he has well-established credentials: the left’s “war on Christmas.”
There’s not much point in walking through the claims Watters made in the segment, which aired during his prime-time program. He acknowledged that it’s a putative fight he’s been fighting for some time, airing a clip from 2015 in which he accosted a small-town mayor who was suing residents who had an over-the-top, electricity-guzzling Christmas display. The residents won the suit; the mayor won a bunch of hate mail after unwittingly appearing on Fox News.
Before getting to the skirmishes at issue, Watters layered on a bunch of other insider culture-war references, like the guy doing the stand-up routine at a major corporation’s holiday party. Then the dastardly demonstrations of anti-Christmas hate: a business owner who decided Christmas Eve shouldn’t be a holiday and a public official who asked that holiday decorations be non-religious. The latter story had previously been featured on “Libs of TikTok,” so that official can probably expect some hate mail, too.
“The war on Christmas comes earlier and earlier every year,” Watters offered — “probably because of climate change.” (If you are wondering: No, this doesn’t make sense.)
As it turns out, though, that the “war on Christmas” doesn’t come earlier and earlier. In fact, in recent years, the “war” — mostly driven by Fox News — has barely come at all.
We can track interest in subjects by looking at trends in Google searches. Christmas, for example, tends to peak as a search term in December, as you might expect. In recent years, shown in greener shades below, interest has risen faster and climbed higher than in years past.
But search interest in “war on Christmas” as a phrase has been down of late. The peak year was in 2005, for unclear reasons. (Google’s changes to its search indexing over time may play a role.) Beyond that outlier, the recent high point was 2013, in the heart of the administration of Barack Obama.
It was really during Obama’s tenure that this issue was at its peak on the right. You can see that below: The most mentions of “war on Christmas” on Fox News itself came in December 2011, 2012 and 2013. CNN barely mentions it at all.
Notice that this year has been a particularly non-Christmas-war-y year for Fox News. In October 2012, Fox News mentioned the “war on Christmas” more than 50 times. This year, it didn’t do so at all. (This month’s mentions are low — but, of course, the month isn’t over.)
Watters’ “earlier and earlier” framing is meant to trigger the response he and Fox News generally seek, a sense of encroachment on their values and beliefs. The “war on Christmas” was really a precursor to Fox’s and the broader right’s fearmongering about “wokeism.” It’s the same argument — look what they’re doing to us! — with the same methodology: Here are two anecdotes that show how we’re under attack!
It’s probably because wokeism is now the focal point that the “war on Christmas” has been shunted to the background. That plus the rise of Donald Trump — who, in the pre-woke era, made “we’re gonna say Christmas again!” an applause line at his 2016 rallies — meant that the issue (such as it is) didn’t have the same energy behind it.
What’s more, the job had been done. Republicans already feel as though Christians are embattled, the sense that Watters hopes to stoke with his segment. In October, YouGov asked Americans how much discrimination different groups face in the United States. Republicans were more likely to say Christians faced at least a fair amount of discrimination than they were to say the same of Jewish people or Black people. (They were more likely to say White people faced discrimination than to say Black people did.)
This is the non-silly part of all of this. A decade-plus of Fox News portraying traditional American values — which is to say the primacy of Christianity — as under attack has had the desired effect. Trump’s rise in national politics has heavily centered on this argument, with Christian conservatives becoming one of his most loyal bases of support.
So, once again, Jesse Watters is wrong. The rhetorical war on Christmas is not coming earlier than it used to; in fact, it hardly has much of a presence at all. In that way, it’s very much like the actual war on Christmas: an artifice invented by people like Watters whose influence depends on inventing new reasons to be mad at the outside world.