Happy News Year

The networks cast their anchors for 2005.

At the end of a year that saw major changes in the TV news world, several networks are reshuffling their decks of talking-head playing cards. MSNBC is trying to woo Crossfire’s co-host Tucker “Stop Hurting America” Carlson away from CNN (he also hosts the more polite Unfilteredon PBS) for a nightly show of his own, to fill the prime-time slot of the departing Deborah Norville. CBS is coyly dangling Katie Couric’s name as a possibility to replace Dan Rather, which would make her the first solo female anchor of a network news broadcast (and the first female network anchor, period, since the ill-fated Dan Rather/Connie Chung co-hosting experiment of the mid-90s). And in January MSNBC is debuting a new, as-yet-unnamed daytime show co-hosted by former Fox commentator (and sometime plagiarist) Monica Crowley and ubiquitous presidential offspring Ron Reagan. What, if anything, do these changes portend for television news and the state of our national conversation in 2005? And do any of these new network/anchor combos sound like something you’d actually watch? Discuss among yourselves, or send e-mail to We’ll reconvene next week after the … er … holiday.  … 11:27 a.m.

Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2004

Never—not even when soliciting entries for a Jeopardy! drinking game—have I gotten as much reader response as I did from last week’s short item, “Putting the Christ Back in Christmas.” (Click here and scroll down.) The feedback ranged from hate mail (Note to potential pen pals: Letters addressed to “Surfbitch” or beginning with the words “Sieg Heil!” are less than likely to be read through to the end), to well-meaning attempts at religious conversion (thanks for the thought, but God-wise, I’m good, really), to many sincere expressions of goodwill, and not a few excellent sightings of the new holiday hostility on TV and in the media.

Apparently without even realizing it, Surfergirl was indeed surfing the crest of a tsunami. Over the past few days, the save-Christmas meme has been everywhere: from the Fox News banner reading “Christmas Under Attack!” that ran all weekend under holiday-related stories; to Peggy Noonan pleading with Terry McAuliffe to “stop the war on religious expression in America” by ringing a bell and yelling “Merry Christmas!”; to the ubiquity of William Donohue, the Catholic League president who was quoted last week as saying that “Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular.” Donohue, who should have been persona non grata on the talk-show circuit after that disgraceful outburst, was back on Hardball last night, cross-talking with a rabbi and an atheist about something or other—I couldn’t bring myself to watch.

The problem here, of course, has nothing to do with the utterance or non-utterance of four perfectly unobjectionable Anglo-Saxon syllables denoting holiday cheer. No, the right’s defensiveness on the Christmas issue seems to be little more than a seasonal variation of the same sore-winner language that’s saturated the airwaves since the election. As of Nov. 2, the Christian right now controls every branch of government except, arguably, the Supreme Court (and, Donohue’s anti-Semitic paranoia to the contrary, a good chunk of the media as well.) What gives, guys? You’ve got the country by the throat—take it easy. Have some eggnog. Stand over here by the mistletoe (well, maybe not you, Bill O’Reilly.)

One reader wrote in to cite, not a television show, but a Christmas letter from relatives who explicitly rejected “this politically correct happy holidays stuff—we all know what we mean when we say ‘Merry Christmas’, and it is time for the rest of the country to get with the program.” That language perfectly summarizes the pugilistic tone of the save-Christmas crowd. If “Merry Christmas” means peace on earth, gingerbread and visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads, then I wish it to everyone out there, be they Jew, Christian, Muslim or pagan. If it’s code for “get with the program,” I think I’ll change the channel. … 2:18 p.m.