By Chris Hoenig
FOX News host Megyn Kelly has gone on the offensive in defending herself against a media firestorm after her controversial comments last week about Santa’s race.
On her show, The Kelly File, on Friday, Kelly said her comments and discussion with an all-white panel were “tongue-in-cheek” and meant to be joking. “In kicking off the light-hearted 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, just as Harris claimed in her piece. But that we were debating whether that should somehow change,” Kelly said. “I realize that the piece by Harris, which went on to argue that Santa should be a penguin, was also tongue-in-cheek—that’s part of why we covered the story in the first place. Humor is a part of what we try to bring to this show, but sometimes that is lost on the humorless.”
But Kelly’s original segment didn’t note Harris’ suggestion that Santa should be a penguin. Instead, she told her panelists and viewing audience that “this person is just arguing that maybe we should also have a Black Santa, but Santa is what he is,” meaning white, while referring to Harris as “just another person who thinks it’s racist to have a white Santa.” Harris does not suggest in her column that Santa should be Black.
Instead, Kelly said that it was the reaction of the media—not her own show—that created any unnecessary racial tension. “This would be funny if it were not so telling about our society,” Kelly said, “in particular, the knee-jerk instinct by so many to race-bait and to assume the worst of people, especially the people employed by the very powerful FOX News Channel.”
You can watch all of Kelly’s comments below:
Aisha Harris, the Slate columnist who authored the original column, continued her media war with Kelly by appearing on CNN’s Reliable Sources over the weekend. “There are a lot of people out there who automatically assume that Santa must be white and there’s no way, it’s laughable that he could be anything else,” she said, adding that FOX News did reach out to Slate just hours before Kelly’s show on Friday to see if she would appear. Harris, who said she had been told that Kelly would defend her comments before the invitation to appear came through, declined.
“I felt like they were kind of playing the victim there, and the fact that they tried to deflect it and say they were also making a joke out of it, it just didn’t ring true to me,” Harris told CNN’s Brian Stelter. “She said it very emphatically on the program, on Wednesday, and to me, there was nothing joke-like about that.”
You can see more of Harris’ interview below:
Media Blasts, Mocks Kelly, FOX News
As Kelly noted in her defense of her comments, the media response has indeed targeted the FOX News host, with many only finding humor in the “factual” delivery of Kelly’s segment.
CNN’s Don Lemon struggled to control his laughter after watching her segment replayed, before talking with his own guests about it. “I grew up with a Black Santa Claus. All of our Santas were Black, all our Mrs. Clauses were Black,” The Daily Beast staff writer Jamelle Bouie told Lemon. “Not every family has a white Santa, and I think that’s perfectly fine.
“To get outraged at the idea that there are nonwhite Santas is ridiculous because I think that if you were to walk into the home of an African-American person almost anywhere in the country, you would find a Black Santa Claus, and Black angels and a Black Jesus,” Bouie added.
CNN was not alone in critiquing Kelly’s comments. Comedy Central’s two news commentary programs both mocked the segment. “Fortunately, FOX News elf Megyn Kelly was there to put things in Black and white … but mostly white,” Stephen Colbert said on The Colbert Report.
“For all those kids watching Fox News at 9:40 at night, Santa is white,” Colbert joked, later adding, “By the way, for any kids watching at 11:30 at night, Martin Luther King is Black and he is real.”
The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart also mocked Kelly’s segment. “Who are you actually talking to? Children who are sophisticated enough to be watching a news channel at 10 at night, yet innocent enough to still believe Santa Claus is real, yet racist enough to be freaked out if he isn’t white,” Stewart joked, playing the clip where Kelly states, “Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change.”
“Actually, I think that’s the official slogan of oppression,” Stewart said.
Even Saturday Night Live, which has faced criticism itself over the lack of diversity among its cast, dove straight into the subject. In the weekly Weekend Update segment, Kenan Thompson appeared as Santa Claus. “You’ve heard of Secret Santa, but here’s a secret for you: I’m Black as hell,” he joked.