A 50-foot Christmas tree was set on fire in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. The tree was a part of the Fox News building’s display in midtown New York City. Just after midnight, Dec. 8, 49-year-old Craig Tamanaha was reportedly observed climbing the tree and was subsequently taken into custody and charged with seven counts that include arson and reckless endangerment. According to police, Tamanaha is possibly unhoused, and law enforcement is still investigating whether or not drugs and/or mental health issues played a role in the event.
Being the holiday season and all, Fox & Friends’ morning crew made sure to apply a high-octane hyperbole and fearmongering filter that we have come to expect from Fox News in discussing the tree arson event. First up, Brian Kilmeade described the perpetrator of the arson as a “psycho,” saying that moments after the suspected arsonist set the tree ablaze, he was tackled by the building’s security. It’s a lame way to discuss the possible mental health crisis that leads someone to set a Christmas tree on fire on a cold night in midtown Manhattan, but Kilmeade has never been known to be cool-headed about anything. Sadly, this was somehow the least offensive and bizarre thing Fox News’ hosts said in regards to this burning bush.
Kilmeade and crew continued by explaining how this seemingly random act of violence is endemic in New York City’s Times Square area these days. This is not a thing, but the general tenor of the media class, only more exaggerated by the ultra-right-wing-o-sphere, is that we need more police because people are beginning to act desperate and it’s stressing out the professional class in our country. This is the kind of discourse one can expect from media outlets that refuse to acknowledge the growing financial inequalities our country has been facing—which have only become more acute during the global pandemic—as the root cause of the stressful uncertainty most Americans are feeling these days.
Walking coat hanger Steve Doocy added this deep thought to the mix: “Who would set a Christmas tree on fire?” And then Ainsley Earhardt gave a synthesis of the symbolic meaning of Christmas, Hannukah, and Jesus: the Christmas tree.
AINSLEY EARHARDT: It’s a tree that unites us. Brings us together. It’s about the Christmas spirit. It is about the holiday season. It’s about Jesus. It’s about Hanukkah. It is about everything we stand for as a country. Freedom and being able to worship the way that you want to worship. It makes me so mad.
I mean, this isn’t a thing I would tell a child—not because of how reductive and silly it is, but because of how wrong it is. If you want a pretty standard, easy-to-understand history of the American Christmas tree tradition: Germany began the tradition in the 1500s. In the 1800s, German immigrants brought the tradition into the United States. At the time, of course, Americans thought it was totally weird and feared it was some form of paganism. In fact, like Ainsley, many Puritan leaders were made “so mad” by these Christmas trees. By the turn of the 20th century, Americans who celebrated Christmas began adopting the practice. How’s that for reductive?
Doocy jumped back in to remind the audience that white people no longer feel safe in New York City—specifically he and his fellow hosts, who are shuttled to and from their homes (usually outside of the city) by way of private car service. The “spike” in crime in New York City, covered breathlessly by Fox, has reportedly dropped in the areas Doocy and friends are talking about—for context. And then, because Earhardt was doing the work of the devil, as Doocy waxed poetic about how hundreds of thousands of tourists walk up and down and see the Fox News’ Christmas tree (among the literal hundreds of Christmas trees along every avenue in Manhattan, and literal millions of Christmas lights that adorn the city), Ainsley remarks, “It’s kind of all we have left, right?”
What???? Is that a war on Christmas reminder? It is, and more importantly, Earhardt wants you to remember Sept. 11, 2001, when she emphatically piggybacks on Kilmeade’s “hope that we put it back” by saying, “I hope we build it back bigger and better.” This should feel triumphant, but it feels gross.
But it wouldn’t be a Fox News broadcast without a logic maze of classically labyrinthian proportions. Kilmeade goes on to say that “this psycho” will be out on the streets again in no time because … something about paperwork. Maybe because New York City has a housing problem like the rest of the country, and there’s a huge problem with our health care system not having robust mental health services? Maybe because while people like Kilmeade fight to keep large defense budgets and taxpayer money for prisons at the expense of building back our country’s infrastructure, Americans across the country slide further and further into debt?
The New York Times reports that Fox News Media Chief Executive Suzanne Scott sent a company-wide memo saying: “We will not let this deliberate and brazen act of cowardice deter us. We are in the process of rebuilding and installing a new tree as a message that there can be peace, light and joy even during a dark moment like this.”
Fox News reported earlier this month that the tree was “filled with 10,000 glass ornaments, 100,000 lights and took over 21 hours to assemble.” Considering Fox News’ track record of reporting facts and their opinions on labor, part of me wonders if the labor hours were underreported.
And just in case you were wondering …