February 22, 2013

Fox vs. Wicked Witches? {Updated}

Does It Matter Whether Fox News Apologizes to Pagans & Wiccans for Insensitive Remarks? ~ Jayleigh Lewis

“…the bad side of Wiccanism is that it’s obviously full of witchcraft…”

~ Fox News reporter Tucker Carlson, February 17, 2013

Religious intolerance is alive and well at Fox News. I don’t actually watch the channel (or any TV, on a regular basis), but I’m well aware of its reputation for a certain type of conservative-slanted prejudice. So, I’m not surprised by this:

Missouri University is breaking ground by officially recognizing pagan and Wiccan holidays on par with holidays of other religions. It is not advocating that students be given the days off, just offering a guide to faculty, staff and students so they can be sensitive to the needs of those who choose to celebrate these holidays.

As a practitioner of earth-based spirituality and an advisor to pagan college students, I much appreciate any gesture that acknowledges that there is an entire cycle of seasonal changes which is intimately tied to our spirituality. The academic calendar runs from September to May, and thus contains the entire “dark” half of the year—the time between the fall equinox and the spring equinox (both pagan holidays), when the days are short and the nights are long in the Northern Hemisphere. This is the time when the earth is quiet, when introspection naturally increases and activity naturally decreases.

College life, however, continues on at its own rapid pace. A friend and fellow earth-based practitioner once said that it would be nice to not have any academic work between the end of October and the winter solstice, the darkest of the dark time, the time of deepest rest, when the old year’s agricultural and energetic cycle has ended and the new cycle has not yet begun. I have often wished that I could officially acknowledge pagan holy days, such as Samhain (which is a day of deep reflection and connection with ancestors), by taking the day off from my responsibilities.

Missouri University doesn’t go so far as that, but its decision (which was actually made months ago, prior to the start of this academic year) is truly good news. It’s too bad that Fox News had to sensationalize it.

Besides the disrespectful, snarky attitudes of the news anchors, and the misinformation—it’s not “Wiccanism,” it’s “Wicca,” and there are only eight annual holidays, not 20—there’s a larger problem with the way this was and is being handled.

When we sensationalize a group of people, we distance ourselves from them and their humanity.

We tell ourselves that “they” are “over there,” and we are “over here,” and therefore we don’t have to worry about whatever the issue is. We might throw a few jokes or conciliatory words in the direction of the “other” (a good sign that the issue is making us nervous), which are like insincere slaps on the back, “hey, we’re all friends here” gestures—except that these are actually power plays. (Tucker Carlson, the news anchor quoted above, put an apology out on his Twitter account after this news story began drawing fire. It reads: “To Wiccans and pagans: Sorry for my pointlessly nasty remarks. Your holidays still confuse me, but you seem like nice people.”)

Tammy Bruce, the ultra-conservative radio show host, actually mentioned the larger issue, when she said “pagans and Wiccans [are] being used for a political agenda to downgrade what’s important to a majority of Americans.” She went on to say that pagans and Wiccans should be angry about this.

Pagans and Wiccans are angry about being used for a political agenda—that of perpetuating a tradition of “othering,” of solidifying a narrow-minded idea of how someone who wants to be taken seriously should and shouldn’t look, think and act.

There are petitions online demanding that Fox News apologize to pagans and Wiccans. (I signed one myself.) There’s a Facebook page for the cause. Does this help? Yes and no.

Pagans and Wiccans are angry right now because this hit a nerve. We are easily stereotyped because of our long history of being stereotyped (to this day, calling someone a witch is generally considered an insult). We’re feeling it. We’re moved to respond.

But are we the only group to be marginalized and stereotyped? Not by a long shot.

Does that mean it’s ultimately not important whether or not Fox News apologizes? After all, Fox News will still be Fox News, and in the bigger scheme of things, there are more complex and troublesome problems in the world.

True. And yet there’s still this “othering” thing going on. As diversity along many spectrums becomes more present and recognized, issues like these are going to keep coming up. Missouri University offers one solution to the problem of what to do when those of (sometimes vastly) different backgrounds, cultures and religions meet in a common environment that must keep to some common standard. It is advocating sensitivity without radical accommodation. Fox News offered another solution—alleviate fear of having to change or accommodate by making the other seem silly.

I think most reading this would align more with Missouri University than with Fox News. But are these the only two solutions? Are there ever situations where radical accommodation is called for? Let’s keep talking about it…


Tucker Carlson apologized on air on February 23, saying he never intended to offend and wants to “live and let live”:



Jayleigh Lewis is a writer who will one day write a book. She currently works as a spiritual advisor to college students as well as a freelance editor. She has a dream that one day humans will remember the integral role ceremony has in our lives and will learn to create sacred spaces within which intention may manifest. Learn more about her dream and read more of her words on her blog.

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Ed: Brianna Bemel

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