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‘We will not be defeated’: 36 hours of Fox News covering its own Christmas tree fire

A man was arrested for allegedly setting fire to the giant tree in Manhattan. It became a major story.

Workers disassemble a Christmas tree outside Fox News headquarters, in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. Police say a man is facing charges including arson for setting fire to the 50-foot artificial tree outside of the News Corp. building that houses Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post early Wednesday, police said. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

For more than 36 hours after a 50-foot-tall Christmas tree outside Fox News’s Manhattan headquarters was set on fire, the cable news channel covered the event as a major story worthy of intense reporting and heated commentary that frequently cast the bizarre crime as an example of growing lawlessness, left-wing violence, hostility toward religion or the chaos caused by underfunded police departments.

On Wednesday, every Fox News show referenced the attack on the company’s “All-American Christmas Tree,” a metal frame covered in branches and decorations — 10,000 glass ornaments, 100,000 lights — that took over 21 hours to assemble.

Police quickly arrested a 49-year-old man they described as homeless, and the city’s police commissioner offered mental illness as a possible motivation. From its early reports, though, Fox News’s on-air team framed the tree burning within the context of a broader story that has been a continuous theme on the network, particularly during the Biden administration: an argument that criminality is on the rise in the United States.

Video shows the Christmas tree outside of the Fox News building in New York burning on Dec. 8. (Video: The Washington Post)

“As some progressives downplay and even deny the existence of a crime crisis, we’re seeing it firsthand in New York City, as it shows up on our very own doorstep,” co-host Todd Piro said during his 4 a.m. news hour Wednesday. “This is what happens when you have a lawless city.”

“If he was arrested last night, is he going to be still in jail today? Or will they release him?” co-host Carley Shimkus wondered aloud before expressing concern about what she called “crazy” bail-reform laws.

The popular “Fox & Friends” morning show led each of its three hours with updates on the tree, with co-host Steve Doocy’s brief attempts at levity (“It’s beginning to look a lot like arson,” he crooned) quickly slapped down by his colleague Ainsley Earhardt. “Who sets a Christmas tree on fire?” she asked. “So sad. No more music. No more tree. Infuriating. … It’s a tree that unites us, that 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 … It makes me so mad.”

“This city is so out-of-control,” fretted co-host Brian Kilmeade. “How soon till this psycho is out again to burn somebody else’s tree down, or grab some weapon and harass somebody in the subway? This is emblematic of crime that’s hitting in places you never would expect.”

Even as correspondent Lawrence Jones noted that the crime might have been random and not targeted at the network, Earhardt struck a defiant tone. “Someone did this to spoil our Christmas, but that’s not going to happen,” she declared, after the company announced plans for a replacement tree to be lit Thursday afternoon. “You can’t burn us down.”

Later Wednesday morning, anchor Dana Perino showed viewers a live shot of crews cleaning up the charred remains. “It was terrible to wake up to,” she said, but “we will not be defeated.” Fox News correspondent Eric Shawn reported from outside the building, explaining that the suspect would face charges including criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and arson.

“No one can burn down the spirit of Christmas, or destroy our resilience,” anchor Harris Faulkner said during the 11 a.m. hour. “A new tree is on the way. It will be brighter and more beautiful than ever.” At 2 p.m., anchor Sandra Smith showed video of the replacement tree being assembled.

Perspective: Believe it or not, Fox News once knew shame

A mug shot of the suspect, Craig Tamanaha, was displayed on screen multiple times throughout the day. “Fire bug little bastard,” declared host Lisa Kennedy Montgomery during the afternoon panel show “Outnumbered.” “Amen,” concurred co-host Emily Compagno.

Greg Gutfeld offered a somewhat nuanced view on the network’s 5 p.m. panel show, arguing that the incident “represents the kind of random violence that is fueled by mental illness that has become pretty much part of every day city life,” as well as proof that “we have abandoned the deranged.” But host Jeanine Pirro shut him down.

“Everybody wants to say, ‘Oh, they’re mentally ill, they’re crazy.’ I think they’re evil,” Pirro retorted. “The bottom line here is: the left is lying to us, and that’s why this is happening.”

At 7 p.m., host Tammy Bruce struck a cautionary note: “Don’t worry about us at Fox News,” she said. “We’re fine. We are rebuilding our tree. … But these are the benefits of being a major corporation. Most Americans don’t have this luxury.” As she spoke, an on-screen graphic read “THE LEFT WANTS YOU TO BE AFRAID.”

Was it a bit much? So argued Richard Goodstein, a Democratic strategist and frequent Fox News guest, during a Thursday-morning appearance during which he chided that Fox News should “put as much energy into decrying the anti-vaxxers,” noting the death toll from coronavirus.

“You don’t have your facts straight,” anchor Harris Faulkner shot back. “It’s not personal, but you made it personal.”

There was more tree talk through Wednesday night. Tucker Carlson led his 8 p.m. show with a declaration that “torching Christmas trees is an attack on Christianity” and argued that the Justice Department should inventory and classify such incidents as a hate crime, citing blazes in Chicago and Oakland. He described the suspect as “yet another criminal set free by left-wing ideologues to terrorize everyone else,” and criticized New York Times’ coverage of the fire. Whereas Sean Hannity an hour later linked the tree fire to “defund” movements advocating to redirect some police funding. “Unfortunately it’s one of many examples of just how weak, far-left crime policies are leaving so many cities less safe, less secure, all over the country.”

Geraldo Rivera turned up to call the suspect a “creep” and wondered if he intended to kill people. Kayleigh McEnany, the former Trump White House press secretary, called him a “craven, maniacal psychopath.” During his 11 p.m. comedy show, Gutfeld took a swipe at rival network CNN, joking that the tree “went up in smoke faster than Chris Cuomo’s career.”

But the on-air mood was grim again by Thursday morning, as the co-hosts of “Fox & Friends” reported that Tamanaha had been released pending a court date next month.

“No judge could find a way to keep this guy locked up. It’s unbelievable,” Kilmeade said Thursday. “He’s a threat to society. … Who says it’s not a hate crime against us? Against Fox News?”

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