Are Stores That Refuse to Say 'Merry Christmas' Suffering?

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This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," December 5, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: In the "Factor follow-up" segment tonight, as we told you in the "Talking Points Memo," 100,000 of you voted in our poll. And 81 percent, 81 percent say they're not shopping in stores that banish the words "Merry Christmas".

With us now, Neil Weinberg, a senior editor at Forbes magazine. In the boardrooms at the major retailers, is this a topic of discussion? I mean, are they taking this seriously?

NEIL WEINBERG, SENIOR EDITOR OF FORBES MAGAZINE: Well, you've got to bet this is a big topic of discussion.


WEINBERG: And you're a big topic of discussion, because what they're saying is, you know, we're in this no one situation. On the one hand, we got people are telling us we shouldn't have Christmas in the stores. Then we got this guy, Bill O'Reilly and all these other people, who are saying you got to put Christmas back in the stores.

So what do we do about it? A couple of years ago, they were saying to us Christmas is too commercial! So they're sitting there in their boardrooms and they're trying to walk this very fine line between Bill O'Reilly and the anti-Bill O'Reillys. And that's where they're at.

O'REILLY: Who are the anti-Bill O'Reillys? You know, I can't figure out — 10 years ago, this wasn't even an issue. Every store said Merry Christmas, along with Happy Holidays and Happy Hanukah. It was all inclusive. Everybody said everything.

Then all of a sudden, about three or four years ago, Merry Christmas began disappearing. Who were the forces that suggested that might be a good thing? Do you know?

WEINBERG: Well, I don't know that there's any unified force that said that. But this thing was probably lawyered to death and they're saying, you know, "Why should we have Christmas there? Maybe it's going to offend some people. Maybe we'll lose some sales." There's roughly 60 million people in the U.S. who say that they're not Christian. So they're saying, "Hey, why not take it away and see if we can get away with it," you know, to secularize the entire season.

So they do that. And last year they did that and for example Federated Department Stores, Bloomingdale's, Macy's and they — you know, there wasn't too much complaint. This year there's some push back from folks like you. And so they're saying, well, you know, "Maybe, we've got to back up here a little bit and put a little more Christmas back in Christmas."

O'REILLY: Well, 85 percent of the country says it's Christian. Ninety-five percent, according to a FOX poll, celebrate Christmas. And you would think that these people would go, "Gee, you know, if we're going to take Christmas out of the federal holiday some people are going to be teed off," and more people are going to be teed off than the others who might get offended.

WEINBERG: I don't know that they're teed off. For one thing if you look at the sales in November you'd find that it was really — people were voting with their wallets. They were shopping at places that were cheap like Wal-Mart. They weren't shopping at places that were expensive like Saks Fifth Avenue.

But the other thing is if you look, they're really trying to walk this fine line. If you look, for example, on the web sites of people like Target who wouldn't tell you what their policy was, you look on the web page and it's red. It looks Christmas. Of course, they're red anyway. But it looks Christmas all over. You don't see "Christmas," the word "Christmas" anywhere.

O'REILLY: Target has been the target of a boycott by some Christian groups...


O'REILLY: ... because of their treatment of The Salvation Army and because they won't mention Christmas.

I'm not getting Target. I'm not getting a lot of them. Wal-Mart I'm not getting, because they market to the folks.


O'REILLY: You know, people were the heavy emotion tied into the holiday of Christmas.

WEINBERG: Well, I can tell you one thing. I went to Target's web site today and typed in "Christmas" on Target's web site. I got 39,443 hits. I don't know what all that stuff is, but that's a lot of stuff. There was about 7,000 at Wal-Mart. So while they might not be wanting to put "Merry Christmas" on the front of Target...

O'REILLY: Here's what people want. They want to walk into the store and see "Merry Christmas." That's the litmus test. They don't want a clerk saying it to them; it doesn't matter. They want to see "Merry Christmas," and then you can see "Happy Holidays" or "Happy Hanukkah" or "Happy Kwanzaa." The stores are so large, you would assume that they would have room for all of that. See, that is my solution. Why don't you have them all?

WEINBERG: It seems to make sense for me. s you now, you walk around New York and go into the lobbies of big buildings, and you have a Christmas tree, and you have...

O'REILLY: Well, there are some buildings that you won't see "Merry Christmas" and others that you will. For example, over here, Rockefeller Center. Now, there was pressure put upon NBC to call it a holiday tree. NBC would not relent to that pressure.


O'REILLY: NBC said, "No it's a Christmas tree here at Rockefeller Center and that's what we're going to call it."

WEINBERG: Right, right.

O'REILLY: But there was pressure put upon NBC not to call it a Christmas tree. Isn't that insane?

WEINBERG: I think it's insane. I think, you know, this country, just because we have a separation of church and state, doesn't mean you have no church. You know, NBC is a private company.

O'REILLY: It's not about church; it's about a federal holiday. What's the name of the federal holiday?

WEINBERG: Christmas.



O'REILLY: And what's the symbol of Christmas? A Christmas tree.

WEINBERG: Exactly.

O'REILLY: That's the traditional symbol. So look, do you think — last question — that these department stores are going to all come back to "Merry Christmas"? Because I do — I think they're going to have to, all of them.

WEINBERG: I think that they're going to move that way but they're going to do it very cautiously because they're going to see how far they can stay toward the middle. What they're trying to do. This is the season for — whatever it means for you and me, it means money for them.

O'REILLY: All right and money talks, boy, I'll tell you! If you don't like what they're doing don't buy. Mr. Weinberg, thanks very much.

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