Media Emphasis on 'Holiday Shopping' Directly Defies Public's Stated Preferences

December 7th, 2010 3:04 PM

There are many areas where the establishment press's terminology preferences are significantly out of sync with everyday usage by the general public. To name just two examples, the ever so PC press routinely replaces publicly favored and more informative terms such as "illegal immigrants" and "Muslim terrorists" with "undocumented workers" and "militants." And of course, we can't forget the press's affection for "a certain late-term pregnancy-ending procedure," when it's really "partial-birth abortion."

Though the disconnect I'm about to describe isn't as serious as the ones just noted, there is another area where press terminology is at wide variance with the public's preferences. That would be in how to describe the shopping season that occurs from Thanksgiving until the end of the year.

For a while, the press's terminology choices seemed to be winning over retailers. But at least this year, that isn't so, as noted in an item at Advertising Age (HT to Tim Graham at NewsBusters, who tweeted on this about 10 days ago):

The War on Christmas may be in its final days.


This season, merry Christmas — not happy holidays or season's greetings — will dominate retailer's marketing messages. There will be Christmas sales and Christmas trees and Christmas carols galore.


... This year's NRF (National Retail Federation)/BigResearch survey found that 91 percent of consumers plan to celebrate Christmas, compared with 5% for Hanukkah and 2% for Kwanzaa.

A cynic might observe that a desperate need for sales in this so-called recovery, over and above the laudable work the American Family Association has done to stamp out the worst anti-Christmas offenses over the years, might be driving the change in mindset.

There's also this item:

According to the most recent Rasmussen Poll on the subject, 72 percent of all Americans prefer the greeting “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays,” the greeting of preference for just 22 percent of us. This is up four percent from last year.

In the just-provided context, it's worth noting how radically out of step the business press is with the public's identified seasonal celebration choices and stated word usage preferences. The searches that follow represent the second round of my sixth annual set of Google News searches looking into the press's tendencies.

Here are the results of Google News searches done at 2:15 p.m. this afternoon:

Nine out of ten Americans celebrate Christmas, while almost nine out of ten news stories about the shopping season avoid the word. How obvious is that?

Now let's look at the other element of my six years of review, namely the press's choices on what terms to use in stories involving layoffs:

  • Christmas layoffs (not in quotes, also excluding the word "challenger" to ensure that about 30 items relating to the mass layoffs report issued by Challenger & Christmas were exluded) -- 261 (14.1%)
  • Holiday layoffs (not in quotes) -- 1,030 (55.7%)
  • Holidays layoffs (not in quotes) -- 557 (30.2%)

As I have consistently found in the six years I've looked into this (go here for capsule results), the press overwhelmingly prefers the use of the word "holiday" in describing the shopping season.

Compared to past years, the press doesn't seem as receptive to using the word "Christmas" in stories about layoffs, but has seemingly moved its Christmas emphasis to the perils of not extending unemployment benefits ad infinitum. Though I don't have five years of comparative results, a Google News search done at about 2:30 p.m. on [Christmas "unemployment benefits"] (typed exactly as indicated between brackets) comes back with 1,570 items, which strikes me as quite a few, especially in comparison to the layoff numbers just noted. Unfortunately, further comparison is difficult, because searches substituting the word "holiday" and "holidays" are skewed by unrelated uses of the words in continually breaking news about next year's tax structure (e.g., the proposed payroll tax "holiday" and the snarky "happy holidays for the rich" discussions).

The results described here dramatically demonstrate how out of touch the press is with what readers say, do, and wish to see in connection with the, ahem, Christmas season.

Cross-posted at