Obama’s “God-less” Thanksgiving Address

Ever the intrepid media watchdog, Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show made note of President Obama’s online Thanksgiving video address, as well as the reaction from FOX News:


Some brief thoughts:

For the record: (a) FOX’s own numbers suggest that Obama has mentioned God in his Thanksgiving Day addresses 2 out of 3 times so far; President George W. Bush was 7 for 8, so even he missed one; (b) President Obama did, in fact, mention God in his official Thanksgiving Day proclamation, as well as in his 2009 pardoning of Courage, the national Thanksgiving turkey. But wait… he didn’t in his 2010 and 2011 turkey pardons… is this a troubling trend???

The Denizens have talked about media framing before (here, and here) — the process by which a structural coherence is given to information in a message, usually through some narrative form.  Here, the repetition of “questions” and critical commentary across at least three FOX News programs engages Thanksgiving with at least two interlocked frames.

On the one hand, Thanksgiving itself is framed historically as a traditional holiday at once quintessentially American and tied to a recognition of God. At the same time, then, Obama’s “God-less” recognition of Thanksgiving is framed by implication not only as God-less, but also implicity anti-American (given the coherence of the related frame). These frames fold into larger right-wing frames of Obama as problematic both in terms of his religious identity and of his legitimate American citizenship. While mainstream conservatives largely do not endorse these extreme critiques, the frames (and their perpetuation, both explicitly, and implicitly, in the news media) continue to associate Obama with an identity that is, for many, antithetical to traditional American cultural values.

To this extent, particularly as other news outlets did not cover this “story” nearly to the degree that FOX News did (and given that, as Stewart points out, the national audience for the President’s YouTube address was comparatively small), this episode provides a useful example of the phenomenon media scholar Matthew Nisbet calls “agenda building,” or “the process by which news organizations and journalists feature, emphasize, and/or select certain events, issues, or sources to cover over others.” FOX News has chosen what appears to be an innocuous moment of presidential epideictic rhetoric and spun it into a “controversy” that reinforces pleasurable negative frames of Obama for their target audience.

Again, this analysis is no partisan defense of the President — it merely unpacks the phenomenon that Jon Stewart explains in a way that illuminate the media processes at work… and pretty much sucks the laughs right out of it.


  1. Jarf says:

    Religion has no place in politics. End of.

    • Christopher Whitt says:

      There has been a construction of the idea of “the separation of church and state” in the United States over generations. But the reality is that religion holds some sway in American politics. A presidential candidate could never rise and succeed running as a non-believer. That is just the current-day reality of American politics. Thanks for the comment!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>