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Yes Virginia, There Is a Way to Protect Childhood

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Chicago news anchor Robin Robinson probably should expect to find some coal in her stocking this year. At least that’s the consensus of most of the folks who learn about her recent on-air gaffe.

Last week, the local Fox affiliate for which she works aired a story during its 9 p.m. newscast about a trend this year among shopping-mall Santas to sensitively size up the economic status of the parents of children visiting them, and respond appropriately to what they perceive to be unrealistic expectations about the Christmas gifts for which they are asked.

Sometimes they look to Mom or Dad’s head-shaking messages; other times, they’re hazarding a guess that an iPad is out of reach for many parents.

Footage for the package included a few store Santas explaining their strategies and expounding on their self-proclaimed duty to set reasonable expectations about Christmas. It was a charming piece that reminds you how endearing those shopping-mall Santas can be.

After the story, which ran near the end of the hourlong newscast, Ms. Robinson weighed in with her opinion, as news anchors often do to wrap up segments. Turning to co-anchor Bob Sirott, Ms. Robinson said, “Stop trying to convince your kids that Santa is Santa. That’s why they have these high expectations. They know you can’t afford it, so what do they do? Just ask some man in a red suit. There is no Santa.”

Well, ho ho ho.

Within minutes, comments flooded the Facebook fan page for Calls and emails also came in fast and furious to the station, most accusing Ms. Robinson of first-degree Grinchiness.

Those who took issue with the newswoman felt she should have been more concerned about preserving the innocence of the children who might be in the viewing audience. Comparatively few pointed out that children who believe in Santa ought not be watching the 9 p.m. news in the first place. Go figure.

The next night, Ms. Robinson took to the airwaves to apologize, saying she should have used the station’s customary warning that the next story to be aired might not be suitable for young children. She also said she was wrong to say aloud that there isn’t any … well … you know.

People who criticized Ms. Robinson were appropriately concerned about preserving childhood innocence, a major issue in a culture where childhood seems to last until about age 7. After that, you get skinny jeans, a Facebook page and a cellphone, and it’s off to the races.

But are parents really concerned about protecting innocence?

Many parents are under the misapprehension that disturbing news stories about crime, violence, natural disasters or terrorism will go over the heads of their children. That’s not true, but it does give Mom and Dad permission to watch what they want even when the children are around.

Melissa Henson of the Parents Television Council says, “The nine o’clock news, where the motto is generally ‘If it bleeds, it leads,’ is not exactly child-friendly entertainment to begin with, and their innocence would be far more likely to suffer from stories about rapes, kidnappings, murders, etc., than a newscaster talking about whether or not Santa exists.

“It is so important to protect a child’s innocence, but it involves far more than keeping up their illusions about Santa Claus,” she said.

More than 70 percent of America’s children have televisions in their bedrooms, put there by someone (presumably not Santa) who is less worried than is warranted about what children might be watching. The 9 p.m. news is tame compared with the content many children view today.

But mention that Santa isn’t real? Shhhhh.

As for the wee ones who may have heard Ms. Robinson’s indiscreet remark, every parent knows how to respond to that:

“Don’t worry, honey, you can’t believe everything you hear on the news.”

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