Bill O'Reilly reopens 'war' in county


Thursday, December 20
GREAT BARRINGTON — Did the Selectmen try to kill Christmas when they put the outdoor decorations on a curfew and started referring to them as "holiday lights"? Fox News talk show host Bill O'Reilly thinks so.

Town Hall was inundated with angry telephone calls and e-mails from around the country yesterday after a segment on "The O'Reilly Factor" lambasted the Selectmen for their attempt to conserve energy by turning off the town's Christmas lights at 10 p.m. — about two hours earlier than the shut-off times in past seasons.

The segment, "Global Warming vs. Christmas," aired Tuesday night. During the report, O'Reilly said that although the "War on Christmas" that he led last year was won, the Great Barrington situation is a "skirmish" that needs to be dealt with.

The flame-throwing began at Monday night's Selectmen meeting, when O'Reilly producer Jesse Waters took the floor as the Fox television camera rolled and confronted the board about their use of the non-religious phrase "holiday lights" in a late November article in the Eagle.

Waters asked the Selectmen if the phrase was a "ruse to de-emphasize Christmas" and called their decision to turn off the lights an "attack" on the holiday.

The Selectmen were taken aback by Waters' questions.

"We resent you coming in here," Selectman Ronald Dlugosz fired back, and when Waters asked Dlugosz to say "Christmas lights," Dlugosz and the other members refused to comply.

"They're holiday lights," Dlugosz replied.

Selectwoman Margaret Beckwith said the town's two strings of lights, which cross Main Street and Railroad Streets, were not enough, and added that neighboring communities like Pittsfield and Lee have plenty of festive lights up for the holiday.

In the three-minute segment, O'Reilly referred to Dlugosz as an "unbelievable pinhead" and said that a "cow belching" would emit more greenhouse gas than a Christmas light.

One e-mail sent to the Fox News Web site derided the "smug and rude" Selectmen; another noted that a planned family trip to Great Barrington — "where you don't celebrate Christmas" — would be canceled.

The show also featured brief interviews with street passersby who expressed their dismay at the relatively few lights in town, and O'Reilly commented that there was a "disconnect" between Great Barrington's public and its Selectmen, and added that the presence of the New York "élite" in the community had put an unfavorable spin on Christmas.

As the dust settled yesterday, Dlugosz said he thought the Selectmen fared well in the confrontation at Monday's meeting.

Dlugosz also said it wasn't the board's first brush with the "Fox goons."

He said O'Reilly producers had asked the Selectmen to appear on the show, but they declined the invitation.

"I'm not a fan of Fox," he joked, and added that the phrase "holiday lights" was a "pet peeve" of O'Reilly's, who thinks "everyone's against Christmas and everyone in the world ought to be Christian."

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He also said the Selectmen adopted the non-religious phrase from the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, the organization responsible for putting up the lights, and the same two strings of lights are hung every year.

For the past four years, the town's Christmas lights have been the responsibility of the Downtown Great Barrington Merchants Group, a committee that works with the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.

Robert Navarino, the owner of The Chef's Shop at 31 Railroad St., said the committee, made up of a partnership of about 50 area businesses, raised $11,000 to purchase the two strings of lights and pay for them to be hung up.

At the Town Meeting three years ago, the committee asked the Selectmen to contribute funds, but the town didn't have the money, Navarino said.

O'Reilly's accusations aside, both locals and tourists said the darkness in town is noticeable.

"I think Christmas lights bring energy and spirit," said Marieka Walsh, a 19-year-old freshman at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley.

Walsh was Christmas shopping on Railroad Street yesterday, and she said she noticed that there weren't many Christmas lights.

"I think (lights) help bring shoppers," she said. "People want to check them out."

She suggested the use of light-emitting diode, or LED, decorations conserve energy, and are widely-used by other communities.

Another retailer suggested that the Selectmen's decision to put a curfew on the lights was a sign that priorities were not in order.

"With the way the world is going today, if we're worried about those lights, we're not thinking straight," said John Conlin, the owner of Tune Street at 294 Main St.

Conlin said that, in his 15 years as a retailer at the corner of Main and Railroad streets, there has been a "slow and sure elimination of lights" on the main drag.

Dlugosz agreed with the idea that priorities were skewed, and the problem, he said, stemmed from the fact that "no one in the White House is looking at these issues."

He also said the meaning of Christmas has become distorted.

"It isn't supposed to be about a bunch of lights," he said yesterday. "It's about family and friends."

To reach Jessica Willis:, (413) 528-3660.

Click here to read the Eagle's editorial ("O' Little Town of Barrington") on The O'Reilly Factor's visit to Great Barrington.


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