Easter Eggs
Colored eggs used in the annual Easter Egg Roll are seen at the White House in Washington, April 25, 2011. Reuters/Jim Young

We knew this was coming.

Ratings at Fox News have been falling since the election, and the cable news network is in desperate need of a controversy to stir things up. Fortunately, Fox commentators are not inclined to walk on eggshells. The network, which discovered ratings gold with Bill O’Reilly’s annual War on Christmas rants, has been testing out a springtime equivalent to help boost viewership during the dog days of late March.

The War on Easter (as it will no doubt come to be known) was unofficially kicked off by O’Reilly on the March 21 episode of “The O’Reilly Factor,” during which the cantankerous host claimed victory in the War on Christmas but lamented that the fight was far from over.

“The war on Judeo-Christian tradition continues on in some public school districts,” he said on the program. “In 10 days it will be Easter Sunday, but in some schools you are not allowed to say the word ‘Easter.’ On Long Island, the East Meadow school district, holding a spring egg hunt -- not Easter eggs, spring eggs. Same thing in Prospect Heights, Ill. Manhattan Beach, Calif. Flat Rock Elementary School in South Carolina, and a school district in New Cumberland, Penn.”

O’Reilly went on, his anger growing as he explained that the Easter Bunny, too, was under attack.

“No Easter,” he said. “They are having spring egg events. Moderated by a spring bunny, at least in San Diego. I know it’s stupid. You know it’s stupid. But it’s happening, and there is a reason why it’s happening. Secular progressives are running wild with President Obama in the White House. They feel unchained, liberated, and they are trying to diminish any form of religion.”

And O’Reilly is not the only Fox News host calling for modern-day Easter rebellion. On Wednesday, “Fox & Friends” host Gretchen Carlson argued that erasing the word Easter from egg hunts and bunnies is ludicrous because such traditions are not even religious in nature. “Some people say the bunny comes from paganism or is a symbol of fertility or something like that,” she said, as reported by the Raw Story. “Have we just gotten so deep into this political correctness that we now just can’t take the religion as it is, celebrate it and move on?”

For Fox News, the potential ratings boost from a War on Easter controversy -- manufactured as it may be -- is obvious. The network’s annual War on Christmas, in which O’Reilly routinely decries the eradication of Christmas trees and nativity scenes from public holiday displays, bumps up viewership during what are typically the slowest weeks of the year for news consumption. So pleasant are the ratings gains that Fox even bragged about them last December on its annual holiday card. As TV Newser reported, the card featured a cartoon of a fox beating its competitors in a horse race.

A unit of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. (NASDAQ:NWSA), Fox News is still far ahead of CNN and MSNBC, but it is losing considerable ground, particularly in the key 25-54 demo. O’Reilly, the aging warmonger who has been with the network from the beginning, should be among the most concerned. As the Huffington Post recently reported, ratings for “The O’Reilly Factor” were down significantly in February, dropping off 26 percent from the same period last year in the 25-54 demo. Considering what’s at stake, can the “War on Ash Wednesday” be far behind?

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