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How a false chain email enlisted a writer in the 'War on Christmas'

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Journalist Steven Levy shares a holiday story

The so-called "War on Christmas" has been raging for years now, but so rarely do we hear about the casualties. At Backchannel, tech journalist Steven Levy explains how he was drafted against his will.

"I want to personally thank you for having the courage to share this with the world."

At the end of every year, Levy explains, he begins receiving a trickle of emails that begin something like this: "Mr. Levy: I want to personally thank you for having the courage to share this with the world."

What the letters refer to, it seems, is a chain email called "My Confession," sourced to Levy. The email rants against the Obama White House for using the term "holiday tree" (a false assertion, apparently) and, more broadly, claims the Founding Fathers approved of teaching Christian doctrine in schools. Levy, according to the email, delivered the remarks on CBS Sunday Morning News.

Except that didn't happen. In 2005, it turns out, former Nixon speechwriter and human soporific Ben Stein appeared on CBS Sunday Morning News and did deliver a similar speech, and the email includes some words from Billy Graham’s daughter, talking about Hurricane Katrina on CBS Early Show. But Levy? Never said any of it, nor does he agree with the views expressed in the email.

How the internet myth-machine turned Levy into the author of the email is still something of a mystery, but the story is worth reading in its entirety, especially for an unexpectedly warm ending.