Fox News, its show “The O’Reilly Factor,” and correspondent Jesse Watters are being slammed by Asian American organizations and leaders for an Oct. 3 segment of “Watters’ World” shot in New York City’s Chinatown.
A Change.org petition launched by Reappropriate — an Asian American activism, identity, feminism and pop culture blog — read, in part:
“The video contained a flurry of anti-Asian stereotypes, and showed Watters accosting Chinatown residents — including many English-language-limited speakers — to mock them as foreign, bizarre, and ignorant. After the man-on-the-street portion, Watters and O’Reilly perpetuated ‘model minority’ stereotypes to conclude that the video was ‘in gentle fun.’
“There is no humor in unabashed racism … Several elected officials, including NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sen. Daniel Squadron, Congresswoman Grace Meng, Assemblymember Ron Kim, and NYC City Council member Margaret Chin, have also spoken out against the segment.”
The petition calls on Fox News to “issue an immediate apology and retraction,” “cancel ‘Watters’ World’ segments … from future broadcast,” and “agree to a meeting between representatives of the Asian American community and Fox News executives, ‘O’Reilly Factor’ producers, ‘O’Reilly Factor’ host Bill O’Reilly, and correspondent Jesse Watters to discuss the impact of on-air racism towards viewers, as well as next steps to address this issue, and the broader underrepresentation and misrepresentation of the Asian American community at Fox News.”
Councilmember Chin commented, “Bill O’Reilly sent his correspondent into our neighborhood without knowing or acknowledging the culture, the language or even the difference between Japanese Americans and Chinese Americans.
“As the daughter of an elderly Chinese American who still lives in Chinatown, the moment when his correspondent mocked a senior citizen who seemingly did not know English stood out as a particularly mean-spirited act of disrespect. Would Bill O’Reilly or his correspondent treat an elderly Irish grandmother in the same manner?
“I suspect the answer to that question is emblematic of the persistent racism that still exists against Chinese Americans, who more than a century ago worked alongside Irish Americans to build the railroads that connected this continent. It is a legacy of hate that has been given new life and a national platform by the candidacy of Donald Trump and his allies at Fox News.”
Asian American Journalists Association President Paul Cheung and the AAJA MediaWatch Committee said in a statement, “The segment was billed as a report on Chinese Americans’ views on the U.S. presidential election but it was rife with racist stereotypes, drew on thoughtless tropes and openly ridiculed Asian Americans.
“Jesse Watters, ‘O’Reilly Factor’ correspondent and host of ‘Watters’ World,’ committed a litany of offenses, from asking Asian American women, ‘Do I bow to say hello?’ to asking an Asian American man if he knew karate. He mixed in stereotypes of various Asian groups, conflating Koreans with Chinese and Japanese communities. The segment used clips of martial arts movies and interviewed Asian Americans whose primary language isn’t English in order to mock them.
“It’s 2016. We should be far beyond tired, racist stereotypes and targeting an ethnic group for humiliation and objectification on the basis of their race. Sadly, Fox News proves it has a long way to go in reporting on communities of color in a respectful and fair manner.
“Host Bill O’Reilly called the segment ‘gentle fun.’ There was nothing gentle or fun about it. It was rude, offensive, mocking, derogatory and damaging.
“Fox missed a real opportunity to investigate the Asian American vote, a topic not often covered in mainstream news.
“With a population of 15 million, Asian Americans remain the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S. Between 2000-2010, our community grew by 45 percent, compared to 10 percent for the overall U.S. population.
“While the largest Asian American communities continue to be in states like New York, California, and Hawaii, the fastest-growing populations of Asian Americans include potential swing states like Nevada, Arizona, and North Carolina.
“There has been tremendous growth of Asian American representation throughout government. There are now over 600 elected officials at all levels, according to the National Asian Pacific American Political Almanac.
“We deserve far better treatment and coverage than we’ve been given by this Fox News report.
“AAJA MediaWatch demands an apology from Fox News to our community and a meeting with the show’s producers to understand how this segment was conceived and greenlit to air. More importantly, we want an explanation for how this type of coverage will be prevented in the future.”
“We are shocked and disgusted by the blatant use of disparaging stereotypes against Chinese American and Asian American voters,” said Christine Chen, AAPIVote executive director. “This year marks the greatest mobilization of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) voters in history, and for this segment with grossly facetious portrayals of our communities to be aired is inexcusable. The media must cease to depict our communities using racist caricatures and instead properly cover the burgeoning AAPI electorate and increasingly important AAPI vote.”
Asian Americans Advancing Justice said that it is “outraged by the blatant, racist and offensive stereotypes of Chinese Americans portrayed in a recent Fox News segment during ‘The O’Reilly Factor.’ The fact that O’Reilly termed this as ‘gentle fun’ and Watters believed it was ‘all in good fun’ only demonstrates a complete lack of a moral compass. It is unconscionable that a news organization would sanction a segment that laughs at a community of people, including Watters ridiculing elderly Chinese Americans who were limited English proficient …
“The segment does nothing more than play up every offensive stereotype of Asian Americans that the community has fought against for decades. What they should have done is to talk about the important role that Asian Americans can play in this upcoming election.
“There are more than 9.3 million newly eligible voters this year, and 37% of Asian American respondents in our 2016 Voter Survey identify themselves as independents. Our community stands to play an important role in this election and the future of politics as the fastest-growing racial group in the United States.
“We demand a formal apology from Fox News and ‘The O’Reilly Factor’ for airing such an offensive segment. We, as a community, refuse to be mocked and trivialized.”
Watters said via Twitter on Oct. 5, “As a political humorist, the Chinatown segment was intended to be a light piece, as all ‘Watters World’ segments are. My man-on-the-street interviews are meant to be taken as tongue-in-cheek and I regret if anyone found offense.”
Jeff Yang, who did an opinion piece on the issue for CNN, characterized Watters’ statement as a “classic non-apology apology.”
“What he regrets, as so often is the case, is that we took offense, not that he caused offense,” Yang said in an interview with KPCC. “And that, plainly and simply, is the quintessential problem with the position he’s taken.”
After airing the segment, Watters commented to O’Reilly, “They’re such a polite people. They won’t walk away or tell me to get out of here.”
Yang said that the use of “they” is at the center of Fox News’ brand of humor, “which suggests that the only ‘we,’ essentially, is straight white males of a certain background, a certain faith, maybe even a certain socioeconomic status. And the fact is that America is ‘we’ for a reason.”
AAJA said in response to Watters’ tweet, “It’s one thing to be ‘tongue-in-cheek.’ It is something entirely different to hide behind the guise of political humor while using racial stereotypes.
“The AAJA MediaWatch team reviewed two other ‘Watters’ World’ segments — one on millennials and the other on role of race in Philadelphia. Although both segments might indeed be ‘tongue-in-cheek,’ neither was as blatantly racist as the Chinatown segment.
“Watters interviewed people for whom English is obviously not their primary language, raising ethical concerns of whether they were aware of how they would be portrayed.”
A protest and press conference were held in front of the News Corp. building in Manhattan on Thursday. Among those scheduled to speak were Assemblymembers Kim, Walter Mosley and Nily Rozi, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, Councilmember Peter Koo, 65th Assembly District candidate Yuh-Line Niou, and members of the New York State Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus.
I think that hyper-sensitivity is skewing people’s objectivity. On a regular basis, news interviewees from the Hispanic community provide verbal opinions that are broadcast by the tv news media and those Hispanic
persons have limited English skills, yet there is no moral outrage launched at the news media for choosing the least verbally skilled in the Hispanic community. Over the past century the Irish, the Germans, the Italians, the Spanish, the French, the Russians, and others from the European community provide humor to millions when their accents are mimicked by others who duplicate the European accents in comedic purposes. No one complains that Europeans are being unfairly targeted based on racial or ethnic bias.
I did not view this television segment, but based on what I have heard from others, the outrage might
be based solely on hypersensitivity.