n response to a skit aired on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” on Oct. 16, 2013, top executives of ABC met with representatives of Asian Pacific American organizations on Jan. 24.
During the controversial episode, Kimmel held a “Kid’s Table” segment in which he posed a question to four children: “America owes China a lot of money, $1.3 trillion. How should we pay them back?” One child immediately suggested, “Kill everyone in China.”
Kimmel replied, “That’s an interesting idea.”
Another child said, “If we don’t allow them to live, then they’ll try to kill us.”
The skit triggered national protests and a White House petition drive that garnered over 105,000 signatures. Responses to the episode included charges of racism and promotion of genocide.
Following demonstrations throughout the country, ABC issued an apology for airing the skit, stating the segment should never have been broadcast. Kimmel apologized on the air and in writing, and met with concerned citizens to hear their viewpoints and apologize.
The “Kid’s Table” segment was pulled from all media, and the “Kid’s Table” was discontinued for all future shows.
The Japanese American Citizens League and the Asian Pacific American Media Coalition negotiated a meeting with Paul Lee, president of ABC Entertainment Group, to discuss the incident and formulate measures to prevent future ones.
According to ABC, the incident was the result of human error, and steps have been implemented to prevent such errors across the ABC spectrum. All material will undergo review in a dual system according to broadcast standards.
ABC acknowledged that such language can and does contribute to hate crimes.
At the request of the organizations, ABC also agreed to:
– Work with community representatives to incorporate programming around Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in May to counter racial stereotypes and racism;
– Organize showrunner meetings with creative staff to promote the use of APA characters and stories;
– Conduct cultural sensitivity training for network staff.
“ABC deserves praise for stepping up and taking responsibility,” said JACL Executive Director Priscilla Ouchida, who is also co-chair of APAMC. “ABC demonstrated a willingness to view the portrayal of Asians in the media from a new perspective. The meeting enhanced the relationship between the Asian American community and ABC. The consensus is that this was a win-win-win for ABC, for concerned organizations, and for the portrayal of Asians in network programming.”
OCA Executive Director Tom Hayashi, who attended the meeting, and OCA President Sharon Wong said in a statement, “While there were delays in confirming this meeting, it was necessary for us to be steadfast in addressing the Asian Pacific American community’s concerns directly with the leadership of the network.
“It was important for the ABC executives to understand that the Jimmy Kimmel incident was not only offensive but that the language using Asians as economic scapegoats has incited violence against the community in the past, such as in the murder of Vincent Chin in the 1980s. Moreover, there are also recent examples of how hate speech has been used to bully and bring about assault leading to death, as in the case of Pvt. Danny Chen in 2011.
“While there were forthright discussions of concerns, the APA advocates and advocacy organizations, including OCA, have also voiced our willingness to continue acting as a resource on diversity and inclusion efforts. OCA’s objective, as a civil rights organization, is to strengthen the cultural competency of the media by demonstrating APAs as an asset to their programming.
“To this end, we stand ready to advise and assist ABC to explore the introduction and enhancement of new and existing APA characters and themes. Additionally, we also wish to support an effort to diversify their officer-level leadership positions, such as CEO, CFO, COO …
“We are pleased and optimistic about the outcomes of our meeting with ABC. They committed to addressing the damage done by the ‘kill everyone in China’ statement. And they have also taken proactive measures to prevent another incident. This is a victory for the Asian Pacific American community and a great first step in minimizing and eliminating racism in broadcast television.”
Guy Aoki, founding president of Media Action Network for Asian Americans, commented, “I felt it was a positive meeting. We were looking for ways to help ABC avoid this kind of fallout in the future.
“In order to assess when they’ve ‘crossed the line,’ I suggested they do ‘the substitution test’ where they substitute Asians/Asian Americans for other groups like African Americans and Jews and see how that looks in any given situation. So for the ‘Kid’s Table’ segment, if Jimmy Kimmel had asked kids about tension between the U.S. and Nigeria or Israel and one of them said, ‘Kill all the people in Nigeria!’ or ‘Kill all the people in Israel,’ someone at the network would’ve said, ‘Nahh, that’s in bad taste, let’s not use it.’ But people are so used to laughing at Asian people, no one at the network caught it.
“(ABC Senior Vice President of Global HR, Talent and Workforce Diversity) Steve Milovich said he’d previously talked to Tom Hayashi on the phone and Tom had suggested the same thing and that really resonated with the network.
“Paul Lee said for a full week, all of their company meetings began with that suggestion that, in order to assess if something is offensive or not, do the substitution test. So I’m optimistic that we’ve affected the culture of the corporation so that these kinds of offenses can be avoided in the future.
“We wanted ABC to do episodes about the Asian American experience on their news programs like ‘20/20’ or ‘Nightline.’ I reminded them of the great job John Donavan did on a 1999 ‘Nightline’ where he talked about how charges that Wen Ho Lee sold secrets to China — he was found innocent — somehow affected all Chinese American engineers in terms of jobs and promotions. Why should one person’s reputation affect the entire community?
“Yet, that’s what happened in World War II: After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans were put in concentration camps because the country didn’t think they could trust any of us. In many ways, that attitude hadn’t changed.
“John discovered that to be Asian in this country was to never really be accepted or trusted. And he linked it to media images of the past century and showed all the extreme ways we’d been depicted, including Fu Manchu, who was always trying to take over the world. MANAA gave him an award for the episode, which beat ‘The Tonight Show’ and ‘Late Night’ in the ratings.
“So I asked them to do another report on the double standards we face — whether it be how we’re seen as foreigners first more loyal to Asian countries than the United States, or yellowface being OK though we all understand blackface is a no-no. I told them, ‘Even though it feels like you’re doing us a favor by doing an updated report, if properly promoted, this will boost your ratings because people are interested in this topic.’
“(APAMC Co-chair) Dan Mayeda pointed out they could use examples of Asian American characters on ABC shows who’ve countered stereotypes, like Sandra Oh on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and Tim Jo on ‘Neighbors’ …
“They’ve agreed to have meetings with the APAMC and different showrunners (executive producers of series) and writers/producers about how to include AAs in their programming and hopefully to create new shows involving AAs. I’ve been pushing this with all networks since 2002.
“Only CBS has done it so far, and ABC wants to have it on a case-by-case basis, not 20 of them in the room at the same time. So we’ll try it their way. It’s all about follow-up to make sure these agreements get implemented.”
Also attending the meeting were Hope Hartman, ABC vice president of corporate communications; Olivia Cohen-Cutler, ABC senior vice president of broadcast standards and practices; Tim McNeal, ABC vice president of creative talent development; Ed Moy of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance; and Hapei Shue of the National Council of Chinese Americans.
“Protected Free Speech”
In response to the petition on its “We the People” website, the White House said, in part: “The parties involved have already apologized independently. Jimmy Kimmel has apologized on-air, and issued a written apology. ABC has removed the skit from future broadcasts, taken the clip down from online platforms, and detailed several changes in its programming review process in response to this incident …
“On a broader level, as the president has stated publicly, the United States welcomes the continuing peaceful rise of China. The comments you are writing about do not reflect mainstream views of China in the United States.
“The federal government cannot force ABC to remove this show. The First Amendment of the Constitution protects free speech, even if individuals might personally find it offensive or distasteful. It may be upsetting when people say things we might personally disagree with, but the principle of protected free speech is an important part of who we are as a nation.”