The following statement was issued on Aug. 27 by Paul Cheung, national president of the Asian American Journalists Association, and Bobby Caina Calvan, chair of AAJA MediaWatch.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s attempt at humor last week at the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce fell flat, as widely reported. Unfortunately, the same news media seeking to bring attention to Reid’s remarks are also missing the mark.
The Asian American Journalists Association urges media to exercise caution in their coverage. Of particular concern to us is the repetition of the phrase “two Wongs.”
The news media have used the occasion to riff on — and perpetuate the stereotype about — how Asians speak.
Using the phrase perpetuates a joke long played on Asian Americans. It has to stop. When news outlets purposely use the phrase, they are joining in slurring a segment of their audiences.
Today, Tom Bevan, co-founder and executive editor of RealClearPolitics, wrote an opinion piece about how humorless and politically correct people have become, suggesting an overreaction to Reid’s gaffe.
“Just because Reid and his fellow travelers on the left have made racial mau-mauing a staple of today’s political landscape, that doesn’t mean he should be castigated for a joke that fell flat,” Bevan wrote.
In his analysis, Bevan unfortunately and unimaginatively used the long-worn phrase “two Wongs do not make a right.” Other outlets have repeated the phrase in their headlines.
The phrase is based on a common mispronunciation of R’s and W’s by non-native English speakers from Asia. It originated from Australian politician Arthur Calwell, who told Parliament in 1947 that “Two Wongs don’t make a white.” Calwell was an advocate of the White Australia Policy, which favors immigrants from European countries.
We urge news outlets to show better judgment. For guidance on covering or referencing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, we urge journalists to consult the AAJA Handbook.
Reid said during the dinner that he had met several people named Wong, and “one problem that I’ve had today is keeping my Wongs straight.”
The Nevada senator also told the audience, “I don’t think you’re smarter than anybody else, but you’ve convinced a lot of us you are.”
After Asian Pacific American Advocates issued a statement calling Reid’s remarks “racist and disgusting,” Reid apologized, saying, “My comments were in extremely poor taste … Sometimes I say the wrong thing.”