Rafu Wire and Staff Reports
Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu joined a chorus of public officials and Asian American groups calling on Fox News to apologize for a Chinatown man-on-the-street feature that has been blasted as demeaning toward Asian Americans.
In the Oct. 3 “Watters’ World” segment, aired as part of the “The O’Reilly Factor,” reporter Jesse Watters visits Chinatown in New York to interview people on their views about Donald Trump.
While Watters chats up Asian American interviewees using references to “bowing” and karate, film clips are spliced in showing or referring to crudely drawn characterizations of Asian Americans and Chinese culture.
At one point, the segment plays up silences from elderly interviewees, who may not have understood the questions, for laughs.
“O’Reilly Factor” host Bill O’Reilly denied the allegations of racism and defended Watters on Oct. 9 when asked by “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace, “Do you think it was over the line? Do you regret it?”
“I would have edited it a little bit differently than it was edited. But, no, it wasn’t over the line,” O’Reilly said. “We ran that piece on Monday of last week. Five million people-plus saw it live-time. You know how many negative letters we got? Less than ten. You know how many phone calls came in to Fox News? Zero, as far as I know. We checked. It was 36 hours later that this outrage appeared. And where did it appear? Far-left websites, far-left precincts. I read every single one. They’re all the same.
“So this is an attack on Fox News. That’s what it is. It’s happened before. I thought it was a gentle piece. There were a few things in there I felt were over the line. The old lady, I would have taken that out. I should have seen it before, but I’m so busy with the election that I didn’t.
“But, Watters is a gentle satirist. He’s worked very well for us. We’re proud of him. This is an organized campaign. This is what they do. They’ve done it before.”
Ryu, who is Korean American and the only Asian American member of the City Council, said that as “an Asian American and an immigrant” he found the segment “racist, bigoted and divisive.”
“I understand first-hand because I have experienced racism throughout my entire life, even recently,” he said. “It is imperative that we call out this hurtful and damaging behavior whenever it occurs.”
“I am demanding Fox News to issue an immediate apology and retraction for the ‘Watters’ World’ Chinatown segment,” he said. “Additionally, Fox News executives must meet with representatives of the Asian American community to better understand the impacts of their poor judgment.”
Watters, calling himself a “political humorist,” posted on Twitter saying that the segment was “intended to be a light piece, as all ‘Watters’ World’ segments are.”
He followed up with another tweet, saying that “my man-on-the-street interviews are meant to be taken as tongue-in-cheek and I regret if anyone found offense.”
The Asian American Journalists Association and Asian Americans Advancing Justice, as well as Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Los Angeles) and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, are among those who have also denounced the segment.
Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), chair of the Congresional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said in a statement, “This segment openly objectifies and ridicules Asian Americans. From the very start of the segment, beginning with the stereotypical music to Watters’ first question asking two women if he was ‘supposed to bow to say hello,’ it was clear the intention was to mock the Asian American community. We see over four minutes of Asian stereotypes, and multiple clips of individuals who are made fun of just for being Asian.
“As the fastest growing racial population in the United States and an increasingly influential voting bloc, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders deserve better coverage than being the butt of a joke. This segment was an opportunity to create greater understanding, but instead, it marginalizes Asian Americans. I call on Fox News to stop such racially insensitive coverage from being aired on their network in the future.”
The Japanese American Citizens’ League’s statement read, in part: “Although this reinforcement of the ‘perpetual foreigner’ myth would have been problematic by itself, Watters went on to mock and misrepresent Asian culture with a number of stereotypical gestures, such as bowing, asking about martial arts, and mocking older adults who had limited English proficiency.
“At the end of the segment, Watters and O’Reilly reflect upon the ‘gentle fun’ of the interviews. Although this may have been their intent, the segment is extremely offensive to Asian Pacific Americans, and their dialogue at the end regarding the ‘insulated’ nature of Chinatown with its ‘polite people’ do nothing but reinforce existing stereotypes.
“Humor can be an important tool for revealing absurdities underlying racism, but in this case the segment only showed how ignorant Watters and O’Reilly are about the Asian American community.
“We join our allies in demanding that Fox News and ‘The O’Reilly Factor’ issue a formal apology for this segment.”
Fox News invited AAJA President Paul Cheung to appear on the Oct. 7 broadcast of “The O’Reilly Factor,” but he declined, saying, “We appreciate the invitation to educate Bill O’Reilly and his audience on the offensive nature of the ‘Watters’ World’ segment. However, we believe meaningful engagement can occur only if there is significant dialogue not just with us, but with the broader community.”
In New York — where community groups held a protest in front of the New Corp. building on Oct. 6 — Fox News was invited to participate in a town hall meeting held Oct. 9 by AAJA at the Museum of Chinese in America in Chinatown, but no Fox representatives attended.