How Jimmy Kimmel’s China joke became an issue for the White House

November 8, 2013

It’s one thing for late-night comics to make jokes about the White House. But Jimmy Kimmel managed to offend so many people with a joke about China that the Obama administration is now officially compelled to respond.


Randy Holmes/AP Photo/ABC

On Oct. 16, Kimmel aired a segment of his Kids Table, where he asks small children to address complex issues. The subject was China and how the U.S. could solve the $1.3 trillion trade imbalance. “Kill everyone in China,” answered one laughing 6-year-old.

Some viewers were so upset that they took their anger to the White House’s “We the People” online initiative, where citizens petition the administration to comment on various issues — and are promised a response if at least 100,000 people sign on during a 30-day period.

“H.Z.” of Cedar Park, Texas started the Kimmel petition, asking for an investigation of the show: “The kids might not know anything better,” it read in part. “However, Jimmy Kimmel and ABC’s management are adults. They had a choice not to air this racist program, which promotes racial hatred. . . .This is the same rhetoric used in Nazi Germany against Jewish people.” The petition reached 100,000 signatures by Thursday morning, less than three weeks after the show aired, reports Deadline.

Of course, Kimmel manages to offend viewers on a regular basis. This week’s outrage: Child psychologists are weighing in on his annual Halloween stunt in which parents pretend to eat their children’s candy, then post the tearful reactions on YouTube.

His China segment, however, really hit a nerve. A group of Asian Americans picketed outside of Kimmel’s studio in L.A.; the host met with protestors and issued an on-air apology. ABC pulled the clip from the website, edited it out of any repeat broadcasts, and issued its own mea culpa: “We would never purposefully broadcast anything to upset the Chinese community, Asian community, anyone of Chinese descent or any community at large.”

We believe this is the first time the White House has been asked to respond to a late-night comedy segment. Most petitions are more wonky: retire daylight savings time, recognize acupuncturists as health-care providers, prevent the FDA from regulating cigars.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

The White House, as promised, will comment on the Kimmel flap — though it may take awhile.

“Every petition that crosses the threshold will be reviewed by the appropriate staff and receive a response,” White House spokesman Matt Lehrich told us. “We do our best to respond to those petitions in a timely fashion, but, depending on a variety of factors including the topic and the overall volume of petitions, response times vary.” In other words — a few weeks, maybe a few months.

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Michael Livingston | November 7, 2013