Grizzled media critics don’t take seriously those “Watters’ World” segments on Fox News’s “O’Reilly Factor.” They are contrived outings in which producer Jesse Watters goes to some liberal locale and interviews passersby with the intent to humiliate. For a satirical take on this Fox News institution, check out last May’s segment from the now-retired “Colbert Report.”
And for a more sincere, and more blistering, take on “Watters World,” view the video above, in which a team of students from the Mount Anthony Union High School rip O’Reilly, Watters and Fox News for an outing that landed in their front yards. Last July, Watters visited Bennington to probe one of the country’s most liberal states. He cornered people on the street, yielding exchanges like this:
WATTERS: Don’t you think we should be killing terrorists over there so they don’t hit us here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1: No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1: That’s wrong.
WATTERS: It’s wrong to kill terrorists?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1: It’s wrong to kill anybody.
Members of the Fox News fact-check team at Mount Anthony Union High School use the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics as a roadmap for hammering Fox News. On each front, the students found shortcomings.
Reporting: “To underscore your assertion that Vermont is made up of nothing more than mindless liberals, you visited one and only one town in southern Vermont — our town of Bennington,” said one student.
Sources: “In your final edit, you featured just six interviewed sources, all aged 17 through 24,” said another student. “Question: Have you ever heard of the phrase ‘accurate demographic representation?'”
Stereotyping: Watters said this about Vermont in a chat with O’Reilly — “You have gay marriage, there’s your high taxes, everything, ski bums.” Rejoined a student: “Ski bums? You apply a 1970s idiom to contemporary Vermont. Talk about being behind the times.”
The conclusion of the collective effort: “The facts have been so distorted by O’Reilly and Watters that the real truth is totally unrecognizable.”
Sue Maguire, principal of the Bennington public high school, tells the Erik Wemple Blog that the video stemmed from a “feeling like the school had been attacked and the town of Bennington had been attacked by journalists.” The report on the “O’Reilly Factor” came after a New York Times piece on a heroin scourge in the area, which included an allegation that the town’s “high school” is a heroin-use zone: “Everyone is doing it,” Vermont state trooper Wayne Godfrey told the New York Times. “It’s in the high school. The kids are doing it right in school. You find Baggies in the hallway.”
Mount Anthony Union students mocked that story, too, with a rap. Protests forced the Vermont state police director to concede, “It was learned that Trooper Godfrey has no firsthand knowledge nor has he ever seen bags of heroin in any high school within Bennington County. These comments were careless and inappropriate.”
As for the Fox News thing, couldn’t these high school kids see that the “O’Reilly Factor” segment was all in good fun? Only if Watters & Co. represent themselves as a comedy troupe, says Maguire. “But that’s not what they’re claiming to be,” she says. “They’re claiming to be a news channel.” Maguire says she hasn’t heard from Fox News about the video.