Last fall, sidewalk interviewer Jesse Watters of Fox News promulgated a segment in New York City’s Chinatown area that promoted several stereotypes about Asian Americans. “Am I supposed to bow to say hello?” asks Watters in the segment, which aired on “The O’Reilly Factor.” Also featured: An Asian man who apparently didn’t understand Watters’s question. The Asian American Journalists Association ripped away: “We should be far beyond tired, racist stereotypes and targeting an ethnic group for humiliation and objectification on the basis of their race. Sadly, Fox News proves it has a long way to go in reporting on communities of color in a respectful and fair manner.”
In the aftermath of the segment, the AAJA and other groups in October met with Fox News in an attempt to air their concerns about its depiction of Asian Americans. “I think they heard what the community’s reactions are,” said Paul Cheung, then the president of AAJA. There was discussion of another meeting.
Last week, AAJA announced what may be a resolution of the matter. “Fox News is open and agreeable to consider story pitches and guests that accurately reflect and impact the Asian-American community,” reads the statement on the AAJA website. “The majority of guests on are pre-booked. If community members feel a guest or segment is out of line, Fox News welcomes the opportunity to provide the counter-view. When a guest or segment is accurately reflective of the community’s views, network executives would also like to be made aware.” The AAJA statement includes contacts at Fox News to receive such story pitches.
AAJA and other groups pressured Fox News and Watters to apologize for the segment. The ambush artist initially responded with typically weak stuff, tweeting, “My man-on-the-street interviews are meant to be taken as tongue-in-cheek and I regret if anyone found offense.” Given more time to consider the matter, Watters later told Business Insider, “I didn’t see it coming, and that’s on me. I understand I did offend a lot of people, and I’m very sorry for that. People took issue with some of the statements I made, and some of the reaction to the Chinatown segment, and I understand that. And it’s a learning experience — I definitely learned a lot from it. But it’s a new day, and we are moving forward with it.”
CeFaan Kim, a co-chair of AAJA’s Media Watch Committee, credits Watters with a “genuine apology” in the late-December Business Insider piece. “It was more full-throated than what we had seen in the immediate aftermath,” says Kim. That said, he would have preferred a Watters apology directly to his group and others, not to mention a chance to speak with him. An opportunity for a more complete dialogue, says Kim, was missed. At the same time, Kim credited David Tabacoff, executive director of “The O’Reilly Factor,” for his stance on this controversy. “He did seem genuinely willing to really sort of deliver on this idea of really pitching stories,” says Kim. “He really wants to make an effort to facilitate an open channel. I think he was genuine in that.”
Fox News didn’t respond right away to a request for comment from the Erik Wemple Blog.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, the Erik Wemple Blog spotted Watters at work in the corridors of the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center. “I already spoke about that. Nice try,” responded Watters.