This post has been updated.
You know what Fox News Channel really doesn't need right now? Another male prime-time host who invites charges of sexism.
Yet Jesse Watters, the Bill O'Reilly protege who joined "The Five" in its new 9 p.m. time slot this week, made what sure sounded like a dirty joke about Ivanka Trump on Tuesday night.
In a segment about boos directed at President Trump's elder daughter during her appearance at a women's economic conference in Germany, Watters said:
It's funny, you know, the left says they really respect women, and then when given an opportunity to respect a woman like that, they boo and hiss. And I always thought the Europeans were supposed to be so sophisticated and well-mannered, and now they're treating this like it's a soccer match. I don't understand what's going on. I think Ivanka's supposed to be the moderating voice for her father, so I think people in Europe should support that. I don't know why, also, saying that, you know, "My father respects families" is controversial. I mean, he's probably hired a ton of fathers and mothers and children, so I don't really get what's going on here. But, uh, I really liked how she was speaking into that microphone.
Watters's mischievous grin only reinforced the idea that his final remark was, as the New York Times's Maggie Haberman put it, an "unsubtle reference" to a sex act.
Unsubtle reference from reporter who's interviewed potus about his daughter https://t.co/Q0wSF1Y0pv
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) April 26, 2017
Watters, however, insists that any perceived innuendo is purely imaginary.
"During the break we were commenting on Ivanka's voice and how it was low and steady and resonates like a smooth-jazz radio DJ," he said in a statement. "This was in no way a joke about anything else."
Watters was back on "The Five" Wednesday night but told viewers he would be off the air for the next few days.
"I'm going to be taking a vacation with my family," he said. "I'll be back on Monday, so try not to miss me too much."
I'm skeptical Watters's "smooth-jazz" denial. Off-color humor is part of his shtick. We're talking about the world-record holder for offensive wisecracks about Asians told in four minutes.
Let's suppose, however, that Watters's explanation of the Trump comment is legit. It is still a display of stunningly bad judgment to share an inside joke on the air that viewers — without knowing what Watters and his co-hosts discussed off the air — could predictably construe as sexually suggestive.
Watters, who describes himself as a "political humorist," is supposed to be provocative, and the line between funny and offensive is sometimes blurry. But less than a week after O'Reilly was ousted amid accusations of sexual harassment — and just nine months after Roger Ailes, the network's longtime chairman, was forced to resign under similar circumstances — the line is pretty darn clear.
How could Watters not understand that Fox News is under heavy scrutiny? For that matter, how could he not remember the trouble Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.) found himself in just last month when he joked that counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway "really looked kind of familiar" in a photo that showed her kneeling on a sofa in the Oval Office?
Memo: Don't say anything that sounds like a sex joke involving women who work in the White House. Just don't.
Fox News presumably didn't think such a memo was necessary, yet here we are. The thing that should worry the network is that Watters apparently was oblivious to something so obvious. A host without a natural feel for the current climate is a host who is bound to cause headaches in the future.
Lisa Bloom, an attorney who represents O'Reilly accusers, signaled Wednesday that Watters is in her sights.
Jesse, I know you work in an environment that reduces every woman to sexual plaything, but you're still responsible for your own sleaze. https://t.co/r7ol2jp5DM
— Lisa Bloom (@LisaBloom) April 26, 2017