As a journalist viewing this video through a journalistic lens, Watters has no business going down to Chinatown for this story. Linking Trump’s mentions of “Chi-NA” to Chinatown does not reflect journalistic significance nor proximity. It just plays on recency. And the gap between recency and journalistic significance, in this case, is yuge.
That’s not to say that O’Reilly or Watters are journalists. But viewed as such, this is a segment that was terrible from its inception.
My personal opinions, however, are more complex. But first, let’s look at everything that’s wrong with this segment.
First, Watters mashed up ever Chinese stereotype into a sushi roll and served it in a Thai restaurant.
Bowing to say hello? That’s Japanese. Trying out martial arts? That’s also Japanese. If you’re going to make fun of an entire culture, at least make sure you’re using the right terminology and stereotypes to be offensive with.
The next problem is that Watters chose to view the Chinese as part of a monolithic block of nameless, faceless Asians.
The “oriental” type font, the “Asian riff” intro, asking a Chinese man how to say certain English phrases in Cantonese, and the quick cuts to American oriental films. It’s all representative of a trope used to symbolize an older generation’s racist Oriental views.
And the worst part is that he added to the complex layers of offensiveness by exerting his white privilege wherever possible.
Getting a foot massage from a hard working immigrant, just to fit his story line and to fill b-roll. Asking embarrassing questions for a reaction, knowing his interview subjects would be too shy to tell him to fuck off. And, most egregiously, the post-package chat:
Watters: “They’re such a polite people. They won’t walk away or tell me to get outta here. They just sit there and say nothing.”
O’Reilly: “They’re patient. They want you to walk away. Because they don’t have anything else to do.”
Watters: “Right, but I get paid not to walk away, so they had no idea.”
O’Reilly: “It’s gentle fun. I know I’m going to get letters. It’s inevitable.”
Watters: “It was all in good fun,” (said with a smile beaming from ear to ear).
Not only did both Watters and O’Reilly know that they would get called out for this story, they just didn’t care. Ignorance is bliss. And ignorance is a privilege always afforded to white men in America, especially on television.
But, you know, that’s the level of callousness that we’ve consistently seen from Fox News Channel. Remember Roger Ailes and the sexual harassment claims? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Circling back to my personal opinion, I can’t say I’m shocked at what happened. Obviously, I’m deeply offended. But given the regularity of racist, xenophobic remarks seen on television today, being offended has about as much meaning as politicians saying “my thoughts and prayers are with you” after every domestic shooting tragedy.
More than anything, I’m just saddened that elementary school toilet humor is where our level of discourse is currently at on television news.
What Watters presented was not sarcastic. It was not witty. It wasn’t even remotely comedic. It just reeks of lazy content creation. It’s as if a bunch of the associate producers were at a three martini lunch on Friday and decided to “phone it in” for the rest of the day at work. And in the conception of this package, they pandered to who they perceived to be their target viewers.
(Think of your Uncle John in Ohio. You know, that particular relative who has a fetish for exotic Asian women. And who always has to ask every Asian person on the street if they know his Vietnamese wife, as if we are all on the Verizon yellow-to-yellow calling network and talk to each other every day.)
I’m more offended at how Watters’ lazy piece of work made it to air. Are there no standards on what is publishable at FNC anymore? Not to mention how his terrible story has now casted a dark shadow over the hard work of his colleagues and of those in the industry.
And I’m most offended that the Asian community has not been vocal enough in denouncing remarks like these. Our perceived pacifisms makes us an easy target in the media. And the only way to stop idiots like Watters is to get thorough Asian representation in media and to make our voices heard.
But rest assured, Watters did, however, take the time to put this outrage to rest. He tweeted today:
“As a political humorist, the Chinatown segment was intended to be a light piece, as all Watters World segments are.”
“My man-on-the-street interviews are meant to be taken as tongue-in-cheek and I regret if anyone found offense.”
Watters is no humorist. His story was not made to provoke thought, to inform conversations, nor to find the funny side of a story. He’s using his privilege as a white American journalist to produce incredibly lazy and crappy content, then cover his rear by saying “I’m sorry, not sorry” in the most cowardly way possible.
If we’re truly a diverse and post-racial society, we should hold Watters accountable. But where are the protests? Where is the outrage? I bet there would be a more vocal outrage if he made a story at the expense of the African-American community. And sadly, this story will just lay out to die.
The reality of being Asian in America is that I’m supposed to be alright with this sort of thing and then carry on as if something like this didn’t happen. That’s the kind of privilege that’s afforded to white men on television, like O’Reilly and Watters. It’s exploitation by proxy.
I’d like to see Watters make a full on-air apology and undergo sensitivity training. Further, I’d like to see FNC make a commitment to hiring more minorities in their newsroom. But that will never happen. At least, not in my lifetime.
Bottom line, what Watters did is unbelievable. But as many have before him, Watters will get away scot-free. He won’t be fired, reprimanded, nor chastised. Life will go on. Nothing will change on FNC or The O’Reilly Factor.
And tomorrow, there will be another D-block in the O’Reilly show to fill, with another opportunity to do this all over again.