Asian-American groups meet Fox executives over ‘humour’ segment that mocked elderly Chinatown residents

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2016, 9:57am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2016, 10:28pm

The Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) and other advocacy groups have met officials from Fox News to discuss a segment in which Fox News’ Jesse Watters interviewed and ridiculed people in New York’s Chinatown about US politics and other matters.

The October 3 segment, widely panned as racist, played up commonly traded Asian stereotypes and subjected non-English-speaking passersby to Watters mockery.

The backlash was strong, as critics on social media and elsewhere took issue with the particulars of the video as well as the sensibilities that drove it. “The segment was billed as a report on Chinese Americans’ views on the US presidential election but it was rife with racist stereotypes, drew on thoughtless tropes and openly ridiculed Asian Americans,” reads a statement from AAJA.

The organisation demanded an apology. On Twitter, Watters himself said: “My man-on-the-street interviews are meant to be taken as tongue-in-cheek and I regret if anyone found offence.”

In an interview with colleague Chris Wallace, Bill O’Reilly - Watters’ boss - said that complaints about the bit were the work of an “organised campaign,” said O’Reilly.

However, he admitted that “there were a few things in there I felt were over the line. The old lady, I would have taken that out”, referring to Watters treatment of a non-English-speaking passerby.

“I should have seen it before, but I’m so busy with the election that I didn’t,” said O’Reilly on Fox News Sunday.

Paul Cheung, president of AAJA, told The Washington Post that the meeting on Tuesday was “productive.” “I think they heard what the community’s reactions are,” he said. Approximately 130 Asian-American “groups and allies” have signed an open letter to Fox News regarding the unfortunate episode, said Cheung.

Ron Kim, a New York state assemblyman in attendance, said that a representative from The O’Reilly Factor and a senior representative from the news side of the channel attended the meeting. Together they played a “good cop, bad cop” routine, said Kim. “The gentleman from O’Reilly’s show was defending what they were doing and trying to explain that this is a part of the opinion section of Fox News and sometimes edgy humour can go too far,” said Kim.

The person from the news side of the channel, said Kim, “tried to empathizse with the community’s anger and frustration and figure out ways to continue to meet in a structured way to promote some of the lack diversity and how we can alleviate that as a community.”

Among the specific points raised by the group was the diversity of voices on Fox News.

Kim said that the network is particularly deficient on this front with respect to Asian-Americans on its broadcasts. “They’re very agreeable to increase that number,” says Kim.

Kim came away thinking that the two Fox News reps “didn’t understand the gravity of the situation.” He said that the group presented the men with the open letter, and that they were “taken aback” by the display.

Other groups in attendance included Asian Americans Advancing Justice and the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans.

Both sides discussed another meeting in November, said Kim.

“It’s one thing to be ‘tongue-in-cheek’. It is something entirely different to hide behind the guise of political humour while using racial stereotypes,” said the AAJA.