On Monday, O’Reilly’s show aired footage of Watters poking decidedly unfunny fun at some Chinese people while asking them about Donald Trump. And it was all in good fun!
Following O’Reilly’s introduction, the “Watters’ World” segment opens with the “Oriental” riff featured on that terrible Carl Douglas “Kung Fu Fighting” song—something that’s roughly as authentically Chinese as General Tso’s chicken.
The clip promptly descends into Watters—who consistently acts and talks like the least useful, most tiresome member of your pledge class—wandering the sidewalks of Manhattan’s Chinatown, shoving his microphone in unsuspecting pedestrians’ faces, asking them questions of Trump and ethnic stereotypes.
It has all the nuance of a Family Guy Tricia Takanawa segment, but in real life.
You can watch it, which Fox News promoted on their website and social-media accounts as “hilarious,” below:
“Am I supposed to bow to say hello?” Watters asks, flashing his trademark shit-eating grin. (You’re in New York City on a public street, no, you don’t have to fucking bow.)
“Trump has been beating up on China, how does that make you feel?” he asks an elderly lady wearing a hoodie. (She doesn't respond to him.)
“Is it the year of the dragon [or] rabbit?” he inquires.
(Much of the segment is Watters simply harassing elderly Chinese-looking people on the street in situations where it is not at all clear to the viewer if the target has any idea what Watters is saying. Nothing is learned, and no humor is mined, unless you find confused foreigners or untalkative first-generation immigrants to be funny.)
“So China can keep ripping us off," Watters asks a young Asian-American girl, who spends much of her camera time trying to conceal how much she’s rolling her eyes at him. (“I guess,” she politely replies.)
“Is everything made in China now?…Tell me what's not made in China.”
“Is China America’s friend or enemy...Can you guys take care of North Korea for us?”
“Do they call Chinese food in China just food?”
“Do you know karate?" he says, before footage airs of him playing around with a set of nunchucks.
When the man-on-the-street portion ends, O’Reilly runs down the racial post-game with Watters in-studio.
“The last guy hated you,” O’Reilly observes.
“He did, one of many,” Watters acknowledges, before saying that people in Chinatown had no idea what was “going on,” but that they’re “such a polite people” who “won't walk away or tell me to get out of here, they just sit there and say nothing.”
The two of them remind the audience that Fox News was just having some “gentle fun” with the Chinatown coverage, and O’Reilly concedes that “I know we're going to get [angry] letters.” from politically correct hordes and scolds, of course.
The Daily Beast has reached out to Fox News and Watters for comment and to ask about those “letters”—we’ve heard nothing back, thus far, but will update accordingly if we do.
This kind of reporting (if you can call it that) is hardly foreign to Fox News. Watters—a Trump-loving, perennially smug ambush-artist who breaks zero news—previously headed to an Ivy-League college campus to say the word “ghetto” to black students. For another “Watters’ World,” he channeled his skills into pointlessly demonizing and taunting homeless black people.
The problem at Fox News obviously goes well beyond Watters’s recurring, inconsequential, and unamusingly lame segment—too much of the network has a thoroughly documented history of shameful race-baiting. (Relatedly, some of Fox’s top talent can always be counted on to run interference for Trump, whenever and wherever the GOP presidential nominee is accused of bigotry.)
But when it comes to the loosely defined demographic of Asian-Americans, Fox News personalities have become accustomed to using members of such a minority as props. Often times, we’re used as props for nothing more than attacking the supposedly degenerate black populace.
“Asian people are not liberal, you know, by nature” because “they’re usually more industrious and hard-working,” O’Reilly has said on his primetime show in the past. Typically, he brings up this point to invoke the general economic and academic successes of Asian Americans in the service of highlighting the supposed failings of African Americans who don’t raise their children right. (It’s worth noting that not all Asian demographics fit neatly into the positive stereotyping that colors the way O’Reilly talks about Asian citizens, but fine, whatever.)
He, and other voices on Fox News, have sometimes wondered (out-loud and on-air) why Asian-Americans voters don’t generally vote Republican these days. For instance, recent polling shows Hillary Clinton maintaining a 41-point lead over Trump among Asian-American voters.
Perhaps they should consider that maybe (just maybe!) it is in part because of stuff like this that we’re hearing and seeing from places like Fox News, one of the most prominent and visible wings of the Republican Party.
“We are the one group that can get picked on and people think they can get away with it,” Guy Aoki, founding president of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, said to me a few years ago. “People are afraid of offending black people, but they aren't afraid of angry Asian people. And that's why this stuff happens.”
This week's Fox News clip reminds him of that same sentiment.
"This is the same kind of thing that disc jockeys do a lot, and they call Chinese restaurants...and they make fun of them not knowing what's going on," Aoki told The Daily Beast, reacting to the O'Reilly segment. "They could have had a more serious dialogue about how [these voters] feel about Donald Trump…It's tiresome, it's insensitive, but it shows that they think they can target Asian immigrants and everyone else will just laugh and no one will be upset…Would [Fox News] do this with black immigrants?"
Aoki does not know yet if MANAA will seek a meeting with, or an apology from, Fox News or Watters or O'Reilly—but other Asian-American organizations and activists certainly are.
"It’s 2016. We should be far beyond tired, racist stereotypes and targeting an ethnic group for humiliation and objectification on the basis of their race," Paul Cheung, president of the Asian American Journalists Association, said in a statement demanding an apology. "Sadly, Fox News proves it has a long way to go in reporting on communities of color in a respectful and fair manner."
On Wednesday early evening, Watters did end up weighing in—with a non-apology, via a couple tweets.
"As a political humorist, the Chinatown segment was intended to be a light piece, as all Watters World segments are," he tweeted. "My man-on-the-street interviews are meant to be taken as tongue-in-cheek and I regret if anyone found offense."
Watters dubbing himself a "political humorist"—as opposed to "troll"—is literally the only funny thing to come out of this whole affair.
This article has been updated.