Bill O’Reilly’s top lackey stepped in a pile of outrage on Wednesday when his supremely unwatchable man-on-the-street sketch, featuring blatantly racist mockery of Asian people, went viral.
For five minutes, Jesse Watters took his smirking dudebro persona to the streets of New York City’s Chinatown to ask Asians—some of whom didn’t speak English—if they do karate, where he can buy some homeopathic herbs for “performance,” or whether he’s “supposed to bow to say hello.” Carl Douglas’s tacky hit song “Kung Fu Fighting,” featuring a quintessential “Oriental” riff, played throughout the pre-taped package.
It was “funny” in only the way blackface minstrelsy could've been—appealing to the outdated and cheap humor of dehumanizing minorities who seem exotic and foreign to the network’s old and predominantly white audience.
The reaction was swift and universally angry across all digital news outlets. Even right-wing blog Hot Air called it a “crime against comedy,” and The Federalist, another conservative website, called Watters a “jackass” and “a jerk who conflates being mean with humor.”
Literally the only funny thing in the entire ordeal was when Watters attempted to excuse himself by calling himself a “political humorist.”
“As a political humorist, the Chinatown segment was intended to be a light piece, as all Watters World segments are,” he wrote, hours after the video blew up. “My man-on-the-street interviews are meant to be taken as tongue-in-cheek and I regret if anyone found offense,” he added, completing what was undoubtedly a Fox PR-driven effort to get a non-apology out there and move on. (Prior to that, Watters’ response was to retweet supporters and taunt a critic calling him racist.)
He’ll get off with a slap on the wrist. At worst, his segments will go through several levels of approval from second-floor executives for the next few months.
And so Jesse Watters will always win. And he will continue to rise at Fox News.
Why? Well, for starters, Fox News’s right-wing commentariat gets off on other people’s outrage. It feeds their own righteous indignation, giving them material for more segments about how Fox News is under assault from, as O’Reilly frequently describes it, the “loony far left.”
After all, as Watters’s shameless non-apology and proud Trump shilling suggest, it’s your own fault for being offended by his brilliant wit.
To be sure, the internet’s outrage mills often cry wolf about various offenses, further providing people like Watters with a sense of accomplishment when they swat the hornet’s nest. In the high-fiving, self-congratulatory cocoon of Fox News—where anti-“P.C. culture” segments routinely air on its leading gabfests—Watters is just a dude with another notch in his belt.
Despite having about as much charisma as a frat-bro villain from early-‘80s comedies, and literally smirking his way through every asinine word he says on-air, Watters has risen up the ranks from O’Reilly’s top ambush reporter to occasional co-host of The Five and Outnumbered to host of his own monthly weekend show.
Watters has been something of a perpetual hatemonger. His Chinese-mocking video was only the latest and most outrageous example of what can only be described as pure, unadulterated garbage TV.
One of his shining moments was coining the phrase “Beyoncé voters” to mock single women who support Obama because “they depend on government because they’re not depending on their husbands.” The list of egregious on-air behavior goes on and on. And he has continued to rise up the ranks.
This is because Fox News has historically rewarded cheap, often ugly bullshit.
Take, for example, the meteoric rise of fellow race-baiting clown Eric Bolling.
Plucked from Wall Street to give trading analysis for Fox Business Network, Bolling has used his platform to, among many things: become the network’s earliest birther and routinely say terrible things about women, Muslims, and black people.
One of his most controversial moments was when he proclaimed, after President Obama met with a Gabonese president that, “It’s not the first time he’s had a hoodlum in the hizzouse,” referring to rapper Common’s appearance at a prior event. “So what’s with all the hoods in the hizzie?”
Earlier that same year, Bolling said Obama was too busy “chugging forties” to visit tornado-ravaged Missouri.
That came early in Bolling’s TV career. The unabashed Trumpkin now hosts two prominent Fox News shows and occasionally has the honor of filling in for ratings leader Bill O’Reilly.
The bottom line, however, is that Watters is among the protected class at Fox News because he is O’Reilly’s right-hand man. Watters’s colleagues on the show refer to him as “The Golden Boy” because of his favored position with the top dog.
And according to several former O’Reilly staffers, Bill himself approves Watters’s segment pitches. As we all know, Fox would certainly never make their top-rated talent apologize for anything.
Some have suggested a concerted ad boycott by Asian-American groups could help convince Fox to more severely punish him.
But while an advertiser boycott was credited for at least partially pushing Glenn Beck out the Fox News door following his “Obama is racist” comments (though, based on what we know now, it was more just the clash of egos between Beck and Ailes), Watters does not draw the numbers the blubbering radio host once did.
Not to mention, “Fox News fatigue” is a very real thing. At a certain point, it just becomes easier to roll your eyes and accept that Fox News is Fox News.
But fear not. Like the most villainous jocks from high school, one day—after Fox’s megastar leaves for greener pastures, Bill O’Reilly finally retires, and Fox’s septuagenarian viewers fade into the Great Beyond—Watters will be left seated at the hometown bar of basic cable, reminiscing about the glory days, bemoaning how he will never get such a prominent gig again in his life.
Unless, of course, Trump TV becomes a reality.
Note: Andrew Kirell was employed by the Fox Business Network from 2009 to 2012.