The Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) and other advocacy groups met Tuesday with two officials from Fox News to discuss an Oct. 3 segment in which Fox News’ Jesse Watters interviewed people in New York’s Chinatown about US politics and other matters. The segment played up commonly traded Asian stereotypes and subjected non-English-speaking Chinatown passersby to ridicule.
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 organization 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 offense.’’
In an interview with colleague Chris Wallace, Bill O’Reilly -- Watters’ boss -- denied that the segment had gone ‘‘over the line.’’ Complaints about the bit were the work of an ‘‘organized campaign,’’ said O’Reilly.
Paul Cheung, president of AAJA, told The Washington Post that the meeting 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, told The Post 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 humor can go too far,’’ said Kim.
Once again, the specter of Fox News’s vaunted news-opinion divide presents itself. As we’ve noted before, this is a convention borrowed from the newspaper industry to justify Fox News hosts such as Sean Hannity openly campaigning for Donald Trump, Steve Doocy of the morning show ‘‘Fox & Friends’’ spreading harmful innuendo into the public square ... and O’Reilly allowing his protege to spread racist stereotypes all about Chinatown.
The person from the news side of the channel, said Kim, ‘‘tried to empathize 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, and Kim told The Post 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.
As far as overall impressions go, 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.