Jesse Watters, a Fox News correspondent who often appears on The O'Reilly Factor, recently went down to New York City's Chinatown to ask locals their thoughts on Donald Trump, who railed against China in the debate. That's not typically what one would expect from a media outlet in their post-debate coverage — except this is Fox News (whose audience skews old, white, and conservative), and Watters is a less funny, more problematic version of the fictional Ross Geller.
Watters packed plenty of offensive Asian stereotypes into the nearly five-minute-long video. He asked his interview subjects, among other things, if he should bow in greeting, if they knew karate, and if one of them was selling stolen watches.
The segment sparked intense backlash, and many expressed shock over not only the video itself, but that an entire hierarchy of Fox News staffers had given it the green light.
In fact, in a discussion of the segment on his show, Bill O'Reilly said dismissively, "it was gentle fun, so I know we're going to get letters." But if you know your idea of "gentle fun" is going to cause outrage among the very people whom you are making fun of, why would you air it?
Paul Cheung, the president of the Asian American Journalists Association and director of Interactive and Digital News Production at The Associated Press, told Media Matters:
The segment was rife with racist stereotypes, drew on thoughtless tropes and openly ridiculed Asian Americans. Fox missed a real opportunity to investigate the Asian American vote, a topic not often covered in the mainstream news media.
The criticism prompted Watters to later issue a non-apology on Twitter. As a "political humorist," Watters wrote that his man-on-the-street interviews were meant to be "tongue-in-cheek."
He added, "I regret if anyone found offense."
"It was supposed to be funny" is neither an apology nor an acknowledgment of wrongdoing. Blatant, aggressive racism may no longer be widely accepted today, but in its stead, a different form of bigotry has emerged — one that touts outrageous stereotypes under the guise of humor. Not only are Watters' jokes humorless, they reinforce stereotypes that assert the tacit inferiority of Asian people.
Although racism towards Asians generally don't inspire the kind of indignant fury that it does when it's directed at other ethnic groups, it is somewhat promising that Watters' behavior has caused the backlash it deserves, though not nearly loud enough. In America, racism towards Asian people is seen differently — more tolerated, more accepted — than racism towards other minorities. It is a fact that many Asian Americans know to be true, and only by calling out and acknowledging it in every form, even when it's "positive" stereotypes like the model minority trope, will others finally take it as seriously.