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Fox News Reporter: Sorry If 'Tongue-In-Cheek' Chinatown Segment Caused Offense

Jesse Watters says his story was meant to be tongue-in-cheek — but his critics say he invoked a string of Asian stereotypes in a segment taped in New York City's Chinatown district. Instead of lampooning racist bigotry, his critics say, the segment embodied it.

Fox anchor Bill O'Reilly included the segment on Monday's edition of his show, saying that he sent Watters to Chinatown "to sample political opinion" because China has been repeatedly criticized by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

While Watters did ask some of the people he met in Chinatown about the presidential election, the tone and content of his segment, which interspersed street interviews with clips from The Karate Kid and other films, prompted criticism on social media. In response, Watters said he is a political humorist, tweeting Wednesday, "My man-on-the-street interviews are meant to be taken as tongue-in-cheek and I regret if anyone found offense."

But offense was indeed found; here are some of the elements that have been singled out by critics:

  • The opening music is "Kung Fu Fighting," a 1974 song that led some viewers to ask why it was used to set the tone for a news segment in 2016. (See an answer to that question by NPR's Kat Chow.)
  • "I like these watches," Watters says to a sidewalk vendor. "Are they hot?"
  • Two interview subjects never respond to Watters, but it's not clear whether they don't like his question or simply don't speak English.
  • Watters also asks a man if he knows karate — a Japanese martial art — and visits a training center for taekwondo — which is Korean — to stage a mock fight that was followed by a clip of Bruce Lee.
  • After the piece aired, Watters told O'Reilly, "They're such a polite people, they won't walk away or tell me to get out of here" — to which O'Reilly replied, "They're patient. They want you to walk away, because they have anything else to do."

    "It was all in good fun," Watters said.

    A debate about that last point has raged in comment sections on YouTube, the Fox News Facebook page and on Watters' tweet about the segment.

    "This video was a burning dumpster fire of racist stereotypes and lazy attempts at humor at the expense of Chinese Americans," one man wrote on YouTube.

    Others defended the segment, saying that Watters was essentially playing a character as a clueless reporter — and that he was skewering stereotypes, rather than playing to them.

    Perhaps the most telling street interview in the Fox News segment was one in which Watters asked a man with a command of both Chinese and English to teach him a phrase meaning, "This is my world."

    After hearing Watters' attempt at pronouncing the line, the man said dismissively, "You've got to do it properly; otherwise, forget it!"

    Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.