Mere weeks after Ann Coulter called Asian Americans the racially charged slur “Mandarins” on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, twenty-three of the nation’s largest, oldest, and most prominent AAPI civic and civil rights organizations have penned a joint open letter (press statement | full letter) to MSNBC, CNN and Fox urging the cable news networks to improve diversity in their primetime and Sunday morning programming.
According to Media Matters, Asian Americans are profoundly underrepresented on most cable news networks, and are less than 3% of guests or hosts that appear on CNN, MSNBC or Fox’s nightly or Sunday morning programming. By comparison, Asian Americans are nearly 7% of the American population.
Our underrepresentation is particularly troubling when considered alongside the seemingly routine mischaracterizations of AAPIs by non-Asian guests or hosts who seem to have no problem appearing on cable news programming. Quite simply, AAPIs and other people of colour are being systematically denied the opportunity to participate in forums wherein our nation’s political discourse is shaped.
In recent years, cable news networks have enabled the broadcast of numerous problematic statements targeting AAPIs, including (but not limited to):
- Ann Coulter calls Asian Americans “Mandarins” on Hardball with Chris Matthews, MSNBC, May 2016
- Rep. Peter King uses racial slur “Japs” on Morning Joe, MSNBC, May 2016
- Host Don Lemon asks Pakistani American human rights lawyer Arsalan Iftikhar if he supports ISIS, CNN, January 2015
- Retired US Army General Wesley Clark defends Japanese American incarceration in an interview with MSNBC, July 2015
- Fox News guest Jonathan Hoenig defends Japanese American incarceration in a segment of Cashin’ In, Fox, September 2014
- Bob Beckel uses the slur “Chinamen” while hosting The Five, Fox, July 2014
- Bill O’Reilly invokes model minority stereotypes of Asian Americans while hosting The O’Reilly Factor, Fox, July 2013
- Chuck Todd makes a pejoratively referring to “Chinese takeouts and dry cleaners” on The Daily Rundown, MSNBC, December 2012
In the joint open letter — which this blog helped in part to organize alongside members of the National Council for Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA) — AAPI civic and civil rights organizations argued that cable news networks have the responsibility to not let these comments continue to be broadcast in isolation. Writes the letter:
We urge your networks to consider the message sent to Asian American and Pacific Islander viewers and consumers when non-AAPI analysts use air-time to label Asian Americans with slurs while AAPI commentators are not invited on-air to discuss the AAPI community. We ask that your networks devote more air-time to serious discussion involving the AAPI community and that you commit to significantly increasing the number of AAPI guests who appear on your networks’ shows to discuss these and other issues.
The letter was addressed to executives at each of the “Big 3” cable news networks, and demands that MSNBC, CNN, and Fox commit to holding a meeting between their editorial boards and members of the AAPI community to discuss ways in which the networks might improve their on-air diversity. To date, no response has been received from the networks.
In a press statement announcing the open letter, Chris Kang of NCAPA said:
Networks need to ensure that Asian American and Pacific Islander voices and perspectives are heard and that issues of importance to our communities are discussed. If we are invisible in the media, racial slurs and inaccurate portrayals of AAPIs will persist, but when Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are better represented–in particular, in the news–it allows for a more diverse understanding across all communities. All Americans–including AAPIs–deserve more accurate representation in our media.
The full press statement can be read here.
Here is the full text of the joint letter (which is also available for download as a .pdf here).
June 16, 2016
President and Chairman
Executive VP, Chief Diversity Officer
VP of Diversity
Chairman and CEO
Executive Vice President
Dear Mr. Griffin, Mr. Lack, Mr. Robinson, Mr. Zucker, Ms. Moriba, Mr. Ailes, and Mr. Wallace,
We write this joint letter to express our concerns regarding the representation of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community on your cable news networks. Collectively, CNN, MSNBC and Fox reach more than 3.5 million primetime viewers per day, and recent events raise troubling questions about the characterization and lack of inclusion of the AAPI community on your programming.
On Friday, May 27, 2016, Ann Coulter appeared as a guest of the Hardball with Chris Matthews show on MSNBC. During her segment, Ms. Coulter referred to Asian Americans as “Mandarins.” We are shocked by Ms. Coulter’s use of this archaic and inappropriate term to refer to our community, and we are further disappointed that when challenged by fellow guest, Joy Reid, Ms. Coulter refused to correct her problematic usage of this term. The platform provided to Ms. Coulter underscores our frustration regarding the absence of AAPI guests on cable news network programming.
We are reminded of similar incidents, including last month when Representative Peter King used an anti-Japanese American slur during an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe , and was not challenged by anyone on the program for doing so, and when Fox News’ The Five’s then-co-host Bob Beckel (currently an analyst for CNN) used an antiAsian slur on-air to refer to Chinese people in 2014.
More alarming to us, however, is that commentators such as these routinely receive opportunities on your networks to discuss — and, too often, to offend — the AAPI community and other marginalized groups, while members of those same marginalized groups are not presented with similar opportunity to respond. While we understand that a guest’s comments are not generally reflective of the network’s views, it is troubling that representatives from our communities are routinely absent from your networks’ programming.
The topic of Asian American underrepresentation and misrepresentation in Hollywood has been the focus of recent articles in The New York Times and NPR, as well as MSNBC’s own NBC Asian America, and our absence from cable news outlets is cause for similar concern. At nearly 6% of the American population, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest-growing racial community in America. Comprising more than 21.8 million Americans, AAPIs are voracious consumers of televised and digital media, spending approximately 30% more of our screen time on websites devoted to news and information compared to the average American. Yet, reports find that Asian Americans constitute less than 3% of guests invited to appear on cable networks’ nightly news or Sunday morning political talk shows, with fewer still identified as Southeast Asian American and/or Pacific Islander. Furthermore, topics explicitly affecting the AAPI community are discussed with even less frequency.
We recognize that MSNBC, CNN and Fox have all made significant investments towards improving overall racial and gender diversity on your networks, but clearly more work remains to be done.
To that end, we urge your networks to consider the message sent to Asian American and Pacific Islander viewers and consumers when non-AAPI analysts use air-time to label Asian Americans with slurs while AAPI commentators are not invited on-air to discuss the AAPI community. We ask that your networks devote more air-time to serious discussion involving the AAPI community and that you commit to significantly increasing the number of AAPI guests who appear on your networks’ shows to discuss these and other issues.
The Asian American and Pacific Islander community is a growing political force in America. We are deeply troubled by recent examples of flippantly offensive comments made towards Asian Americans on cable news, but more importantly we expect that MSNBC, CNN and Fox will take the necessary steps to address the continuing lack of AAPI representation on primetime cable news that permitted such insensitive remarks to be made about the AAPI community in the first place. We propose that such steps to improve AAPI inclusion be discussed in a meeting between your network’s editorial board and representatives of the AAPI community, which we ask to take place within 90 days.
18 Million Rising
Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF)
Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)
Asian American Psychological Association (AAPA)
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian American Justice Center (AAAJ-AAJC)
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus (AAAJ-ALC)
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Chicago (AAAJ-Chicago)
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (AAAJ-LA)
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO (APALA)
Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations (AAPCHO)
Center for APA Women
Japanese American Citizens League (JACL)
National Asian / Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce & Entrepreneurship (ACE)
National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA)
National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse (NAPAFASA)
National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF)
National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA)
National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA)
National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA)
OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates (OCA)
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
Hours after this letter was released this morning, the Asian American Journalists’ Association (AAJA) issued a separate statement of support for the letter. It reads in part:
At the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA), we know news organizations need to represent multiple viewpoints — and sometimes those viewpoints will be controversial. But AAJA challenges networks and their anchors to call it out when a guest uses a derogatory term.
By allowing guests to use antiquated terms that demean Asian Americans, journalists are being complicit in allowing slurs and misrepresentation to persist.
We encourage news organizations to diversify their choice of guests and to empower their news anchors to speak up when offensive terms are mentioned without proper context.
What you can do: