Bill O’Reilly: Racist ‘Watters’ World’ Segment “Wasn’t Over The Line”

October 10, 2016
Bill O'Reilly defends a 'Watters' World' segment widely denounced as racist on the October 9, 2016 episode of Fox News Sunday. (Photo Credit: Fox News via video posted by Media Matters)
Bill O’Reilly defends a ‘Watters’ World’ segment widely denounced as racist on the October 9, 2016 episode of Fox News Sunday. (Photo Credit: Fox News via video posted by Media Matters)

On October 9, 2016’s episode of Fox News Sunday, Bill O’Reilly was asked about a ‘Watters’World’ segment aired on O’Reilly Factor on October 3, 2016 that has been widely denounced as racist towards the Asian American community. Unsurprisingly, O’Reilly defended the segment and its creator, Fox News correspondent Jesse Watters, saying that the segment “wasn’t over the line.”

After airing a brief excerpt from the ‘Watters’ World’ segment, Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace asked O’Reilly for his comment on criticisms of racism. What follows is Media Matters’ video and transcript of the exchange.

CHRIS WALLACE (HOST): Now, you know this piece is being widely criticized as, quote, racist.

BILL O’REILLY: Do you want me to give you the accurate report on it?

WALLACE: Well, do you think it was over the line? Do you regret it?

O’REILLY: I would have edited it a little bit differently than it was edited. But, no, it wasn’t over the line. We ran that piece on Monday of last week. 5 million people, plus, saw it live-time. You know how many negative letters we got? Less than ten. You know how many phone calls came in to Fox News? Zero, as far as I know. We checked. It was 36 hours later that this outrage appeared. And where did it appear? Far-left websites, far-left precincts. I read every single one. They’re all the same.

So this is an attack on Fox News. That’s what it is. It’s happened before. I thought it was a gentle piece. There were a few things in there I felt were over the line. The old lady, I would have taken that out. I should have seen it before, but I’m so busy with the election that I didn’t. But, [Jesse] Waters is a gentle satirist. He’s worked very well for us. We’re proud of him. This is an organized campaign. This is what they do. They’ve done it before.

No one should be particularly shocked by O’Reilly’s stance — O’Reilly is notoriously comfortable with the airing of racial stereotypes against Black and Asian Americans and was even invited by Jon Stewart to appear on Comedy Central’s Daily Show to defend his Model Minority perspectives on the Asian American community.

But, we should push back on a few things that O’Reilly said. O’Reilly suggested that outcry against the ‘Watters’ World’ segment didn’t occur until 36 hours after the segment’s airing, and that it only emerged from “far-left websites” and “far-left precincts.”

O’Reilly’s noting of the timing here is disingenuous, and misses the point. It is baffling to criticize the Asian American Journalists’ Association (AAJA), Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAAJ), the National Council for Asian Pacific Americans, APIAVote, the Organization of Chinese Americans, and other non-profit organizations for taking one single business day to draft a formal response to Fox News’ airing segment. Actually, I would venture the opposite: that the national outcry from numerous Asian American advocates and elected officials has been quite rapid. O’Reilly’s focus on the groups taking the time to perfect the wording of their formal statements further misses the sheer number of groups who have now spoken out against the segment, and who are continuing to do so.

More to the point, none of the Asian American advocacy groups are “far-left.” In fact, all listed above are 501(c)3 non-profit organizations constrained by that status to advocate for the Asian American community in a non-partisan fashion. If there is any “far-left website” that has spoken out against the Watters’ World segment, it would be Reappropriate — and I’ll take Bill O’Reilly’s denunciation of this website as a fucking compliment.

Second, O’Reilly claims that Fox News has not received more than a handful of angry letters (and not a single phone call) critical of the ‘Watters’ World’ segment. Really, though? Beyond the multiple press statements issued by Asian American groups; and beyond the rally and press conference featuring numerous elected officials held in front of News Corp. headquarters on Thursday; and beyond the townhall held this past Sunday jointly organized by AAJA and the Museum of Chinese in America; there’s also the little matter of this petition I created. As of this morning, the petition which demands accountability for the ‘Watters’ World’ segment has collected over 19,000 signatures.

Bill O’Reilly, you should consider this petition to be 19,000 angry letters from furious and outraged viewers.

(If you want to directly challenge O’Reilly’s statement that the network has received almost no angry letters, you can do so by notifying Fox News that you find the segment racist by tweeting @FoxNews, @OReillyFactor, and @JesseBWatters. You can also send a letter to Bill O’Reilly or Jesse Watters c/o Fox News Channel,  1211 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036.)

But O’Reilly did get one thing right: this is an organized campaign. The Asian American community has mobilized — quickly and in unison — to push back against the racism of Watters’ segment. We are organized, and we are not going to tolerate this sort of casual and unapologetic racism on Fox News airwaves.

In 2013, Bill O’Reilly declared that Asians “aren’t naturally inclined to be liberal.” Fast forward three years, and now O’Reilly dismisses backlash from (non-partisan) advocates of the Asian American community as coming from the “far-left.” My, how times have changed.

To be fair, the National Asian American Survey conducted in Spring of 2016 reveals that the Asian American electorate has a net unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party and Donald Trump, and you can bet that in the face of this kind of shitty racism from conservative America’s favourite news network, we’ll be voting in significant numbers this election cycle.

If you haven’t signed the Change.org petition, please do so. Not only will this register your criticism of Fox News, but this will help you receive updates for any additional action against Fox News, O’Reilly Factor and ‘Watters World’ if and when they are planned.

Update (10/12/2016, 10:30AM): Yesterday, Bill O’Reilly expounded upon his defense of correspondent Jesse Watters and his ‘Watters’ World: Chinatown Edition’ segment. In an interview with The Bernie and Sid Show on WABC-AM, co-hosted by former members of the Imus in the Morning show Sid Rosenburg and Bernard McGuirk, O’Reilly repeated his suggestion that backlash to Watters’ segment was a coordinated left-wing attack on Fox News by unnamed organizers. Reports Talking Points Memo:

“All of sudden, 36 hours later, we get this barrage,” he said. “And the wording was almost exactly the same from all these left-wing websites, almost exactly the same. So we know it was a coordinated attack.”

It remains entirely unclear which left-wing websites O’Reilly blames, particularly considering that Asian American advocacy groups were among the first to report, and criticize, the segment.

O’Reilly further defended Watters himself, saying that the correspondent would not be fired for his role in creating the segment. (Although, immediately following Watters’ newest video segment aired on October 10, 2016 — one week after the controversy erupted — O’Reilly joked that Watters’ job was “hanging by a thread.”)

In related news, NBC News interviewed one of the Watters’ World interviews last week. The Asian American Journalists’ Association also tracked down that interviewee as well as another who appeared in the segment. Both recount that they were ambushed by Watters during filming of the video, and that they were not informed (before or after filming) who Watters was, what network he worked for, or what the purpose of the interview was; providing such information is a standard practice of ethical journalism.

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