Editorial: Fox’s pandering journalism falls short

Monday, October 7, 2013

As many on campus are already aware, Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” correspondent Jesse Watters made another visit to College Hill this past week. When Watters came to Brown, in 2005, he infamously infiltrated and filmed Sex Power God, leading to a controversial segment on the show. His return was not widely welcomed, as many felt Watters’ trip to Providence — to cover the ongoing Nudity in the Upspace week — was not so much intended for sincere journalism as to promote a specific agenda. These critics are right. Watters’ behavior on campus was an example of a poorly researched and highly targeted investigation, aimed at filling a particular audience with horror at the secular activities of college students.

It was clear from the beginning that Watters had done little, if any, research on the event itself before deciding to cover it, demonstrating that he cared not about the quality of his reporting but instead about eliciting a particular response. He repeatedly referred to Nudity in the Upspace as “Nudity Week” — even on air during a report, despite being corrected multiple times — and demonstrated little knowledge of the purpose of the week when interviewing students. His questions were aimed at prompting answers about what students’ parents would think of them, not about whether they felt Nudity in the Upspace led to productive conversation or why they felt it was a necessary event. This is little more than pandering journalism — pandering to both the subject covered and the audience to whom it is presented. In an initial report Friday, Watters and O’Reilly covered the event with maximum amounts of condescension to poor, benighted Brown students throwing away “$55,000 a year on nude body painting.”

Not only do they miss the particular point — that college, in addition to academic growth, should be about expanding one’s experiences and challenging oneself — but they also shirk their duties as a major news source. O’Reilly and Watters chose to focus on a story without much actual importance while real, pressing events were unfolding this week. Is it really news that a university known to promote the liberal arts and freedom of expression holds artistic events that some, especially on the right, might consider radical? No. But the government shutdown, affecting hundreds of thousands of public workers across the country, is. In promoting a story designed for its target audience, Fox put the bottom line over doing its job.

This is why we’re upset. It’s not because we’re “defensive” or “scared” as you jokingly claimed on “The O’Reilly Factor” when reporting on the backlash this Friday. It’s because your coverage is wholly unproductive and has no purpose other than to smear college kids, particularly those with left-of-center social views. This is but another instance of polarized journalism undermining the goal of an informed American public by putting its own interests first.


Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editor, Rachel Occhiogrosso, and its members, Daniel Jeon, Hannah Loewentheil and Thomas Nath. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.

  • 2014

    oh, come on. jesse watters was totally chill about it. o’reilly and the other dude were huge assholes but watters pretty much consistently defended brown.

    i’m really not digging all the outrage over his story before the segment even airs. i mean, i did like the BPR response video — students spoke honestly about how the interviews made them feel. but the accusations of a “highly targeted investigation”? “pandering journalism”? let’s see what he actually airs. the BDH’s triple-whammy(!!) coverage today is much more narrow-minded and presumptuous than anything we’ve seen from him so far.

    quotes from his response:

    o’reilly: “this is sponsored by whom?”
    watters: “well you know it’s a student-run activity… a *small* amount of student activity fees go for this” (ok, it is like a portion of a cent but still… he acknowledged it was small)

    watters: “i’m actually pro-nudity week now. i think it’s a positive thing. they pursuaded me … i think there is some value in it.”

    o’reilly: “aren’t these college kids thin-skinned? … i mean if somebody criticized us in college we’d just throw beer on them or something … the serious undertone of this is that college kids, if you criticize them or make fun of them, they come back and they vent and try to hurt you”
    watters: “yeah they’re very sensitive, but you know we have a track record with them…” [some talk about SPG, xmas trees] “…so this is the third time i’ve been up there, so they’re a little uptight about watters’ world.”

  • an honest alum

    please, don’t pretend you naked kids are somehow doing something intellectual or illuminating by stripping down and ooogling at each other’s bodies. the ostentation is nauseating.

    it’s a ridiculous event and everyone who is even a little bit honest with themselves knows it.

  • “Emperor, You’re Naked!”

    As a recent alum, the student response makes me cringe. It’s as if the students that speak out are collectively awful at winning arguments and understanding the big picture. If the coverage is clearly slanted to paint Brown as a depraved, pseudo-intellectual, liberal hippie hellhole, then why are you playing into it with gender studies arguments? And that video, do I really need to point out that some choice edits could have saved some portrayals of Brown students as…(I can’t put it gently)…airheads?

    Are you that out of touch to acknowledge the reality many more people live and understand it to be, regardless of our supposedly superior education or even perhaps grip on reality (…debatable)? Moreover by focusing on the patriarchy arguments you infantilize yourselves by sounding like the unprepared, immature young mothers on Maury proclaiming “I’m 16, I do what a want!” rather than adults confident and capable enough to make decisions on their own.

    ->This is what should be argued in 3 steps if you want to win this ridiculous spar:

    1.) To show how trivial this molehill is:

    -Not university sponsored
    -In a small private space

    -A small handful of students participate, less than 1%

    2.) Further, “frame the argument” as George Lakoff reccomends and paint critics into a corner. Anticipating that conservatives who likely love small government and freedom are going to be critical, find common values:
    -As reflected in our open curriculum, students are free to craft and pursue their own academic journeys. We don’t all agree on everything, but we do agree on the value of freedom in our education. Also, we don’t believe its our place to dictate to others what they should and shouldn’t be doing in their private places. (Because how can anyone like O’Reilly argue with that and not sound like a hypocrite?)

    3.) You can then go on the offensive and question why O’Reilly, if he is so concerned by Brown’s liberalism and believes conservatives (especially young ones) are so oft attacked by liberals, has only shown interest in Brown for its nudity associated events and never in Brown Republicans? Wouldn’t campus conservative voices benefit from his support and why if he cares so much in the cause has he failed them in this liberal bastion that is Brown?
    –>This is to point out and allow everyone else to come to the conclusion that perhaps O’Reilly is an empty shill and lacks the credibility to question what Brown students are doing.

    I point this out in the hopes something greater can come out of this for Brown students. If it was harsh its because I love the good in Brown and would hate to see the freedom it affords us all in this wonderful campus jeopardized by the few actors in this.

  • anon

    bdh editorial board = the silliest