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 email@example.com.