Fox News host Jesse Watters said on his Wednesday night show he will take a leave — which he is calling a “vacation” — from “The Five,” after criticism for a sexually suggestive comment made on the air Tuesday about Ivanka Trump. He said he would return Monday.
On Tuesday’s show — which now airs at 9 p.m. — the Huntington resident and Bill O’Reilly protege was speaking about Trump’s appearance on a panel during a conference in Germany. While defending her against members of the audience who had heckled some of her comments, he said, “the left says they respect women and given the opportunity to respect women like that boo and hiss. I thought the Europeans were supposed to be so sophisticated and well-mannered, and now they’re treating this like a soccer match.”
“I don’t know why saying my father hires families is controversial. He’s probably hired a ton of fathers and mothers and children. I don’t get what’s really going on here.”
He then paused, smiled and looked directly into the camera: “But I really liked how she was speaking into that microphone.”
The social media reaction was instant and visceral, and arrived from quarters not reflexively anti-Fox News either: John Podhoretz, the influential conservative columnist with the Weekly Standard and the New York Post tweeted, “Congratulations, Jesse Watters, you’re a disgusting pig as well as being a racist moron.” (Watters had been criticized last year for a piece that seemed to disparage Asian-Americans). David Frum, the conservative columnist for the Atlantic, tweeted: “The thing that makes Jesse Watters a true Fox star is the flair with which he joins right-wing self-pity to his demeaning smuttiness.”
Other network anchors, including “Morning Joe’s” Mika Brzezinski, also rapped Watters for the comment. In a tweet Wednesday afternoon, CNN’s Jake Tapper wrote, “when a company sends the clear signal: that women are basically subhuman, vile behavior thrives even after top offenders are fired.”
A few minutes after the Tapper broadside, Watters tweeted, “On air I was referring to Ivanka’s voice and how it resonates like a smooth jazz radio DJ. This was in no way a joke about anything else.”
He further clarified in a statement, “During the (commercial) break we were commenting on Ivanka’s voice and how it was low and steady and resonates like a smooth jazz radio DJ. This was in no way a joke about anything else.” Watters did not elaborate why he had not mentioned that context at the moment of making the comment.
Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” said of the “vacation,” “he’s going on vacation til next Monday . . . which means he’s missing two days of his first week in prime time, plus his weekend show.”
The Watters’ controversy of course could not have come at a worse moment for Fox News or “The Five” — the latter hurriedly moved from 5 p.m. to 9 this week in the wake of Bill O’Reilly’s firing, which forced a reordering of the prime-time schedule.
Watters is scheduled to appear with O’Reilly, as well as comedian Dennis Miller, June 17 as part of the “The Spin Stops Here” show at NYCB Theatre at Westbury.
When Fox first announced Watters’ new Saturday show, the network said it would showcase “his original style” while he went to “different locations . . . quizzing individuals about politics, pop culture and current events.” His regular appearances on “The O’Reilly Factor” had been fan favorites, leading to his network ascendance. But that style — flamboyant, off-the-cuff, and defiantly anti-PC — has long courted controversy, too. Once blasted as an “ambush” journalist for “The Factor,” his fall story on New York’s Chinatown, for example, was called racist by some critics, who said it perpetuated demeaning stereotypes about Asian-Americans.
Fox News has declined to comment on Watters’ announcement.