How Jesse Watters’ 'gross attempt at humor' sent a major trade association into 'damage control': report

How Jesse Watters’ 'gross attempt at humor' sent a major trade association into 'damage control': report

When Fox News hired 44-year-old Jesse Watters to take over the 8 p.m. weeknight time slot formerly occupied by Tucker Carlson, it was obvious what type of host they wanted: a far-right, highly performative, us-versus-them culture warrior who champions the MAGA movement at every turn. Watters has been with Fox News since 2002, and Fox News executives obviously believe he will fit right in with a prime-time lineup of opinion hosts that also includes Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham.

Watters thrives on controversy, and one of those controversies, according to CNN's Oliver Darcy, came about when he made a sexist comment about Vice President Kamala Harris at the 2023 Big I Legislative Conference in late April. The Philadelphia native was asked to participate in an interview with Bob Rusbuldt, who was retiring from his position as president of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America — a major trade association for the insurance industry.

Darcy reports that Watters, according to sources who were interviewed on condition of anonymity, "made a crude comment questioning the gender of Vice President Kamala Harris" — a "gross attempt at humor" that, according to Darcy, "prompted some laughs, but also outrage."

READ MORE: Fox News hands Tucker Carlson’s slot to host who bragged about presenting a 'lack of a moral compass'

"Some executives, many of whom planned to attend a diversity and inclusion luncheon later in the day, squirmed in their seats as a wave of awkwardness washed over the audience," Darcy explains in an article published by CNN's website on June 29. "Others walked out of the room and conveyed to the trade association that they were appalled at the behavior exhibited by Watters…. The chat between Watters and Rusbuldt, which continued on after the appalling remark, had immediate consequences."

Darcy adds, "Rusbuldt, who was set to officially retire in August, apologized to those gathered at the diversity-focused luncheon later that day. But ultimately, it was not enough to quell the outrage. He was later quietly sidelined from most duties at the insurance organization."

A CNN source told Darcy, "It was an epic meltdown afterward. The organization went into damage control…. Jesse got promoted. Bob essentially got fired."

Darcy stresses that what appeals to Fox News' audience can be totally unacceptable elsewhere.

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"On Fox News, and in the larger right-wing media universe, the degrading comments Watters was said to have spewed onstage are par for the course," Darcy observes. "The audience, which has become increasingly desensitized to the incendiary rhetoric in recent years, eats it up. In fact, that affection for Watters and the brand of conservatism that he represents, is borne out in the numbers."

The CNN reporter continues, "Watters is one of Fox News' highest-rated and most visible hosts, and largely why he was promoted this week to the prime-time perch previously occupied by Tucker Carlson. Outside the Fox News bubble, however, Watters and the divisive comments that he peddles for a living are far less popular. In fact, to those outside the right-wing media bubble, questioning the gender of the first female and Black vice president is seen as downright inappropriate and utterly reprehensible. And there are consequences for those who make such remarks."

READ MORE: Tucker Carlson’s lawyers respond to Fox News’ allegation of contract violation: report

Read Oliver Darcy's full report for CNN at this link.

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