Case study: Jesse Watters

Jesse Watters is a Fox News reporter, one of the army of suits that populate the network. At the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington DC Ben Armbruster from a website called Think Progress approached Watters with his video camera and asked him what he thought about the recent accusations from a former insider that “stuff is just made up” at Fox.

Watters’ response is strange. He speaks like an actor. He improvises around the same one line – a vague critique of Armbruster – regardless of the question put to him. In the moment and in the raw video, he looks ridiculous. But he is performing not for the moment or for the raw footage, but for the future edit. He has created the raw material for Fox to make their own version of events. He has also, crucially, avoided commenting on Fox’s history of manipulation of the news.

What is fascinating is that without the props, the crew, the CGI studio and an agreed routine, Watters cannot function. He doesn’t even seem to understand that Armbruster can just come up to him with a simple DV camera and ask him questions. For Watters’ the expensive equipment and crew are a necessity. The drab nonplace of the conference room and Armbruster’s calm tone of voice and cheap camera – the everyday normality of it all – makes no sense to him. Without the drama and gloss of NEWS! then it’s just not journalism.

Watters’ role on Fox is to ambush the network’s daily scapegoats and demand answers. He can play the offensive role of the crusading journalist barking questions at harassed interviewees, but when on the defensive – even when approached with kid gloves – he cannot begin to come up with a direct response. All he can think of is weak ad hominem and meta deflections.

Watters’ attempt to curl up in his shell and be saved in the edit failed. It’s interesting to watch him and Bill O’Reilly trying to salvage the episode. Surprisingly, they don’t edit the footage too much (other Fox reports do, however) and can only manage to laugh it off as weakly as Watters did in the first place. O’Reilly describes Watters’ response as “perfect”, “brilliant” and “genius”. Neither of them quite manage to convince.