ABC apologizes - again - for Kimmel 'joke' debacle

Updated: 2013-11-12 08:57

By Kelly Chung Dawson (China Daily USA)

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ABC apologizes - again - for Kimmel 'joke' debacle

As thousands gathered in at least 27 US cities this weekend to protest an Oct 16 segment on late-night television show Jimmy Kimmel Live in which a 6-year-old suggested killing everyone in China to manage US debt, ABC quietly released a second official apology on Saturday.

"On behalf of everyone at Jimmy Kimmel Live and ABC, please accept our heartfelt, sincere apology," the new statement reads. "The simple fact is, the segment should never have been broadcast. Systems we have in place for these types of things did not function properly, and steps have been made to try and prevent this kind of egregious mistake from occurring in the future."

Protests on both Friday and Saturday in cities including New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Phoenix drew protesters carrying signs that in some cases compared Kimmel to Adolf Hitler. Crowds chanted "Shame on you ABC," "No fake apology" and "Kimmel must go".

Kimmel's previous on-air apology and an official letter from the network released to pan-Asian American political advocacy group 80-20 Initiative were viewed to be insincere, for their focus on not having meant to offend anyone.

"The initial apology was a typical, 'I'm sorry if you were offended' statement," said C. N. Le, a professor of sociology with a focus on Asian American studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

"But for me, the new apology adequately addresses the issues. It sounds like they've genuinely realized that the skit was in poor taste, that they never should have aired it, and more importantly they will implement checks and balances to ensure that nothing will happen again.

"However, I also understand that many Asian Americans will not be satisfied until Jimmy Kimmel is fired," Le added.

Kimmel's dismissal is very unlikely though, Le said. At most, a producer might be dismissed if the protesters are not satisfied with the new apology, he speculated.

Andrea Louie, a professor of anthropology and director of Asian Pacific American Studies at Michigan State University, believes that Kimmel's reaction to the child's comments was a missed opportunity, she said.

"While it is true that Kimmel could not control what the boy said in an unscripted segment, it is also true that as the adult in the group and as the show's host, he could have modeled a stronger reaction and indicated that it is not okay to flippantly talk about killing a whole nation of people," she said. "I'm sure that as a clever comedian, Kimmel could have used his wit to come up with a response that could indicate that the boy's sentiment was inappropriate while still maintaining the humor of the skit."

In addition to ABC's written apologies and Kimmel's on-air apology, the network has agreed to edit the segment out of any future airings of the episode; the clip has been removed from all online platforms, and the show will forego any future segments of Kids Table.

The network did not specifically address the nature of any new safeguards against potential missteps, but claimed to have strengthened the review process and added new broadcast standards to ensure that inappropriate segments are more immediately brought to the attention of senior executives.

"Please know that we take our responsibility to our viewers extremely seriously, and are confident that the steps we've taken will prevent this type of issue from happening again," ABC said.

The group that received ABC's first apology, 80-20 Initiative, said that they will be releasing an official statement Tuesday regarding a "big decision" related to the Kimmel incident. Other Asian American advocacy groups have not responded yet to the apology, which hasn't received much press attention since publication over the weekend.

For Le, the high turnout last weekend signals a growing determination to have Asian American perspectives heard.

"I think it's a very good thing that Asian Americans are making it clear that something needs to be done," he said. "The reaction to the Kids Table show among Chinese Americans has been appropriate. Imagine what the public reaction would have been if the show had substituted African American or Jewish communities for Chinese in this particular joke. The truth is it wouldn't have happened in the first place."

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