Fox News talk host Jesse Watters made a joke questioning the gender of Vice President Kamala Harris at an annual insurance industry conference earlier this year, prompting some nervous laughter but later sending the event into damage control, including the sidelining of the executive who conducted the interview, according to a CNN report.
Watters was speaking in April at the Big “I” Legislative Conference, the annual event by the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, when he made the comment, according to a report in the Wednesday edition of CNN’s media-focused newsletter “Reliable Sources.” Its author, Oliver Darcy, cites “people familiar with the matter” who spoke anonymously.
Watters was the featured speaker at a Renaissance Washington breakfast “stuffed with hundreds of insurance executives and agents,” and participated in an interview with Bob Rusbuldt, the industry organization’s president who was already planning to soon retire. “The gathered audience, which included a healthy contingent of conservatives, was excited to see Watters speak,” Darcy wrote. “But matters quickly took a turn.”
It was early in the appearance when Watters made the joke, further details of which were not disclosed. Not that it was off-brand for the Fox News host recently promoted to Tucker Carlson’s old 8 p.m. slot – Watters has a history of pushing the outer edges of decorum with juvenile and offensive wisecracks.
“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 wrote. “Others walked out of the room and conveyed to the trade association that they were appalled at the behavior exhibited by Watters.”
One person told Darcy: “It was an epic meltdown afterward. The organization went into damage control.” He said Rusbuldt apologized at the diversity luncheon, and was later “quietly sidelined” from his remaining duties at the trade org.
Fox News told Reliable Sources that Watters did not remember making the remark at the event, and stood by its comment to CNN:
“In fact, the unscripted Q&A he participated in was well received with executives thanking him profusely afterward, enthusiastically taking photos, and presenting him with an award,” a network spokesperson told Darcy. “He was told it was one of the best talks they’ve ever held and never received feedback from the organization or his speaking agent after the event.”
Watters is a prominent member of “The Five,” Fox’s top-rated panel discussion show that airs nightly at 5 p.m. ET, and was given his own show, “Jesse Watters Primetime,” in January 2022. Fox announced this week that Watters would be promoted to the 8 p.m. slot formerly held by Carlson and, before him, Bill O’Reilly.