In a segment on last night’s episode of Fox News’ O’Reilly Factor, producer and contributor Jesse Watters meant to gauge New York City taxi drivers’ thoughts on immigration reform. Instead, he mocked their accents and language skills, portraying immigrants as bumbling and unintelligent.
Media Matters highlighted the segment, which host Bill O’Reilly introduced by explaining: “Many immigrants, both legal and illegal, drive taxi cabs. So we sent Watters out to check out that situation.” What followed were short, on-the-spot interviews with various taxi drivers on the streets of New York City. Watters made snide, stereotypical remarks about the taxi drivers’ countries of origin. He also ridiculed their English-speaking skills, poking fun at one driver for confusing the pronunciation of “terrorist” with “tourist”.
The interviews were contrasted with clips from movies like Austin Powers, Dumb and Dumber, and Borat!, in which the characters spoke in funny accents and broken English. And in one instance, Watters asked an interviewee: “Let me see your papers. I’m kidding around, I believe you.”
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Watters also seemed shocked when one cab driver told him he had a master’s degree in Political Science. But this is actually a common occurrence. A recent documentary chronicled the stories of immigrant cab drivers who gave up professional careers in their home countries for taxi driving, which is one of the more stable and easily attainable source of employment for immigrants without employment credentials. Additionally, the Migration Policy Institute reported that there are 1.6 million college-educated immigrants in the U.S. who are underemployed or unemployed, often taking jobs such as taxi-driving because of the immense bureaucratic barriers for immigrants seeking work.
Afterward, O’Reilly remarked that cab drivers “make a pretty good buck,” though Watters countered that “it’s a pretty tough job,” noting that New York City cab drivers typically make $13 an hour, which amounts to $27,000 a year, including tips. But O’Reilly insisted that cab drivers can make a decent living. “I think they’re misleading you. The more you work in a cab, the more money you make. You don’t top out at 27. You can make $50, 60 grand,” he claimed.
However, this is far from the truth. Gianfranco Norelli, producer of the documentary Taxi Dreams, followed New York taxi drivers for a year, discovering the financial difficulties of the job. In an interview promoting the documentary, he explained that the drivers have to pay for both the taxi cab and their own gas:
It is an extremely hard and low-paying profession. Most drivers, remember, have to rent their car and the medallion that comes with it. So, if they make $200 a day, about $120 will go toward the taxi and gas. That leaves about $80 for a 12-hour day. If you consider the conditions in which they work — the stress, the uncertainty, the long hours crammed behind the wheel — it’s a really grueling job.
Taxi drivers often make immense sacrifices to provide for their families. As Norelli observed: “They had huge dreams and expectations and when they arrived they often had to postpone those dreams and think more in terms of building a future for their kids.”
The O’Reilly segment was part of a recurring series, “Watters’ World,” in which Watters often mocks people and makes offensive comments in man-on-the-street interviews, like in this segment, which ridiculed foreign-born New Yorkers.