Jesse Watters, the Fox News host who succeeded Tucker Carlson in the network’s primetime evening slot, has again drawn criticism by praising Donald Trump’s recent mug shot, suggesting the image is only likely to increase the disgraced former president’s appeal to America’s Black community.
Mr Watters invited ridicule last week when he reacted to the shot of Mr Trump – taken at Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, Georgia, as he was booked following his fourth criminal indictment in as many months – by declaring: “I say this with an unblemished record of heterosexuality. He looks good and he looks hard.”
He also argued in an opening monologue to his show: “The mug shot turned Trump into a sympathetic character in Black America. Don’t underestimate the power of a famous mug shot.”
Mr Watters cited the case of celebrity homemaker Martha Stewart, who befriended the hip-hop legend Snoop Dogg after being arrested, to support his contention that the notoriety that comes with a criminal case can lead a white felon to be embraced by the Black community.
He pursued the idea on Monday’s show as part of another monologue insisting Mr Trump was being persecuted by his political enemies, as the Republican himself has regularly claimed.
“This isn’t a battle of ideas,” the host said of the former president’s arrest. “There’s no effort at persuasion. This is the removal of a political opponent through brute force, through handcuffs and ballot gimmickry.
“But the Democrats’ Soviet-style tactics have alienated their most loyal voting bloc. The mug shot has breathed new life into the Trump campaign and broadened his appeal to Black Americans.”
He continued: “Over the weekend, with the help of mugshot merchandise, the Trump campaign raked in over $7m. Today, my garbage man told me he’s buying mugshot T-shirts for everyone he knows this Christmas.
“The mugshot is up on the side of buildings in the inner city. The 2016 phenomenon is happening all over again. Trump won that election because of a laser-like focus on the Forgotten Man. A bond was formed back then that can never be broken. And there’s a new Forgotten Man, the Black man.”
An extract of Mr Watters’ soliloquy was posted on X by the media monitor Acyn, who also pointed out the “inner city” mural invoked was actually captioned: “M.A.G.A. My A** Got Arrested.”
Watters: The mugshot has breathed new life into the Trump campaign and broadened his appeal to Black Americans… Today my garbage man told me he’s buying mugshot tee shirts for everyone for Christmas. pic.twitter.com/r5QQ0Cn5Cx
— Acyn (@Acyn) August 29, 2023
The clip was widely shared, with many liberal commentators agreeing the presenter’s views were “profoundly racist” in assuming America’s Black citizens gloried in criminality.
“The idea that black Americans have a knee jerk fondness for anyone who has ever been arrested is profoundly racist,” wrote political commentator Ben Dreyfuss.
Insider journalist Bryan Metzger called the take “so insanely racist that I can’t believe people are saying it out loud” while podcaster Jordan Uhl added: “We knew they were going to try to spin this as a positive for Trump in 2024 but I’m not sure anyone predicted them going with ‘Black people love mugshots.’”
Democratic strategist Sawyer Hackett said: “Wow. Fox host Jesse Watters says Trump getting a mugshot has ‘broadened his appeal to Black Americans’. He then cites his garbage man as a source.”
That observation was also made by ex-Republican National Committee spokesman Tim Miller, who remarked: “How serendipitous that multiple prime time Fox talking heads have had encounters with anonymous working class black folks who love Trump.”
The Independent has contacted Fox News for comment.
Mr Watters, who was recently described by MSNBC columnist Paul Waldman as “an internet troll who happens to be on TV”, is not the only conservative to have made this argument.
Fringe right-wing documentarian Dinesh D’Souza, who was pardoned by Mr Trump while in office, posted last week: “In the urban black community, a mug shot can be an iconic symbol, both of victimisation and of greatness. It’s a defiant UP YOURS to ‘the man.’ Think Tupac Shakur. Trump is now the ultimate gangsta in our culture.”