- The New York Times faced immediate backlash over a profile of a Nazi sympathizer.
- The paper addressed the criticisms in two separate stories.
The New York Times faced backlash over the weekend for publishing what critics said was an overly sympathetic portrait of a suburban neo-Nazi.
The piece depicted Hovater as an average American adult who liked the ’90s television sitcom “Seinfeld” and the thriller “Twin Peaks,” ate at Applebee’s and Panera Bread, and was “polite” with “Midwestern manners” the article said “would please anyone’s mother.”
Critics immediately blasted The Times, wondering why the paper profiled a relatively obscure white supremacist and saying it normalized Hovater, who participated in the neo-Nazi rally that turned violent in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August.
In the profile, Hovater stereotypes Jews, shares memes positively depicting Nazi Germany, dismisses facts about the death toll from the Holocaust, and describes Hitler as “a lot more chill” about gays (a popular, though factually inaccurate, theory among some on the right).
The online backlash was swift
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) November 25, 2017
The problem with this article isn't that it's about a Nazi but that it doesn't add anything to our understanding of modern Nazis. Of course racists shop at supermarkets and play in bands and enjoy Seinfeld and own cats. That evil is also banal is not new. https://t.co/bOIQU4pOzu
— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) November 25, 2017
It is definitely responsible to profile a Nazi as if he’s just an odd curiosity and not part of a violent and dangerous movement. https://t.co/0gJuaCpd0v
— Jamelle Bouie (@jbouie) November 25, 2017
This is true. The writer seemed so… perplexed… that regular-looking white people with non-agressive tattoos could be the embodiment of evil. POC are like, 'yeah, we know'. https://t.co/IBSYJKsA94
— Soledad O'Brien (@soledadobrien) November 26, 2017
image 1: nyt profile of neo-nazi
image 2: nyt profile of unarmed man executed by police pic.twitter.com/8RWOTtmuTo
— sean. ???????? (@SeanMcElwee) November 25, 2017
The United States is a big country. Some 250 million adults. Lots of stories to tell. Lots of people trying to navigate Trump's America. We don't have to keep profiling Nazis. They've had their turn. https://t.co/3bszduHmrj
— Osita Nwanevu (@OsitaNwanevu) November 25, 2017
The piece also had its defenders
Some said the profile was effectively terrifying and was not sympathetic to Hovater’s beliefs.
I think people may be killing the messenger on that actually-quite-terrifying NYT Nazi-next-door piece. But yeah, the current media rule–"Humanize the right, generalize about the left"–is bad.
— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) November 25, 2017
Some people want a bunch of humorless Vox voice explaining why Nazism is bad.
— Josh Barro (@jbarro) November 26, 2017
This article is about neo-Nazi efforts to become mainstream and unidentifiable. NYT is outing that effort, to a chorus of imprudent hollering from liberals. You people are nuts. https://t.co/CELP8Nv1zs
— Noah Rothman (@NoahCRothman) November 26, 2017
The Times responded
The Times acknowledged the dustup in two follow-up articles.
Fausset wrote a first-person essay, also published Saturday, about his frustration trying to figure out what motivated someone to become a neo-Nazi. The Times also changed the online headline of the story to “A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland” and removed a link from the original story to a website that sells Nazi armbands.
And in a response to reader comments, the Times editor Marc Lacey both defended the piece and apologized for offending readers, saying the paper “agonized over the tone and content of the article.”
“The point of the story was not to normalize anything but to describe the degree to which hate and extremism have become far more normal in American life than many of us want to think,” Lacey wrote. “We described Mr. Hovater as a bigot, a Nazi sympathizer who posted images on Facebook of a Nazi-like America full of happy white people and swastikas everywhere.”
“We regret the degree to which the piece offended so many readers. We recognize that people can disagree on how best to tell a disagreeable story. What we think is indisputable, though, is the need to shed more light, not less, on the most extreme corners of American life and the people who inhabit them. That’s what the story, however imperfectly, tried to do.”