By now, everyone is probably aware of the pile of steaming garbage published by the New York Times yesterday (November 25, 2017) lovingly titled “A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland.” If you aren’t, take a few minutes and at least peruse this bizarre Nazi puff piece.
There have been plenty of take-downs of the Times written in the last 24 hours. It looks like I am adding one more to the pile. Think of this as an open letter with just one hopefully-clear point: It’s OK to be against Nazis.
The paper came out today with an apology letter of sorts. This passage really stuck out to me.
Our reporter and his editors 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.
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 understand that some readers wanted more pushback, and we hear that loud and clear.
Can we be clear about something? What we are asking for is not just “pushback” we are asking for our democratic institutions – the press – to act as a participant, not just passive observer in that democracy.
Instead, the ‘tone and content’ that the Times apparently labored over suggests Nazi sympathy bear about the same weight as grocery shopping habits and that’s precisely the problem. Let’s stop for a moment and gaze upon this passage from the original article, words bolded by me.
It was midday at a Panera Bread, and Mr. Hovater was describing his political awakening over a turkey sandwich. He mentioned books by Charles Murray and Pat Buchanan. He talked about his presence on 4chan, the online message board and alt-right breeding ground (“That’s where the scary memes come from,” he deadpanned). He spoke dispassionately about the injustice of affirmative action, about the “malice directed toward white people” in popular media, about how the cartoon comedy “King of the Hill” was the last TV show to portray “a straight white male patriarch” in a positive light.
He declared the widely accepted estimate that six million Jews died in the Holocaust “overblown.” He said that while the Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler wanted to exterminate groups like Slavs and homosexuals, Hitler “was a lot more kind of chill on those subjects.”
“I think he was a guy who really believed in his cause,” he said of Hitler. “He really believed he was fighting for his people and doing what he thought was right.”
He said he wanted to see the United States become “an actually fair, meritocratic society.” Absent that, he would settle for a white ethno-state “where things are fair, because there’s no competing demographics for government power or for resources.”
Look, I get that The NY Times was trying to get across to its readership the fact that people who seem otherwise normal can believe these things. But you cannot simply let statements like this wash over you without pause for commentary. This style of writing and lack of critical engagement with Mr. Hovater’s abhorrent ideology make politically uniform his habits, ideology, and personal quirks. It makes a white ethno-state and holocaust denial of the same moral importance as sandwich meat.
If the point isn’t clear enough, check out James Hamblin’s satirical article published yesterday at The Atlantic.
And it’s not just that it ‘normalizes’ white supremacy, it’s that journalists bear a substantial burden of fighting against such authoritarianism.
What seems to be on display here is a journalistic desire to be fair to their subject by allowing some (almost all) to be on (and in) his terms.
But that betrays a staggering lack of journalistic judgement or recognition of journalistic responsibility. If the Times really did feel Mr. Hovater deserved a profile in their publication as a proxy for understanding hared in America, then perhaps they would have done better to actually question their subject rather than create a shallow narrative. If their goal was to show “the degree to which hate and extremism have become far more normal in American life than many of us want to think,” as they said, then a much more critical treatment would have been far more appropriate
@magi_jay has the best summary of what responsible journalism might have looked like. Click through and read the entire thread.
1/ The NYTimes is densely defending their article by claiming it was intended to shed light on the normalcy of racism in American society.
I agree this is a worthy topic of discussion.
So, let’s talk about all the things the Times could have *actually* achieved this. . . . pic.twitter.com/9ZsHMxsz8p
— Mangy Jay (@magi_jay) November 26, 2017
Not only is it OK to be against Nazis, you should be, New York Times. Your journalistic integrity needs a re-calibration and our democracy needs you to get your act together.