On Nov. 25, the New York Times published “A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland”—a piece about the wedding registry, eating habits and eyebrow maintenance of an Ohio man who also happens to be a Nazi. This profile bothered quite a few people, who were somewhat annoyed that the country’s biggest and most important newspaper would give a white nationalist a Better Homes and Gardens cover spread.
The Times was kind enough to respond to that response. And I felt it was only right to top off the response lasagna by giving a response to that response, which is underneath the Times’ response to the response.
Response response response response response response response.
The Times explained:
A profile in The Times of Tony Hovater, a white nationalist and Nazi sympathizer in Ohio, elicited a huge amount of feedback this weekend, most of it sharply critical. Here’s how the piece came about, why we wrote it and why we think it was important to do so.
This should be fun.
The genesis of the story was the aftermath of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August, the terrifying Ku Klux Klan-like images of young white men carrying tiki torches and shouting “Jews will not replace us,” and the subsequent violence that included the killing of a woman, Heather D. Heyer.
Those images were truly terrible, and the murder of Heather D. Heyer was horrifying. As was the response from the president of the United States of America about what happened in Charlottesville.
Fortunately, we have institutions like the New York Times that we can depend on to bring us the truth during these dark hours and to ensure that white supremacists and Nazis are thought of and treated the same way you might treat a roach scurrying across a kitchen counter.
Who were those people?
Um, wait. You literally just answered that question in your last paragraph. Those people are white supremacists. And just to reiterate that point, you refer to them as “young white men carrying tiki torches and shouting ‘Jews will not replace us.’” What the hell is happening here? Did you have a stroke between the writing of these sentences?
We assigned Richard Fausset, one of our smartest thinkers and best writers, to profile one of the far-right foot soldiers at the rally. We ended up settling on Mr. Hovater, who, it turned out, was a few years older than another Ohio man, James Alex Fields Jr., who was charged with murder after the authorities said he drove his car into a crowd of protesters, killing Ms. Heyer.
But why, though? You could have assigned an intern for this task. Shit, you could have assigned me. I would have just emailed Hovater.
“Yo, dude. You still on that Nazi shit?”
If he replied “Yes,” I would have written the story on the spot. And it would have been called, “Tony Hovater Is Still on That Nazi Shit and There’s Really Nothing Else to See Here.” And the entire text of the story would have been “Nazis gonna Nazi.”
Our reporter went to Ohio to spend time with Mr. Hovater and submitted several drafts and updates in between assignments that included Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the Roy Moore campaign in Alabama. The story finally ran online Saturday.
It’s great that Richard Fausset has other responsibilities at the Times other than existing as the Ohio-Nazi Whisperer. I’d imagine the Ohio-Nazi-whispering beat to be quite dry.
Whatever our goal, a lot of readers found the story offensive, with many seizing on the idea we were normalizing neo-Nazi views and behavior. “How to normalize Nazis 101!” one reader wrote on Twitter. “I’m both shocked and disgusted by this article,” wrote another. “Attempting to ‘normalize’ white supremacist groups – should Never have been printed!”
If the goal of devoting thousands of words to a fucking Nazi in Ohio wasn’t disgust, then what was it? Seriously. What was the fucking point of this? We already know that Nazis exist in America. And we already know that some of them shop at Target. So, again, what was your goal?
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.
I, for one, am sorry that your reporter and his editors agonized over doing the fucking jobs that they are paid to do. That reporters and editors would be expected to report and edit and vet is truly a travesty, and I’m sure the family of Heather Heyer would agree. I will organize a candlelight vigil for your newsroom this evening.
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.
Yes. It would have been nice, if the New York Times decided to run a profile on a Nazi, for said profile to have provided more pushback. Because if there’s one thing we know about Nazis, they can always use more pushback. There’s never a point, in regard to Nazis and pushback, where you might step back and say, “You know, I think this Nazi pushback is overkill now.” Because there is no overkill with Nazi pushback. Just underkill. And by “underkill” I mean “a profile in the New York Times.”
Some readers also criticized the article for including a link to a webpage that sells swastika armbands. This was intended to show the darker reality beyond the anodyne language of the website. But we saw the criticism, agreed and removed the link.
Wait, y’all did what? Y’all gave the Nazis a branding platform? What the fuck is wrong with y’all?
Some readers did see value in the piece. Shane Bauer, a senior reporter at Mother Jones and a winner of the National Magazine Award, tweeted: “People mad about this article want to believe that Nazis are monsters we cannot relate to. White supremacists are normal ass white people and it’s been that way in America since 1776. We will continue to be in trouble till we understand that.”
Yeah, some people saw the value in the piece. And some people put lettuce in the microwave. What’s your point?
But far more were outraged by the article. “You know who had nice manners?” Bess Kalb, a writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live, said on Twitter. “The Nazi who shaved my uncle Willie’s head before escorting him into a cement chamber where he locked eyes with children as their lungs filled with poison and they suffocated to death in agony. Too much? Exactly. That’s how you write about Nazis.”
Bess Kalb has a point.
Others urged us to focus our journalism less on those pushing hate and more on those on the receiving end of that hate. “Instead of long, glowing profiles of Nazis/White nationalists, why don’t we profile the victims of their ideologies?” asked Karen Attiah, an editor at The Washington Post. “Why not a piece about the mother of Heather Heyer, the woman who was killed in Charlottesville? Follow-ups on those who were injured? Or how PoC are coping?”
Of course, profiles on the people directly harmed by this hate speech and violence would be much more compelling. But that would require whiteness—white maleness, specifically—to be uncentered. And uncentering whiteness is harder than eating just one Lay’s potato chip, apparently.
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.
There’s a difference between shedding light and handing someone the spotlight. I agree that light is necessary to expose and, if required, shame. But y’all basically gave him and the thousands like him the light and the mic. Instead of truly depicting him for who he is, you let him take a selfie. And it’s not wrong to believe that “No country for Nazi selfies” should be an editorial edict at the New York Times.
As always, we want to continue hearing from our readers. Please share your thoughts in the comments. We will be reading them.
Wait, you’re going to do more work? Shit. Do I have to organize another vigil?