In the Sunday print edition of the New York Times, reporter Richard Fausset softens neo-Nazi ideology for millions of readers.
Tony Hovater, a millennial resident of New Carlisle, Ohio, is one of the key people behind the Traditionalist Workers’ Party — a neo-Nazi group that marched in Charlottesville the weekend where 32-year-old counter-protester Heather Heyer was run over and killed by a white supremacist. The group also sells swastika armbands on its website for $20 apiece (though buyers are encouraged to read the “Bitcoin for Fascists” guide to complete their purchase).
In the Times’ lengthy feature, which shows Hovater standing in front of his normal-looking suburban Ohio home and pushing a shopping cart down the aisle of a supermarket, Hovater shares his adoration for Adolf Hitler and doubt over the number of people killed in the Holocaust with Fausset only offering a four-word hyperlink to challenge his views. Nowhere in the article is it apparent that Fausset ever asked Hovater a combative question.
[Hovater] 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.”
On its own, the profile of Hovater could be seen as a poor exercise in judgment on behalf of Fausset and Times editors who signed off on the piece’s publication. However, Fausset appears to be standing by his reporting, explaining that he was simply trying to answer the question, “What makes a man start fires?” As of this writing, the New York Times’ editorial staff has not yet spoken about why they decided to run the story despite the author’s feelings of incompletion.
“After I had filed an early version of the article, an editor at The Times told me he felt like the question had not been sufficiently addressed. So I went back to Mr. Hovater in search of answers. I still don’t think I really found them,” Fausset wrote. “I could feel the failure even as Mr. Hovater and I spoke on the phone, adding to what had already been hours of face-to-face conversation in and around his hometown New Carlisle, Ohio.”
The New York Times has not reserved the same flattering penmanship for young, unarmed black men killed by police. In one paragraph of a 2014 profile of Michael Brown, who was killed by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson just a few months after graduating high school, the Times seemingly suggested that Brown deserved his fate:
Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.
Prominent journalists like Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com and Jamelle Bouie of Slate have blasted the leading paper of record for normalizing Hovater’s hateful ideology.
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) November 25, 2017
Today, we found out in the New York Times that Adolph Hitler was "a lot more kind of chill" than he's given credit for. pic.twitter.com/sF8i6ABEf3
— Alexandra Halaby (@iskandrah) 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
— Ben Dreyfuss (@bendreyfuss) November 25, 2017
White supremacists and neo-Nazis appear to have been emboldened by President Trump’s election, with hate crime incidents spiking considerably in 2017 compared to last year. In a study of 13 major cities with populations of more than 250,000, California State University at San Bernadino’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism found 827 recorded hate crimes — almost 20 percent higher than in 2016.
In the Times’ profile of Hovater, Traditionalist Worker Party leader Matthew Heimbach, who also marched with neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, was quoted saying members of white supremacist movements need to appear more normal in the eyes of everyday Americans. Sunday’s flattering profile of Hovater and his movement should help.
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Michael Boone is a freelance journalist and columnist writing about politics, government, race, and media. He graduated from Texas Southern University’s School of Communication, and lives in Houston’s Third Ward.