“Journalists can’t afford that superficiality and they can’t afford that credulousness anymore.”
After the New York Times published an article depicting the life of an Ohioan neo-Nazi on Saturday, the newspaper was met with public outrage. The piece, originally called “The Neo-Nazi Next Door” and later changed to “A Voice of Hate in America’s Homeland,” faced criticism for its gentle portrayal of neo-Nazi Tony Hovater. Journalist Richard Fausset included details of Hovater’s love of Seinfeld, his favored household appliances on his wedding registry, and what he buys at the supermarket.
In response, critics and journalists cast the article as normalizing members of a fast-growing movement that promotes hate. Others argued that the media has provided too much coverage of the growing neo-Nazi movement instead of focusing on its victims or other fringe ideological groups in the country.
In response to the uproar, the Times felt the need to explain why it published the piece. “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,” wrote Marc Lacey, the paper’s national editor. “We recognize that people can disagree on how best to tell a disagreeable story.”
So how should the press cover neo-Nazism in today’s media environment? I posed the question to Tom Rosenstiel, a media scholar and executive director at the American Press Institute. The conversation has been edited and condensed:
What was your initial take on that New York Times’s article about Tony Hovater?
The challenge that you have whenever you are writing about hate groups is trying to create understanding and provide context without being promotional. And what’s particularly challenging today is that these groups have become quite media savvy.
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