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As Nazi as apple pie

Last Saturday, The New York Times published a controversial article that profiled the seemingly benign daily existence of a Tony Hovater, an Ohio neo-Nazi. The backlash has been swift and unforgiving, leading the Times’s national editor to publish a response explaining their editorial decision to publish the article. Though we respect the journalistic spirit upon which this article was written, its crude implementation must nonetheless be condemned.

Many readers of the Times took issue with the article’s irrational refusal to contextualize Hovater’s abhorrent views. Richard Fausset, the Caucasian male reporter of the piece, failed to recognize that it is impossible to present Nazism in a neutral light without considering the immorality of its intrinsically racist ideology. Hovater is described by Fausset as the “Nazi sympathizer next door, polite and low-key…,”as if Hovater’s beliefs represent nothing more than a mere neighborly quirk rather a genocidal system of beliefs. Through presenting Hovater as someone who places “Books about Mussolini and Hitler” on the same shelf with “a stack of Nintendo Wii games,” Fausett sets a dangerous journalistic precedentrather than presenting such a juxtaposition as abnormal and un-American, Fausett has normalized it. Moreover, he writes about Hovater’s manners and politeness without acknowledging that his presence as a white, blue-eyed male reporter has given him Hovater’s respect in a way minority reporters would never experience.

In their editorial response, the Times explained their motivation as an attempt to shed light on the most extreme corners of American life. As an editorial board, we respect the sincerity with which this venture was undertaken, especially during the current polarizing political climate. Nonetheless, at the same time, journalism demands a high standard of ethical reporting not unlike that demanded from academia. If the intention was for the Times’s readership to better understand neo-Nazism, Fausset could have chosen to examine the structural underlying reasons for Hovater’s racism, dissecting the means by which Hovater came to his ideology rather than the means by which Hovater prepares his evening pasta. He could have also reached out to those affected by neo-Nazism, to present both sides of the ideology rather than focusing on the sole perspective of a racist white man. Instead, what is left is a deeply troubling attempt at normalizing neo-Nazism as an acceptable phenomenon in America’s heartland. Not even Fausset himself walked away with much insight as to the underlying reasons behind Hovater’s ideology.

The New York Times wields the responsibility to influence our national consciousness in an instrumental manner few media organizations can. Particularly now, when neo-Nazism is attempting to trespass into the American mainstream, it is perilous give them such an influential media platform to sell their armbands and to spread an ideology that undermines our intrinsic national values. While this type of reporting has its place, its implementation here is a slap to face of every minority reader of the Times, for whom Hovater’s obvious racism takes a backseat to more typically “American” behaviors in the article. Indeed, it is curious that the Times chose to vignette a white, male nationalist rather than a Black Lives Matter organizer or a member of Antifa. With the current political climate, it is more imperative than ever for our media, from the Times to the Chronicle, to contextualize our reporting within a nationally-conscious moral compass that avoids normalizing dangerously un-American ideologies such as Nazism. 


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