Face Off: NYT profile of Nazi sympathizer executed poorly but still necessary to drive conversation

Tony Hovater is a man living in Ohio who was profiled by the New York Times last weekend. This profile is significant given that Hovater is a Nazi sympathizer. But you wouldn’t know that, since he also likes dining at Panera Bread just like you and me, the Times asserts.

Reporter Richard Fausset contradicts his own point that evil and hate are not easily recognizable. Fausset mentions Hovater’s racist comments, Facebook posts and a bookshelf that has a novel with a swastika emblazoned on the side that all indicate otherwise. Fausset wanted to introduce readers to a white nationalist going about his mundane life to show that we may just never know, but mentions all the ways that we could know if we interacted with him.

With this, the Times unintentionally normalizes Hovater and forgets that in today’s society, we’re hyper-aware of each other’s political leaning. It’s now our duty as news consumers to understand why this article should have been published but also should have been subject to editing. The answer for how to go about that lies in the profile’s theme.

The syllabus for my Journalism 1 class provided the following instructions for our profile assignment: “you will decide on the ‘take’ or theme of your profile. They give us a real understanding of how someone ticks, what motivates her, what makes her sad, mad and, always, interesting.”

Though Fausset doesn’t have a professor to steer him away from taking the “your neighborhood Nazi” theme, his editor should have caught that. Together, they should have realized that Hovater’s favorite show being Seinfeld is not what is interesting about him.

I’m not completely opposed to the subject matter the article presents readers. The Times is providing their audience additional coverage of growing white supremacy in America.

The Times’ desire to have such coverage is evident when shortly after Charlottesville, their podcast The Daily featured an interview with Derek Black, a former member of the white nationalist movement. In response to widespread criticism that he had failed to denounce the racist rhetoric of the white nationalists, Trump said there were, “some very fine people on both sides,” a characterization that was met with widespread criticism.

Black, however, called the quote, “the most important moment in the history of the modern white nationalist movement. The point of the rally was to try to recruit people, to try to grow. And if you were on the fence about whether you should get involved in this stuff or not, the President’s OK is the biggest thing that’s ever happened.”

Thus, it’s important that we’re aware and reminded that this population exists in the U.S. However, the Times’ editorial decisions should have been made on a basis of priority.

White nationalists will still be available for an interview later on, after we’ve heard from people deeply troubled by Charlottesville.

The Times reasons that had they not been bogged down with other stories, they could have published the profile sooner after Charlottesville. That way, the article would have made more sense contextually and be more acceptable.

But their reasoning is flawed, because even if the profile had an earlier release date, the tone of it is quite simply not fit for print.

Still, Times readers should keep in mind that the publication is a credible news organization that has provided us valuable coverage of sensitive topics surrounding politics, race and religion throughout this year and in years prior.