On Saturday, the New York Times published a profile of a nazi in Ohio titled "In America’s Heartland, the Voice of Hate Next Door." The profile is written in the same journalistic style a writer would use to profile a famous musician, an activist, or a slightly misunderstood public figure, not someone who condones white supremacy and mass violence. I won't hyperlink to the article here (you can easily Google or click on several embedded tweets), because I don't think the full original article needs to be spread any further.
The article itself describes the daily life of Ohio resident nazi Tony Hovater, his love of pasta, his recent marriage, and his love of genocidal propaganda. The language in it is so terrifyingly mundane and soft, it begs readers to understand and even empathize with a nazi.
Since the time of publication, the online headline has been changed to "A Voice of Hate in America's Heartland," due to massively warranted backlash. And there have been several brilliant response pieces written. James Hamblin wrote a scathing (and pristine) satire of the profile for The Atlantic. The writer Indrani Sen wrote a smart analysis of the NYT piece for Quartz. Plus, many people on Twitter have chimed in with rightful anger, and also, examples of how journalists can cover white supremacists without normalizing nazi ideology.
The Jimmy Kimmel writer Bess Kalb shared her family's story in response to the profile.
Other people let the pull quotes speak for themselves. Because no matter how you mince it, and regardless of original intention, this profile is written in a way that completely normalizes and ingratiates Hovater to the rest of America. Given the fact that a growing faction of Americans are already turning towards nazism or "alt-right" ideas, the risks of this profile far outweigh any potential journalistic exploration.
Many writers online shared examples of how the New York Times could've tackled the subject of American nazis without painting a flowery portrait of one.
One of the points made was the fact that largely white writing teams, white editorial boards, and white interview subjects are highlighted in our current political landscape.
So, whether an article is aiming to showcase the growth of racist factions, or highlight the growth of activism, the sought out lens skews towards whiteness. Which, regardless of intentions, feeds a dangerous acceptance of the white perspective as universal.
As the Twitter user and graduate student J.H. Swanson pointed out, this isn't the first time the New York Times has profiled a nazi going about their daily life.
In 1939, the publication profile Hitler as a relatable and sober vegetarian.
Still, there were some people who didn't think the profile was dangerous.
Regardless of the high journalistic aim to present facts and ideas across the spectrum, there are some subjects and ideologies that should not be presented as "misunderstood" or "alternative." Nazism is one of them.