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New York Times defends much-criticized profile of Nazi sympathizer: 'The point was not to normalize anything'


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The national editor of the New York Times on Sunday defended his paper’s publication of a much-criticized story profiling a white nationalist and Nazi sympathizer in Ohio.

Marc Lacey, writing an op-ed for the Times’ website, said editors assigned reporter Richard Fausset to profile Tony Hovater after the latter participated in the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August.


Lacey said reporters and editors “agonized over the tone and content” of the article, published Saturday, but many media members and readers criticized the story, alleging it normalized neo-Nazi views and behavior. Some readers criticized the article for including a link to a webpage that sells swastika armbands, which the Times later took down.

“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,” Lacey said.

Fausset writes that Hovater, a 29-year-old welder, is the “Nazi sympathizer next door, polite and low-key at a time the old boundaries of accepted political activity can seem alarmingly in flux.”

He describes Hovater as a recently married cat owner who is a fan of the show “Seinfeld” with a “fondness for National Public Radio.”

Lacey noted the story also contained language describing Hovater as a bigot and Nazi sympathizer who posted images on Facebook of “a Nazi-like America full of happy white people and swastikas everywhere.”

“We regret the degree to which the piece offended so many readers,” Lacey said. “We recognize that people can disagree on how best to tell a disagreeable story. What we think is indisputable, though, is the need to shed more light, not less, on the most extreme corners of American life and the people who inhabit them. That’s what the story, however imperfectly, tried to do.”


What's "normal" to the New York Times?

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