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After widespread criticism for publishing a sympathetic profile of a Nazi sympathizer, the New York Times responded to accusations that it was normalizing extremists as well as offered apologies to those who were offended.
The profile of Tony Hovater, titled “A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland,” sparked fury on social media and outrage from across the political spectrum for seeming to trivialize Hovater’s extreme views with mundane details such as his favorite TV shows and his upcoming wedding plans.
The Times‘ Reader Center initiative posted a 700-plus word post Sunday, written by national editor Marc Lacey, addressing “how the piece came about, why we wrote it and why we think it was important to do so.”
The post explained that Saturday’s story was born from the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August which left one woman, Heather Heyer, dead. The Times assigned writer Richard Fausset to profile one of the leaders of the rally, Hovater, an Ohio man “who, it turned out, was a few years older than another Ohio man, James Alex Fields Jr., who was charged with murder after the authorities said he drove his car into a crowd of protesters, killing Ms. Heyer.”
“Our reporter and his editors agonized over the tone and content of the article. 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 explained after offering his apologies to those who were offended or felt that the story was normalizing Nazi sympathizers.
“We regret the degree to which the piece offended so many readers. 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,” Lacey added.