The New York Times published a long article this weekend about a New Carlisle man with avowed Nazi leanings, and some readers are saying the article seeks to make white-separatist leanings seem ‘normal.’
The story examines a 29-year-old welder and New Carlisle resident, Tony Hovater. The Times author writes that he met with Hovater and his wife at a Huber Heights Applebee’s restaurant, dined on turkey sandwiches with him at a Panera Bread and visited the couple’s home.
Hovater expresses sympathy with Nazism and white separatism. The story quotes him as saying of Adolf Hitler “I think he was a guy who really believed in his cause. He really believed he was fighting for his people and doing what he thought was right.”
The article noted the books Hovater has on his bookshelf and recounts his ideological journey from “leftist” to “ardent libertarian” to “fascist activist.”
“He 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,” New York Times Reporter Richard Fausset wrote in a story that appeared online this weekend. “Most Americans would be disgusted and baffled by his casually approving remarks about Hitler, disdain for democracy and belief that the races are better off separate. But his tattoos are innocuous pop-culture references.”
Reaction to the article was swift. Some readers took issue with the story’s tone and general approach, which seems to dwell on Hovater’s low-key mannerisms, his cats, his fondness for “Seinfeld,” rather than his actual views.
“What’s problematic about the story, ultimately, is not that it humanizes a man with repugnant views — he is, of course, a human,” said an article on the web site “Quartz.” “It’s the lack of any explanation to the reader of why exactly this story exists, and what the writer expects the reader to glean from it. Without that we have, essentially, a puff piece about a Nazi sympathizer.”
Ezra Klein, a former Washington Post columnist and co-founder of Vox.com, tweeted: “The problem with this article isn’t that it’s about a Nazi but that it doesn’t add anything to our understanding of modern Nazis. Of course racists shop at supermarkets and play in bands and enjoy Seinfeld and own cats. That evil is also banal is not new.”
“This article does more to normalize neo-Nazism than anything I’ve read in a long time,” tweeted Nate Silver, founder of the data-crunching web site FiveThirtyEight.com.
Other readers blasted the Times for linking to web sites that sell swastika armbands and for normalizing “white supremacy.”
In a companion piece — “I Interviewed a White Nationalist and Fascist. What was I Left with?” — Fausset himself expresses some dissatisfaction with his story’s tone and laments that he couldn’t answer more fully questions about how this local man came to embrace his views.
“What prompted him to take his ideas beyond his living room, beyond the chat rooms, and on to Charlottesville, where he marched in August alongside allies like the neo-Confederate League of the South and the Detroit-based National Socialist Movement, which bills itself as ‘America’s premier white civil rights organization?’” he wrote “Where was his Rosebud?”
“I still don’t think I really found them,” Fausset says of his failure to find meaningful answers.
Lee Hannah, a Wright State University political science professor, doesn’t believe the Times article answered any meaningful questions.
“And that is very problematic,” Hannah told this news outlet. “If there’s any value in this article, it is in reading the quotes of Mr. Hovater and see that he holds naive and uninformed views on the realities of fascism and historical monsters like Adolf Hitler.
“Any person schooled in history should be equipped to challenge his views. However, many will see that the reporter’s deferential treatment of his subject provides more of a platform for these views, rather than a condemnation,” Hannah added.
Glenn Duerr — a Cedarville University associate professor of international studies who has studied far right movements both in Europe and in the United States — said he believes he sees what the story was trying to accomplish, offering a perspective on a “young couple” who traffics in certain circles.
“It gives the sense of an average person in a group like this … it speaks to a new generation of people belonging to hate groups, alt-right groups, etc. As portrayed in the media, most people assumed that this (view) was dying out,” Duerr said.
But he thinks the article failed to give a sign of the breadth and spread of hate groups. And he doesn’t appreciate it when the media “cherry-picks” certain people for profiling in stories like these.
“I have to say, this is a very small minority, living on the fringe in general,” Duerr said. “Sitting in Ohio and the greater Dayton area, it’s offensive as well … the great majority of people living in the greater Dayton area are honest.”
In a response to readers Sunday, a Times editor said the story was one that needed to be told.
“We recognize that people can disagree on how best to tell a disagreeable story,” wrote Marc Lacey, a Times national editor. “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.”