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'New York Times' Atlanta bureau chief under fire for profile of white nationalist

Reporters, readers wrestle with when and how to write about bigots

Voice Of HateScreenshot/Twitter, @ezraklein
New York Times Atlanta Bureau Chief Richard Fausset is catching flak for his recent profile of an avowed white nationalist.

Fausset had spent some time with Tony Hovater, an Ohio-based organizer of alt-Right initiatives, and documented the day-to-day life of the millennial bigot. Critics say the piece, titled "A Voice of Hate in America's Heartland," "normalizes" the hateful ways of Hovater, painting his ideals as almost approachable.

Jemele Hill, the ESPN reporter who made headlines for speaking out about the NFL's anthem-kneeling controversy, says she appreciates that objectionable views should be spotlighted, although writing about them must be done with more tact. "The journalist in me understands that your job sometimes is to explain why awful people are so awful," she says in a tweet. "It's a delicate process. It's a fine line between explaining and giving hateful people a platform that normalizes their hate. Swing and a miss, here."

However, the morbid reality illustrated in the story is that white supremacy is becoming more commonplace by the day. Today's Nazis don't always do us the favor of donning swastika-emblazoned red armbands or long, white billowy cloaks. They wear collared shirts; they watch "Seinfeld;" they eat at your favorite restaurants and shop at your local grocery stores.

"There are times when it can feel toxic to openly identify as a far-right extremist in the Ohio of 2017," Fausset wrote. "But not always. Hovater said the election of President Trump helped open a space for people like him, demonstrating that it is not the end of the world to be attacked as the bigot he surely is: 'You can just say, "Yeah, so?" And move on.'"

Still, some critics, such as Washington Post columnist Erik Wemple, feel the story never accomplished what it set out to. Wemple called Fausset's piece "half-baked," citing post-story commentary from the author, himself. Wrote Fausset: "What prompted Hovater 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'? Where was his Rosebud?"

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