Richard Fausset, the Atlanta bureau chief for The New York Times, recently had an article published titled “A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland,” which angered many people because they thought Fausset and The New York Times were humanizing Nazi sympathizers.
I am nowhere near as experienced or as qualified as Fausset or the news organizations that shared negative opinions about his article. However, as an editor with my student newspaper at the Weber School, where I interviewed Fausset when he came to visit my class, I am compelled to share my 2 cents.
While talking to my class, Fausset mentioned that he was working on an article focusing on a Nazi sympathizer in Ohio, a man who considers himself a white nationalist rather than a white supremacist.
When prompted by questions from my peers and me about the article, Fausset mentioned that he was conflicted about the story for the same reason many news publications are critiquing his article: It humanizes the Nazi, Tony Hovater.
I agree that this article presents Hovater as more of a human than a monster. But the article has another function that many readers miss: It demonstrates that racist and anti-Semitic ideas are becoming too common in our society.
People may want to believe that Hovater and those like him resemble members of the Nazi Party during the Holocaust or a Nazi caricature, but he does not.
Hovater does not have swastika tattoos all over his body. He does not have a devil’s horns or a forked tongue. He does not look like the monster children think is hiding under their beds. His appearance does not hint at his noxious ideology.
In reality, he can pass as a normal member of society without anyone glancing twice. This is what is truly terrifying: Radical, cruel ideologies are becoming commonplace, taking root in the hearts of ordinary citizens.
Many readers misunderstand what I believe was Fausset’s intent, thinking that presenting the normal aspects of Hovater’s life indicates that his beliefs are unremarkable, when Fausset is attempting to show that his ideas are masked beneath the facade of normality.
Fausset is not using his article to sympathize with Nazis or to further their cause. He is doing the opposite. He is giving a face to the ideology and illustrating that it is a fungus lurking beneath society’s surface that could continue to spread if unrecognized in all its forms.
I believe this piece helps to prevent this cancer of an ideology, the same ideology shared at the Charlottesville rallies (Hovater helped found one of the Nazi groups that protested there), from finding its way into America’s bloodstream by showing how mundane these anti-Semitic beliefs seem to a Nazi.
By berating Fausset and The New York Times, people and many news agencies are taking the focus away from the problem of the spread of Nazism. In fact, Fausset’s article serves only as a tool to stop the Nazi agenda.
Fausset wrote this piece while trying to remain “a neutral and fair arbiter of the information,” something he agreed during my interview with him is important for reporters to be. He did so because this is a news piece, a type of article in which the reporter should permit readers to draw their own conclusions.
Fausset did verify, however, that he and the Times do not support the Nazi ideology by calling Hovater a “bigot” and by showing that Hovater is affiliated with a political party condemned by the Anti-Defamation League.
While I agree that Fausset had more opportunities to condemn Hovater’s ideology, he decided not to because he was assigned to write a news piece, not an opinion article. In the case of this piece, it is up to the readers to realize that hatemongers are reprehensible.
While my opinion as a Jew and as a journalist differs from those of many, I still believe that it is up to the readers to decide whether Fausset could have done more to condemn Hovater.