On Saturday The New York Times found themselves in the crosshairs of Twitter after publishing a profile of a white nationalist that many readers found far too flattering. On Sunday, the Times acknowledged that the feedback they received on the profile was almost unanimously negative, and that their national editor (Marc Lacey) decided to respond on the Times' website in an effort to justify their decision to write and run the piece.
While saying that they first opted to write it after the violent clash that occurred in Charlottesville this past August, the Times said they assigned writer Richard Fausset to learn more about the nationalists who shouted things like "Jews will not replace us" during the violent rally that eventually resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer.
As the Times wrote:
The genesis of the story was the aftermath of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in August, the terrifying Ku Klux Klan-like images of young white men carrying tiki torches and shouting “Jews will not replace us,” and the subsequent violence that included the killing of a woman, Heather D. Heyer.
Who were those people? We assigned Richard Fausset, one of our smartest thinkers and best writers, to profile one of the far-right foot soldiers at the rally. We ended up settling on Mr. Hovater, 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.
From there Lacey talked about how the article was received:
Whatever our goal, a lot of readers found the story offensive, with many seizing on the idea we were normalizing neo-Nazi views and behavior. “How to normalize Nazis 101!” one reader wrote on Twitter. “I’m both shocked and disgusted by this article,” wrote another. “Attempting to ‘normalize’ white supremacist groups – should Never have been printed!”
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.
And how they may have missed the mark with some of their intentions:
We described Mr. Hovater as a bigot, a Nazi sympathizer who posted images on Facebook of a Nazi-like America full of happy white people and swastikas everywhere.
We understand that some readers wanted more pushback, and we hear that loud and clear.
Some readers also criticized the article for including a link to a webpage that sells swastika armbands. This was intended to show the darker reality beyond the anodyne language of the website. But we saw the criticism, agreed and removed the link.
Finally, after addressing a few more reader reactions to the article, Lacey ended with this sentiment:
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.
You can read the whole thing over at their website.