A New York Times story over the weekend caused such a ruckus that the newspaper has responded publicly. But this one wasn't about politics or sexual harassment—the story in question was a profile of Ohio resident Tony Hovater, a white nationalist and Nazi sympathizer who took part in the Charlottesville demonstrations. The story depicted Hovater as a fairly typical American outside his Nazi ways, someone who eats at Applebee's and has "Midwestern manners [that] would please anyone’s mother." The reaction came swiftly, and a tweet from Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com is typical of the criticism: "What the hell is this, @nytimes? This article does more to normalize neo-Nazism than anything I've read in a long time." So many people agreed that national editor Marc Lacey has posted an explanation of the rationale behind the story.
"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," he writes. Lacey points out that the story described Lovater as a bigot and detailed his Nazi sympathies. ("A Voice of Hate in America's Heartland" was the headline.) "We regret the degree to which the piece offended so many readers," he adds, while defending the need "to shed more light, not less, on the most extreme corners of American life." The story has its supporters, including Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer. "People mad about this article want to believe that Nazis are monsters we cannot relate to," he writes. Until we understand that they are "normal ass white people," we "will continue to be in trouble." (Read more New York Times stories.)