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The New York Times responded to the outpouring of criticism of its profile of a white supremacist

How can media organizations best introduce readers to disturbing views?

The New York Times building in New York, with pedestrians walking past in the foreground Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The New York Times is getting some severe online backlash from media figures this weekend after it attempted to portray how ordinary people in America’s communities could harbor white supremacism.

On Saturday, the Times published a story online headlined “A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland” that details the relatively pedestrian existence of Tony Hovater in New Carlisle, Ohio. The story aimed to unpack how Hovater’s disturbing views on race do not dominate his life or turn him into a universal pariah in his community — a noble journalistic attempt to try to add texture and complexity to an ascendant group of American voters of whom many readers don’t have first-hand experience.

But the reaction to the piece has been sharp and unsparing. Critics in the media have been arguing that the piece “normalizes” the neo-Nazi ideology and gives the story’s protagonist too much ink in the nation’s most prominent newspaper to spread his viewpoints.

Here’s just some of the reaction online:

The author of the story, Richard Fausset, tried to explain his mission in a companion “Times Insider” published alongside the profile. Fausset acknowledged that he had not found all the answers in his quest to understand what motivated Hovater’s radicalism, but he still wanted to offer readers a snapshot of what it is like to speak with an avowed white supremacist.

“Sometimes all we can bring you is the words of the police spokesman, the suspect’s picture from a high school yearbook, the acrid stench of the burned woods,” wrote Fausset. “Sometimes a soul, and its shape, remain obscure to both writer and reader.”

Update: The Times responded to the criticism on Sunday, saying that the paper “agonized over the tone and content of the article” but attempted to “describe the degree to which hate and extremism have become far more normal in American life than many of us want to think.”

“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,” wrote national editor Marc Lacey. “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.”


This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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