To interview or not to interview a Nazi

You probably know this by now: The New York Times ran a story on a … white nationalist? Nazi? They were accused of “normalizing” Nazis, prompting a thoughtful response from the editor and a strange, defensive response from the reporter, who seemed to be defending himself against the charge of not calling the guy another couple of times.

My journalism default is to publish rather than withhold, to investigate rather than steer clear. It gets me (and most other journalists) in a lot of trouble at times, sure. But if the information in question isn’t blatantly sensationalized (“IS YOUR NEXT-DOOR NEIGHBOR A NAZI? FIND OUT AT 11”) or otherwise irresponsibly presented, you have to have a compelling reason not to publish it.

The year after I left Duke, The Chronicle received an ad submission from a Holocaust denier. After much discussion, they published it, along with a letter from the editor explaining why they had made that decision. The pitchforks outside Flowers Building were flaming for a while, of course. But there was a memorable quote from a trustee with a background in journalism:

You’ve gotta flush a snake out of the grass in order to kill it.”

That quote sticks in my head when I think about how we as an intelligent species get into tragic conflicts. Historians are still grappling with some of the flashpoints that tipped Germany into signing its future over to Adolf Hitler. (Perhaps more analogous to our current situation, and something I understand far less — why did Italy back Mussolini?)

We need to understand why seemingly rational people give tacit or explicit support to all forms of hatred. Why did a bunch of apparently assimilated English Muslims carry out a series of bombings that killed 52 people on the London Underground? Why did a guy assemble an arsenal in a hotel room in Mandalay Bay and shoot hundreds of people? Why do substantial numbers (a minority, but still tens of millions of people) express support for terrorist groups? Why are white supremacists gaining ground in Europe?

All that said, some of the criticism against the NYT is valid.

I’m not sure the story itself “normalized” a white nationalist. The guy lives a normal life. That’s the point. These guys aren’t just militias hiding in Montana with a bunch of survival gear.

But …

A. Perhaps the story could’ve fact-checked itself. If someone’s going to claim the Holocaust is overblown, counter it with the historical record. We journalists don’t do enough of that. (See climate change.)

B. Where are the stories about other points of view?

Like this …

Or maybe we could talk about politicians beyond a simple identity label? For example, the first transgender state representative has a lot to say about the current political climate, all worth reading …

Click to keep reading the thread.

I’m normally not a fan of the “can’t walk and chew gum” argument against the media (or politicians, for that matter). One story on your friendly neighborhood Nazi out of the hundreds of stories the NYT produces each week does not reflect the full scope of reporting.

But …

Yeah. Let’s diversify a bit here.

 

 

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