Low-IQ porridge results: What happens when the nation's smartest newspaper profiles a high-ranking Nazi?
Answer: We get to see that the work of the New York Times may not always be real smart.
The profile, written by Richard Fausset, appeared in the Sunday Times. In a subsequent attempt to explain the piece, national editor Marc Lacey identified Fausset as "one of [the New York Times'] smartest thinkers and best writers."
Fausset is "one of [the New York Times'] smartest thinkers!" If that is true, it doesn't speak especially well for the New York Times. In the end, his profile of this top Nazi operates at a slow, dull-witted level. We're told that the Nazi enjoys his pets. The truth is, we don't learn much else.
Let's start with a minor correction. The Nazi in question, Tony Hovater, really isn't a top-ranking Nazi. He's a 29-year-old welder from New Carlisle, Ohio who "helped start the Traditionalist Worker Party, one of the extreme right-wing groups that marched in Charlottesville, Va., in August."
Hovater helped start this party in 2015. It doesn't seem that the group is about to take over the nation. In the passage shown below, Fausset reports the size of the group. Based upon what Fausset reports, it isn't entirely clear why he bothered to profile this fellow at all:
FAUSSET (11/26/17): [T]he movement is no joke. The party, Mr. Hovater said, is now approaching 1,000 people. He said that it has held food and school-supply drives in Appalachia. “These are people that the establishment doesn’t care about,” he said.According to Fausset's expert source, Hovater's party may have 200 people. Meanwhile, the entire "alt-right" movement may number "in the tens of thousands."
Marilyn Mayo, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, estimated that the Traditionalist Worker Party had a few hundred members at most, while Americans who identify as “alt-right” could number in the tens of thousands.
“It is small in the grand scheme of things, but it’s one of the segments of the white supremacist movement that’s grown over the last two years,” she said.
In a nation of 330 million, do those numbers justify an attempt to plumb Hovater's thinking? Maybe they do and maybe they don't—but Fausset goes about that task in a markedly lazy, uninquisitive way.
Very few things about Hovater's thinking ever get nailed down at all. Early on, we're told that Hovater "flatly denounc[es] the concept of democracy," but we're never quite told what he'll be throwing overboard, or what he imagines taking the place of our current systems, frail though they may be.
He denounces the concept of democracy? What would he favor instead? With Fausset seeming to ask few questions, this is as close as we get:
FAUSSET: He said he wanted to see the United States become “an actually fair, meritocratic society.” Absent that, he would settle for a white ethno-state “where things are fair, because there’s no competing demographics for government power or for resources.”Does that mean that Hovater'a first choice would be a multiracial, meritocratic state? As with almost everything else, Fausset doesn't ask. Hovater, therefore, doesn't tell.
His fascist ideal, he said, would resemble the early days in the United States, when power was reserved for landowners “and, you know, normies didn’t really have a whole hell of a lot to say.”
Let's ask a few more questions. In Hovater's ideal state—it would apparently be meritocratic and fascist—how much land would a person have to own to gain access to "power?" What types of "power" would landowners get? Fausset asks no such questions, gets even fewer answers.
Meanwhile, what does Hovater think about race? At one point, Fausset offers this:
FAUSSET: He is adamant that the races are probably better off separated, but he insists he is not racist. He is a white nationalist, he says, not a white supremacist. There were mixed-race couples at the wedding. Mr. Hovater said he was fine with it.What does Hovater mean when he says he's "not racist?" Fausset doesn't quite ask or say. Is Hovater really friendly with mixed-race couples? Fausset takes no names, offers no confirmation.
“That’s their thing, man,” he said.
Online it is uglier. On Facebook, Mr. Hovater posted a picture purporting to show what life would have looked like if Germany had won World War II: a streetscape full of happy white people, a bustling American-style diner and swastikas
“What part is supposed to look unappealing?” he wrote.
"Online it is uglier," Fausset says, but he doesn't seem to have tried to test this impression on Hovater.
He quotes Hovater making a banal remark about how great it would be if Hitler had won World War II. Fausset says the photograph in question is ugly, but he doesn't test Hovater's thinking.
“What part [of that picture] is supposed to look unappealing?” Could it be the part where we see the bodies of all the people who would have been killed to bring that wonderful world into being?
What did Hovater says when asked? Fausset didn't ask, so Hovater didn't tell.
We noted the fact that Lacey, Fausset's editor, thinks Fausset is very smart. We found zero evidence of that trait in this profile.
Meanwhile, Fausset says the same darn thing about Hovater! Here's how he starts his own attempt to explain the controversial profile he wrote:
FAUSSET (11/26/17A): There is a hole at the heart of my story about Tony Hovater, the white nationalist and Nazi sympathizer.We don't favor the exhibitionistic flogging of people like Hovater. But what in the world made Fausset think that Hovater is "intelligent?" Was it the part of the profile where Hovater makes these banal remarks?
Why did this man—intelligent, socially adroit and raised middle class amid the relatively well-integrated environments of United States military bases—gravitate toward the furthest extremes of American political discourse?
FAUSSET (11/26/17): It was midday at a Panera Bread, and Mr. Hovater was describing his political awakening over a turkey sandwich...We're not in favor of beating up on people who are perhaps strangely dumb That said, are Fausset and Hovater possibly peas in a pod?
He declared the widely accepted estimate that six million Jews died in the Holocaust “overblown.” He said that while the Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler wanted to exterminate groups like Slavs and homosexuals, Hitler “was a lot more kind of chill on those subjects.”
“I think he was a guy who really believed in his cause,” he said of Hitler. “He really believed he was fighting for his people and doing what he thought was right.”
Imagine! At the New York Times, "one of the smartest thinkers" listened to someone talk nonsense like that about the Holocaust and about Hitler. He came away with a weird assessment; the smartest thinker at the Times called that person "intelligent!" That may be all we need to know about the state of our journalism.
What is this profile really like? Structurally, it's a standard type of middlebrow profile—the type of profile which is designef to get its kick from some apparent contradiction which is in fact utterly fatuous.
In the world of comedy, such profiles sit beneath headlines like this:
To Comedian A, getting laughs is serious business!In the world of corporate press promotions, such profiles get built around piddle like this:
Journalist A is the TV star who doesn't own a TV set!The modern journo loves contradictions—and the more fatuous the better. Fausset's profile works from this hook:
I met a Nazi who goes to the mall and loves to play with his pets!Is Fausset one of the Times' smartest thinkers? It's entirely possible! But in this profile, the banality of evil has seemed to meet the sheer fatuity of the modern press.
Which of the two has been doing more harm? Did we mention the fact that Hovater's party has maybe 200 members?