The New York Times is issuing a non-apology apology after being criticized by a major Jewish organization for an article that critics said was too kind to an American Nazi sympathizer.
The national editor of the Times, Marc Lacey, published a note responding to reader complaints about the Times article.
“We understand that some readers wanted more pushback, and we hear that loud and clear,” Lacey wrote, without taking a position on whether those readers were correct or incorrect.
“We regret the degree to which the piece offended so many readers,” Lacey wrote. That’s an odd formulation. It doesn’t say that the newspaper regrets publishing the piece. It just says it regrets that readers got so worked up about it.
The note by Lacey described the reporter who wrote the Times article, Richard Fausset, as “one of our smartest thinkers and best writers.” If Fausset is among the “smartest” thinkers at the Times, one shudders to imagine the newspaper’s dimmer bulbs. Perhaps Lacey can do readers the service of naming those less smart Timesmen or Timeswomen in a follow-up note, so readers can beware their work. In any event, what’s at issue here isn’t intelligence, or smarts, but a kind of basic moral keel or common sense that appeared to be lacking in the piece the Times published.
The CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, had criticized the article, writing on Twitter, “It’s critical for the press, when covering professional hatemongers, to avoid treating the abnormal as normal or to humanize the inhumane. By that basic measure, I’d score this NYTimes piece: Nazis- 1, Public- 0.”
The Washington counsel of the ADL and the director of its Civil Rights Policy Planning Center, Michael Lieberman, asked on Twitter, “Why would they sugarcoat and normalize this next door #Nazi #WhiteSupremacist?”
The editor of the Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg, who early in his journalistic career was known for seeking out Nazis and confronting them, published a parody of the Times article and retweeted a tweet that described it as “that awful @nytimes ‘Nazis are just like us!’ dreck.”
There’s a difference between reporting on a Nazi sympathizer and endorsing his views. Some of the anger at the Times piece may stem from a conflation or confusion of those two things, or from blaming the messenger — the Times — for the bad news that some Americans are falling under the sway of bigotry.
But the tone of the Times piece is indeed strangely amiable. It describes the Nazi sympathizer as registering for a muffin pan at Target as a wedding gift, watching “Seinfeld,” and “at home, sautéing minced garlic with chili flakes and waiting for his pasta to boil.” It’s hard to imagine the Times running a similarly sympathetic profile of, say, one of the men accused of harassing or assaulting women, or even of an Al Qaeda terrorist after September 11. (Though on September 11, 2001, the Times did publish an admiring profile of the bomber Bill Ayers.)
The whole situation is ironic, because the Times itself has been highly critical of the Breitbart.com website run by Trump associate Stephen Bannon for providing a megaphone to the so-called Alt-Right or Nazi sympathizers. Now the Times itself is playing the same game it condemns Breitbart for, milking the extremists for page views while only mildly distancing itself from the content. And it’s on the receiving end of the same criticism it has dished out to both Breitbart and President Trump, accused, fairly or unfairly, of coddling Nazis.
(C) 2017 . The Algemeiner . Ira Stoll