The Nazi-Sympathizing New York Times

According to The New York Times, The New York Times is the savior of journalism in the Trump era, a rare purveyor of truth in a time of fake news and alternative facts. After Donald Trump’s slim Electoral College victory, The New York Times cleverly marketed itself as a voice of resistance, receiving more new subscriptions in the final three months of 2016 than it had the entire previous year.

So why is this highly respected journalistic institution now publishing pieces that serve as little more than Nazi propaganda?

In the past few days, The New York Times has published two profiles portraying literal Nazi sympathizers in a glowing light. The first was a profile on rising conservative darling Ben Shapiro, a virulent bigot whose hatred for marginalized bodies runs so deep that he defends the genocide of indigenous peoples, celebrates the police murders of unarmed black men, and spends at least half of his waking hours attacking transgender people.

Yet The New York Times lovingly characterized Shapiro as a fearless intellectual, a “destroyer of weak arguments” – like the fact that transgender people exist? – whose success and popularity represents a bright future for the conservative movement, one that appeals to bigots both young and old.

Just two days later, The New York Times published an even more egregious piece playfully titled “In America’s Heartland, the Nazi Sympathizer Next Door.” (The title of the article has since been changed to “A Voice of Hate in America’s Heartland,” but a) that’s still terrible, for reasons I will dig into later, and b) the damage has been done.) The piece, as Jamelle Bouie tweeted, characterizes a literal Nazi “as if he’s just an odd curiosity and not part of a violent and dangerous movement.”

This is the liberal media’s false equivalency problem taken to the extreme. The New York Times has a history of promoting bigoted cisgender white voices with no consideration for the facts it so claims to cherish. Rather than hold bigoted columnists accountable for their falsehoods about marginalized identities, The New York Times has been happy to allow harmful lies about transgender people, Black people, and other marginalized folks to reach a massive audience with no thought given to how these lies will tangibly affect marginalized bodies.

According to The New York Times, civil rights policy is “racial preference policy,” transgender rights are a “clash of values,” and Nazis are just our harmless neighbors who enjoy the same beloved television series you do and also, oh yeah, believe in literal genocide.

As journalist Sean McElwee pointed out, this stands in stark contrast with how The New York Times is willing to portray marginalized bodies like that of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black 18-year-old who was murdered by the police.

Yet none of this is surprising to me. This is simply what happens when those at the top have no understanding of the consequences of the words they promote with their platform.

For the white folks in charge at The New York Times, for all of these white liberal journalists covering Nazis as if they pose no threat to marginalized bodies and our democracy at large, this is just journalism. The weight of these pieces is simply not felt, as they do not have the lived experiences (or apparently the empathy) to understand that sharing the words and thoughts of bigots without holding said bigots accountable is dangerous and irresponsible.

And it’s not just the two Nazi-friendly pieces published recently. It goes far deeper than that. It’s the small stuff, like how The New York Times used the word “heartland.” Even after the well-deserved backlash to the piece that caused The New York Times to change the title of the piece, they still will not change the most harmful and insidious language, the framing that makes the entire article irredeemable.

To The New York Times, the “heartland” of the United States of America is white supremacy. In a sense, they’re not wrong. But this mindset should not be thoughtlessly embraced. For a long time, but especially since the rise of Donald Trump in the political sphere, we have seen the liberal media obsess over “real America,” a mythical land of white people and only white people, who supposedly feel left behind by the rapidly changing world and oppressed by the small gains made by marginalized folks in the past years, particularly under the country’s first black president. New York Magazine, The New York Times, POLITICO, The Washington Post, and the other liberal/centrist laser-focused on the Donald Trump supporters who supposedly represent the true heart of the United States do not recognize the ridiculousness of their obsession on these racists who supposedly deserve sympathy because being called out by people of color for being racist is really hard. It’s not that they don’t recognize the existence of people of color, that the United States is becoming browner and more diverse each and every day; they legitimately believe that whiteness is and should be the norm, that Donald Trump’s white supremacist vision for our country is valid and valient, because that’s how whites, including liberals, maintain power.

Ultimately, this is an issue not limited to the newsroom. Three-quarters of white Americans have no friends of color. A quarter of Americans refuse to even entertain the idea of being friends with a transgender person. We live in a deeply segregated society in which the powerful have little interest in or incentive to engage with the marginalized. So it’s no wonder that liberal publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post fundamentally view the world through a white cisgender lens, regardless of how many token people of color and transgender people they occasionally invite to use their platform.

Remember Heather Heyer? On August 12, 2017, she was murdered by a white supremacist in Charlottesville. She was an anti-fascist protestor standing up against white supremacy and Nazism, and she lost her life fighting for justice and equality. She was 32 years old.

But she has been forgotten. In the aftermath of Charlottesville, the liberal media spent more time attacking anti-fascists like Heather Heyer than the Nazis who murdered her. If an anti-fascist has murdered a white supremacist in Charlottesville, you can be sure that we’d still be hearing about both of them, with the white supremacist being portrayed sympathetically and the anti-fascist disdainfully. For even liberal whites, white supremacy is normal, while any challenge to it, even from fellow whites like Heather Heyer, is a threat to the system that keeps them in power.

In my eyes, liberal publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post have done more to normalize white supremacy than Donald Trump and Breitbart even could. And that’s because these major liberal publications serve as gatekeepers. They are legitimately respected, and legitimately do good and important work, such as their reporting on Russia. What they say matters. For the millions of white cisgender Americans who have no friends of color and know little about transness, a New York Times profile may be the closest interaction they have with marginalized bodies. Center-left publications truly shape public opinion and have an impact on how breaking, important stories are framed. It’s in part because of this great responsibility that The New York Times and other liberal publications misguidedly attempt to paint everything with an “objective” brush, to come off as an editorially non-partisan publication. By promoting the voices of both transgender Americans and virulently anti-transgender bigots, both Black Lives Matter proponents and those who celebrate Black death, liberal publications are supposedly not stuck in the much-maligned “liberal bubble.” Rather, they are open to all perspectives and unbiased in their reporting.

Unfortunately, that’s nonsense. There is no “both sides” to transness. There is no “both sides” to Black Lives Matter. When it comes to marginalized identities, one side is right and the other is wrong. There are no valid arguments against the existence of transgender people or against the fact that Black lives matter. There is only hatred and bigotry, which are rooted only in lies and misconceptions. Sure, you can cover these lies and misconceptions, but only if they are characterized as such.

There is nothing dishonest about portraying Nazis as bad. It is not biased to recognize that Ben Shapiro is an awful bigot. Marginalized identities are not subjective, they are not “opinions” to be politely debated about by white cisgender elites at Politicon. Words uttered and written about marginalized identities have an impact on marginalized bodies. As Symone D. Sanders noted, positive portrayals of racism are exactly how racism becomes even more normal than it already is.

It is the responsibility of journalists to give their readers a comprehensive, truthful understanding of everything they cover. And what The New York Times did with “In America’s Heartland, the Nazi Sympathizer Next Door” and what liberal publications have done countless times in their writing on marginalized identities is wildly irresponsible.

If we are to truly save journalism from the swamp of fake news and alternative facts, we must hold all news outlets accountable for their reporting. The New York Times may know how to cover Russia, but it sure as shit doesn’t know how to cover marginalized bodies and the bigots that target them. The white cisgender lens shamelessly embraced by the liberal media must be broken. If it is not, marginalized bodies will pay the price.

Jordan Valerie is a cinephile, filmmaker, journalist, political activist, and proud queer woman of color currently serving as Politics Editor of Millennial Politics and Host of the Millennial Politics Podcast.

You can find her on Twitter and Medium @jordanvalallen and pay her at PayPal.Me/jordanvalallen.


Leave a Reply