Fear Factor

Is the Mainstream Media Normalizing Neo-Nazis?

The Los Angeles Times stands criticized for normalizing the white supremacist National Policy Institute.

When the Los Angeles Times’s social media team tweeted a link to a story about last Saturday’s celebratory post-election gathering in Washington of racists, anti-Semites, and white nationalists, the reaction—at least by some—was collective outrage.

“Worthless @latimes covers resurgent neo-Nazi movement as if it was a new boy band,” one of dozens of aggrieved readers tweeted after the paper touted the story on the benignly yet deceptively named National Policy Institute with the cheeky tweet, “Meet the new think tank in town: The ‘alt-right’ comes to Washington.”

“This tweet by the @latimes is beyond offensive,” liberal radio host Roland Martin posted on Twitter. “Calling these white nationalists a ‘think tank’ is atrocious.”

Another critic, actor Adam Shapiro, who was in the cast of Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs biopic, objected to the respectful attention the Times’s coverage of the conference accorded National Policy Institute president Richard Spencer, who is credited with coining the term “alt-right” for his fellow twenty- and thirty-something clean-cut millennials who would rather not be tagged as xenophobic thugs.

“WTF?! Why are you glamorizing this guy, @latimes? This is not a think tank. It’s a hate group,” Shapiro tweeted in response not only to Lisa Mascaro’s story—which quoted Spencer as hailing “the alt-right as an intellectual vanguard”—but also to an accompanying video in which the telegenic and articulate white nationalist was given four unchallenged minutes to reasonably explain his dream “to influence politics and influence culture” to restore white people of European descent to unquestioned power and social dominance, adding, “I think we have an amazing opportunity to do that with Donald Trump.”

Another tweeter, technology reporter Jack Smith IV, posted: “What ‘normalization’ ACTUALLY looks like: the @latimes running straight uploads of Richard Spencer sermons without qualification.”

In fairness, Mascaro’s story—which eventually carried an altered headline, dropping the “think tank” idea in favor of “White nationalists dress up and come to Washington in hopes of influencing Trump”—did point out that “the formally dressed men more resembled Washington lobbyists than the robed Ku Klux Klansmen or skinhead toughs that often represent white supremacists, though they share many familiar views.”

But unlike more unsympathetic accounts of the gathering in The New York Times and The Daily Beast, it made no mention of partygoers, including former MTV host Tila Tequila, jubilantly giving the Nazi salute and engaging in other less than democracy-friendly behavior.

Still, the LA Times story also quoted Heidi Beirich, of the anti-hate group nonprofit, the Southern Poverty Law Center, as warning against the “mainstreaming” of pernicious ideologies that the National Policy Institute represents.

On Monday, Beirich, while calling the LA Times’s Mascaro “thoughtful,” cautioned news outlets not to legitimize such groups with apparently balanced, if not credulous, coverage.

“I don’t want anything to normalize the National Policy Institute,” she told The Daily Beast. “I think there has been a tendency in the press to not understand what the alt-right is—which is white supremacy. And I think we’re letting haters basically rebrand themselves to sounds less threatening—and that is very disappointing. I worry about that.”

The LA Times’s spokesperson didn’t respond to an email requesting comment.