I regret to inform you that the national mainstream media is at it again: willingly giving a platform to white nationalists.
On this morning’s TODAY show, NBC’s Peter Alexander interviewed the head of Identity Evropa, a racist group that describes itself as “identitarian” because it promotes white European “identity,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. TODAY framed the report as exposing a frightening new group attempting to recruit on college campuses, but the package does very little to actively push back on the group’s leader, Patrick Casey.
Alexander’s questions are tepid at best. When Alexander points out that you have to be white and non-Jewish to join the group, he asks: “Why isn’t that racist?” Casey responds that the group is “trying to move beyond the paradigm that includes buzzwords like ‘racist.’” He argues it is “identitarian,” to discriminate on the basis of identity, not racism. Presumably, Alexander thinks that Casey’s argument is so poor that its failure speaks for itself, that the viewer will be able to see how thin and unconvincing this argument is. He goes on to say this is how these groups “disguise” their white supremacist views.
But Alexander fails to understand that he hasn’t really challenged Casey at all by pointing out they’re racist, not just “identitarian.” Of course they fucking are! Identity Evropa isn’t scary because it’s tricking non-racists into supporting racist viewpoints through clever rhetoric, it’s scary because it’s organizing people who were already very racist to intimidate and harm people of color in a way that’s more compatible with, say, mainstream media coverage, than to explicitly identify as white supremacists. As the Daily Beast’s Kelly Weill reported, Identity Evropa “participated in the violent clashes at Charlottesville” but has since attempted to rebrand as more clean-cut. There’s a reason these guys get more coverage than your average Klan.
Alexander also asks in the interview: “Isn’t America’s diversity its greatest strength?” Casey replies that “that’s just a mantra that people repeat because it makes them feel good.” And then that’s it. There’s no further examination of why diversity is a good thing or why Casey is wrong about “diversity” being a meaningless mantra. Casey gets the last word on the question of diversity.
As Weill noted on Twitter, the piece is framed as a “rare look” inside the group, but these groups are desperate for publicity. They don’t care if you splutter, “but isn’t that racist?” to them on TV, as long as you’re talking to them—instead of to anyone who’s been negatively affected by the rise of white supremacy. The Anti-Defamation League’s Carla Hill told the UK’s Independent last year that groups like IE have capitalized on media coverage in the past, saying they’re able to “maximize the effects of such a small action.”
And after the interview aired this morning, Casey boasted that his group was immediately buoyed by the coverage:
As with many issues, the rise of white supremacists and white nationalists isn’t the easiest thing to cover correctly. It’s a balance of exposing their revolting ideas and not giving them a platform. But it’s perfectly possible to report on these groups and their attempts to take over the Republican Party without giving their views such a prominent, weakly-challenged platform.
There has been plenty of coverage of this meta-question, and plenty of smart analysis from people who cover the far-right that other journalists can turn to before they consider talking to these groups. The Guardian’s Lois Beckett and WNYC’s On the Media collaborated on a project on this very topic earlier this year, speaking with experts including Gizmodo Media’s own Anna Merlan to discuss best practices for reporting on the far-right. Many of the steps you can take are pretty obvious: You can work to ensure journalists of color have leading roles in coverage, for example, if the work can be done safely, as people of color are at much greater risk when dealing with these groups.
The question isn’t whether to cover these groups at all, but whether to give their leadership airtime on national TV and to allow them to repeat their talking points with minimal pushback. Plenty of outlets do excellent work in covering and exposing the workings of these groups; Splinter has done such work in the past. You cannot assume that just because you put scary music over the top and describe it as “chilling” that you aren’t ultimately hurting, rather than helping, the cause of anti-racism.
What I’m saying is: Giving white nationalists a platform in 2018? This ain’t it, chief.