Hey, KUOW: It's never okay to give a Nazi a platform

On Wednesday's edition of the daily news show The Record, KUOW reporter Bill Radke interviewed the man who was punched out for wearing a Nazi armband in downtown Seattle over the weekend. (For reasons that will hopefully be clear in a moment, I refuse to link to the interview. And for purposes of clarity, I am going to refer to the man who was interviewed as "the Nazi," not "the man wearing the Nazi armband." You cannot ironically dip your toe into Nazism. There are no half-Nazis in the world. If you wear a Nazi armband in a public place, you are a Nazi.)

This interview was an egregious mistake, on multiple levels. First of all, KUOW gave the Nazi a platform. This is not okay. Engaging in standard both-sides journalism with Nazis is exactly what they want. When you legitimize a Nazi with a platform, you are opening up the likelihood that the Nazi's ideology might infect others. Let's be very clear about what that ideology is: Nazis want to exterminate anyone who is not like them. By allowing this man to speak on their show, they were airing a threat of violence to Seattle's POC, LGBTQ, and Jewish communities.

Second of all, KUOW allowed the Nazi to remain anonymous. They let him hide his identity because he was worried he might suffer repercussions for his disgusting ideology. When you separate a Nazi from the consequences of his heinous worldview, you are empowering that Nazi, and emboldening him to make future actions.

Third of all, Radke debated the Nazi as though his worldview was a legitimate one. I'm sure he thought he was outsmarting the Nazi, and if you were to grade the conversation like it was a high school debate, Radke would certainly have been the "winner" of the debate. But that's not what Nazis want from a platform. What the Nazi wanted from KUOW, and what he received from them, was an opportunity to make himself sympathetic. He wasn't trying to humanize himself to the majority of KUOW's audience — he was speaking directly to the fringes of that audience. He was trying to normalize his ideology to the handful of people who might be receptive to it.

Let's be clear about this: last weekend, one man put a Nazi armband on and stood on a street corner in Seattle. Because KUOW allowed him to speak on their show, there could very likely be two men in Nazi armbands next time. Then four. Then eight. This is exactly how it starts.

Nazism is a virus made out of language. It infects angry and disaffected young men, and if it spreads too far it ends in violence and death and genocide. We know this because it happened. We can't allow ourselves to forget how easily it happened in Germany, and we cannot allow ourselves to believe that it could never happen here. It is happening here right now; it is incumbent on all of us to make sure that it spreads no further.

So what can you do?

  1. Do not under any circumstances give money to KUOW until they apologize for their actions and vow to never make this mistake again. I'm not saying this lightly; I have friends who work at KUOW and I have great respect for some of their reporters. But the only message that consistently gets through to people in charge at media organizations is money. By not giving money to KUOW, and by letting them know during their fall pledge drive that you will never support an organization that gives Nazis a platform and allows them to hide under the cloak of anonymity, you are sending a powerful statement.

  2. Don't listen to KUOW, don't give their website any clicks, and unsubscribe from all KUOW podcasts. After money, the thing that media management cares most about is traffic. This isn't too difficult for people in Seattle to do; this region is lucky enough to have another NPR station — one that doesn't amplify the messages of Nazis.

  3. Don't appear on KUOW as a guest. I'm proud to say that the Seattle Review of Books is read by many local authors and artists and journalists. I'm begging of you: if KUOW approaches you to guest on their shows, or if a local organization asks you to appear in an event that KUOW is sponsoring, say no. Explain why. Be polite but be firm. Media organizations like KUOW depend on a community of thoughtful people to provide their expertise. This community needs to let KUOW know that we will not support an organization that supports Nazis.

  4. Before you make that lofty argument about KUOW's right to free speech, ask yourself a few questions. If you're about to argue that KUOW should give everyone a platform, please — please! — stop and take a breath. Go look in a mirror. Ask yourself this: do I enjoy privilege in my life that might be obfuscating my opinion right now? If you're a white American and you're arguing on behalf of the Nazi, seriously ask yourself: if I were a person of color, would I still feel this way? If I were the child of a Holocaust survivor, would I be making this argument? It's easy to make academic highfaluting arguments when your safety and security isn't on the line. Stop and take a moment and ask yourself: what if I were one of the people these Nazis were targeting? How would I feel then?

Again, I want to reiterate: KUOW employs some good people. I'm not interested in harassing KUOW employees on Twitter, or tattooing guilt across anyone for the rest of their lives. Everybody makes mistakes, and a daily news organization has plenty of opportunities to make mistakes.

But these are not normal times. There's a white supremacist in the White House and he is emboldening a new generation of Nazis. We must make sure that our local news organizations understand exactly what's at stake here, and that the normal rules of journalism don't apply. This is not a matter of talking to both sides of a neighborhood zoning dispute. This is an existential crisis for America, and we are confronting pure evil. We cannot allow Nazis a platform to infect others with their anti-human ideology. It is up to all of us to stand up for what's right.