NEW YORK, N.Y. – For all the words flowing since last weekend in Charlottesville, the most striking television reporting has been Vice Media’s insider account of the white nationalist movement and what it has wrought.
Correspondent Elle Reeve’s initial story of the weekend violence took up the entirety of HBO’s half-hour “Vice News Tonight” broadcast Monday and by Thursday had been viewed more than 36 million times on TV and online. Reeve’s expertise from reporting on the intersection of the internet and white supremacy movement over 18 months helped vividly illustrate attitudes and tensions.
In the process she put the alternative nightly newscast, which debuted last Oct. 16, on the map.
“What distinguishes us is being on the road and trying to be in the middle of an event as much as we can just to show people what is happening,” said Josh Tyrangiel, executive vice-president of news at Vice. “It felt very much like a moment for us.”
MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace called it “an extraordinary piece of work. I encourage everyone to watch the whole thing.”
While Reeve couldn’t have anticipated the violence, she expected the event would be significant because it would get a large turnout and was bringing together factions that typically have little use for one another.
Vice’s cameras not only captured chants of “Jews will not replace us” during the march, Reeve interviewed members of the movement explaining their bigotry. One man directs anti-Semitic remarks at President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner: “Donald Trump gives his daughter to a Jew,” he complained. Another profanely says that they will “kill these people (Jews and blacks) if we have to.”
In one startling moment, Reeve and a camera person push their way into a van carrying some of the white nationalist leaders.
“It’s not enough to say, ‘these people are bad,'” Reeve said. “You have to say why they are bad.”
Or, more precisely, show it. The report, which generally eschews narration, takes viewers through the weekend confrontation in the immersive style that characterizes Vice’s work. In its coverage of the events surrounding Heather Heyer’s death, Vice interviews a man who fruitlessly tried to revive her.
Reeve said it was important to let demonstrators know she wasn’t frightened or intimidated by them.
“Many were quite hostile to me,” she said. “But I did not want to let that show on my face.”
Reeve was still in Virginia reporting on the story Thursday. She said no one in the white nationalist movement has talked to her about her reporting, and she has no interest in reading what they might be saying about her online.
Her boss, Tyrangiel, said the sources Reeve built paid off this week. She’s paid close attention to the distinctions between the people and ideologies within the movement, he said.
“There aren’t that many people who have taken the time to really examine it,” he said. “She’s able to get more access than most. That said, a lot of what we got last weekend wasn’t as much about access as it was insistence.”
Tyrangiel said he didn’t want anyone to confuse getting to know these activists with getting to like them.
“One of the things that we were very careful about was that we could not be used,” he said. “We don’t want to be in a position where we’ll helping to get their message across. At the same time, this is a very important story.”