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Hovstad is the hypocritical editor of the People's Messenger, who claims that he wants to help "emancipate the downtrodden." In truth, his only concern is in capturing a story that will help to sell newspapers. He at first agrees to print the doctor's article about the contamination of the baths, for he feels the story will sell papers. When he is confronted by the Burgomaster, who tries to disprove the doctor's claims, Hovstad quickly abandons Dr. Stockmann and decides to print the Bugomaster's side in the paper, realizing it is the more popular view. Hovstad never wants to go against public opinion, for it could cost him readers.
Despite his words, Hovstad proves by his actions that he lacks a sense of independence. He is afraid to stand up to the Burgomaster; instead, he becomes his follower in accusing the doctor and helping to convince the citizens that Dr. Stockmann is indeed an enemy of the people. Hovstad also proves that he is an opportunist. He suspects that Morten Kiil is buying all the shares of the baths in collusion with Dr. Stockmann; he fears that the two men could someday control the town as a result. Therefore, he wants to appease the doctor and place the Messenger at his disposal. Dr. Stockmann is so appalled at his allegations and suggestions that he literally drives Hovstad out of his house with an umbrella. It is the proper treatment for such a hypocritical and manipulative man.
Aslaksen is a wealthy man who has considerable clout in the town; since he finances the People's Messenger, he has ultimate control of what will be printed in the town. He is also the representative of the citizen majority, serving as the leader of the Homeowners' Association and the Temperance Society. His basic philosophy of life is to take a moderate approach to everything and to strive not to upset anyone. In fact, Aslaksen seeks to please all of the people all of the time.
At first Aslaksen supports Dr. Stockmann in the matter of baths, believing that the public will be harmed if the contamination is not corrected; but he cautions the doctor to proceed with caution and moderation in his approach to correcting the problem. Aslaksen does not want him to hurt the authorities or the citizens. In truth, Aslaksen is a "weak-kneed, half-hearted coward." When the Burgomaster claims that the doctor's article is false, Aslaksen, like Hovstad, quickly abandons the doctor to throw his support to the more popular viewpoint.
At the citizens' meeting, Aslaksen is elected Chairman and denies Dr. Stockmann the privilege of speaking about the contamination of the baths. He fails, however, to control Dr. Stockmann from lashing out at the corrupt bureaucrats who are led by the Burgomaster. He calls Aslaksen and the other leaders "social pests" and claims they are corrupting the moral values of society. Aslaksen then becomes instrumental in having the doctor declared an enemy of the people. At the end of the play, he fears that the doctor may regain power by buying all the shares of the bath stock with Kiil. As a result, he comes, with Hovstad, to try and placate Dr. Stockman. The doctor is furious at Aslaksen and drives him out of his home.