Donald McNeil Jr., now a former reporter at The New York Times, left the newspaper after allegedly saying “nig**r.” in a school trip to Peru in 2019.
McNeil has a 45-year career as a science journalist and is one of the star reporters on the coronavirus. He announced his departure on Friday, days after The Daily Beast reported that he had been reprimanded by The New York Times’ top brass due to a series of complaints the paper received from students and parents who accused the veteran journalist of using offensive and racist language during a 2019 trip to Peru.
This story prompted his resignation. In it, the portal says that there were complaints from parents and students who went to Peru alongside The New York Times reporter.
“Not only did Donald say various racist comments on numerous occasions, but he was also disrespectful to many students during mealtimes and in other settings,” said one participant.
“I would change journalists. He was a racist,” wrote another person. “He used the ‘N’ word, said horrible things about black teenagers, and said white supremacy doesn’t exist.”
But after that, an article published by Erik Wemple in The Washington Post delved a little deeper into what really happened between McNeil and the students.
The Post‘s media critic, Wemple said McNeil did, in fact, “he provided expertise about public health and science consistent with what the students had expected” but was somewhat “brusque and difficult” in the informal chat with the students.
According to Wemple’s article, the students confirmed that the journalist used the “n-word” during a discussion of the word itself, but that he “he uttered the epithet in a way that they perceived as casual, unnecessary or even gratuitous.”
“In a discussion of cultural appropriation, McNeil scoffed. Though the term applies to people in Western countries adopting fashions or other items from other cultures, McNeil offered the example of people all over the world eating imported Italian tomatoes, according to a student in attendance. What’s the problem with that?,” says Temple.
“Two students reported coming away with troubling impressions of McNeil’s view of white supremacy, with one of them claiming that he said it didn’t exist,” Wemple wrote.
“Speaking about high incarceration rates of African Americans, McNeil argued that if they engage in criminal activity, that’s on them, and not on an oppressive and racist power structure, recalls a trip participant who said that the comments were “triggering” to the group. The participant, however, said that McNeil’s opinions didn’t disparage African Americans.”
The Post‘s columnist mentioned that the approximately 20 students on the trip were “a predominantly white group with Progressive sensibilities.”
Wemple’s column was the trigger for journalists around the country to show their support for Donald McNeil, Jr.
“McNeil was fired for being sane,” said columnist Andrew Sullivan.
“Basically, McNeill spent almost 50 years reporting from global virus hot zones but nothing he did prepared him for contact with the American upper middle class’s social mores”, wrote Zaid Jilani.
“A predominantly white group of high school students who can afford a $5,500 trip to Peru with NYT reporters are the vanguard of the revolution,” tweeted Ryan Grim, DC bureau chief at The Intercept.
“Read this and rejoice that you are not subject to the completely arbitrary, repressive and punitive despots who rule the NYT despite not being on the masthead. What an appalling and dishonest debacle,” said Glenn Greenwald.
An internal war at The New York Times
But the support, or outrage, regarding the Donald McNeil, Jr. case was not only outside the ranks of The New York Times, but also within the trenches.
According to reports from the Daily Beast, more than 150 Times employees sent a letter to their bosses expressing “outrage” at the way the allegations against the reporter were handled. This small minority was not in tune with the first decision by the paper’s top brass, who decided not to fire McNeil, Jr. but only to give him a reprimand.
The 150 employees wanted more, and The New York Times bosses bowed to pressure and forced the veteran journalist to resign, according to the Daily Mail.
Outrage transcended after the reporter’s dismissal and reached private Facebook groups where Times reporters traded jabs regarding the McNeil case.
“Current and former staffers have been locked in heated debate since McNeil’s removal last week over whether it was justified, including on Twitter and in private Facebook group posts reviewed by conservative Web site Washington Free Beacon,” the New York Post’s Keith J. Kelly said.
““What ever happened to the notion of worker solidarity … to giving a fellow worker the benefit of the doubt,” complained former Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse in the private Facebook group.
Greenhouse accused staffers who pushed for McNeil’s ouster of being “far more willing to sympathize with these privileged 15- and 16-year-olds than with a long-time colleague who has done much great work for the Times over the years.”
This comment was countered by New York Times columnist Deb Amlen, who accused Greenhouse of victim-blaming. Why is it that the focus in discussions like this almost always [is] on ruining the perpetrator’s life, and not those who were harmed?”
On the other hand, the Washington Free Beacon noted that the Times had recently used “the N-word” in its own story about Princeton classics professor Daniel Padilla Peralta.