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Ex-NYT reporter Donald McNeil Jr breaks his silence over use of N-word

In a four-part post on Medium on Monday, Donald McNeil Jr. (above) described for the first time, in his own words, the context behind his use of the racial slur in 2019 

Former New York Times reporter Donald McNeil Jr. has broken his silence to say he doesn’t believe he is racist and that his colleagues were quick to turn on him after it emerged he had used the N-word during a company-sponsored school trip to Peru in 2019.

In a four-part post on Medium on Monday, the veteran science correspondent also described for the first time, in his own words, the context behind his use of the racial slur that led to him leaving his job of more than 40 years.

He said he was only speaking out publicly now because his lawyer had advised him to remain quiet until his official departure date of March 1. 

The ordeal involving McNeil began back in January when the Daily Beast reported that multiple students and parents had lodged complaints against McNeil back in 2019 for using the N-word during the Peru trip. 

The report also claimed that McNeil allegedly said white privilege does not exist and made disparaging comments about black people during the same trip.

McNeil said there was an investigation into his use of the slur and that he was punished at the time. 

After the complaints regarding the slur resurfaced, McNeil was initially allowed to keep his job but was later forced out after 150 NYT employees out of a global staff of 4,500 signed a letter slamming the handling of the decision. 

In his Medium post, McNeil admitted that he never thought his use of the N-word during that trip would have ended his decades-long career at the newspaper.

He said, however, that he doesn’t believe what has happened to him should be called a ‘witch hunt’, saying instead that it is a ‘series of misunderstandings and blunders’.  

Explaining the context behind his use of the word, McNeil said: ‘A student asked me if I thought her high school’s administration was right to suspend a classmate of hers for using the word in a video she’d made in eighth grade. 

He also detailed a phone conversation he had with NYT executive editor Dean Baquet (pictured) and deputy managing editor Carolyn Ryan on February 1 in which he was asked to announce his resignation

He also detailed a phone conversation he had with NYT executive editor Dean Baquet (pictured) and deputy managing editor Carolyn Ryan on February 1 in which he was asked to announce his resignation

McNeil’s take on the Peru N-word conversation: 

A student asked me: ‘Do you think one of my classmates should have been suspended for using the N-word in a video from two years ago?’

I said: ‘Well, wait – what exactly happened on this video? Did she actually call someone ‘n****r’? Or was she just using it in passing, like quoting the title of a book?’

She said: ‘She was in 8th grade and she was joking with a friend of hers who was black: She said ‘well you’re a lazy N’ or something like that, and she was Jewish, so her friend said ‘Well, you’re cheap Jew’ or something like that. And then two years later, someone who used to be her friend shared the video.’

I said: ‘This happened when she was in 8th grade? When she was 12 years old? And she was just goofing around with her friend? And the school suspends her for it two years later? I think that’s ridiculous. Everybody knows 12 year olds do dumb things. They’re kids. Somebody from the school should have talked to her, yes, but suspension? I think that’s insane.’

‘I said ‘Did she actually call someone a (‘offending word’)? Or was she singing a rap song or quoting a book title or something?’ When the student explained that it was the student, who was white and Jewish, sitting with a black friend and the two were jokingly insulting each other by calling each other offensive names for a black person and a Jew, I said ‘She was suspended for that? Two years later? No, I don’t think suspension was warranted. Somebody should have talked to her, but any school administrator should know that 12-year-olds say dumb things. It’s part of growing up’.’

After the exchange resurfaced in the Daily Beast report in January, McNeil said he repeatedly asked the NYT if he could clarify the context behind his conversation but was told to remain quiet.   

McNeil said he was willing to apologize but also wanted to clarify the circumstances and be given a chance to refute some of what he says were false allegations.  

He also detailed a phone conversation he had with NYT executive editor Dean Baquet and deputy managing editor Carolyn Ryan on February 1 in which he was asked to announce his resignation. 

McNeil recalled Baquet saying: ‘Donald, I know you… I know you’re not a racist. But Donald, you’ve lost the newsroom. People are hurt. People are saying they won’t work with you because you didn’t apologize.’ 

He said he told them he had written an apology that he’d sent to them a few days prior for approval but had heard nothing back. 

McNeil said Baquet responded: ‘You’ve lost the newsroom. A lot of your colleagues are hurt. A lot of them won’t work with you. Thank you for writing the apology. But we’d like you to consider adding to it that you’re leaving.’

McNeil recalled himself saying: ‘ARE YOU KIDDING? You want me to leave after 40-plus years? Over this? You know this is bulls**t. You know you looked into it and I didn’t do the things they said I did, I wasn’t some crazy racist, I was just answering the kids’ questions.’ 

He said in that conversation he refused to resign and told them he was going to hire a lawyer.  

Elsewhere in his post, McNeil hit back at claims that he is racist, saying: ‘Am I a racist? I don’t think so – after working in 60 countries over 25 years, I think I’m pretty good at judging people as individuals. But ‘am I a racist?’ is actually a harder question to answer about yourself than some self-righteous people think.’ 

After the complaints regarding the slur resurfaced, McNeil was initially allowed to keep his job but was later forced out after 150 NYT employees out of a global staff of 4,500 signed a letter slamming the handling of the decision

After the complaints regarding the slur resurfaced, McNeil was initially allowed to keep his job but was later forced out after 150 NYT employees out of a global staff of 4,500 signed a letter slamming the handling of the decision


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