The New York Times star reporter on the coronavirus pandemic, Donald McNeil Jr., 66, has been accused of making offensive comments, including using the N-word on a 2019 student trip to Peru
The New York Times has stopped short of firing one of its most prominent reporters despite claims he used the N-word during a Times-branded student trip to Peru.
Donald McNeil Jr., 66, whose writing on the coronavirus pandemic over the last year has been submitted for a Pulitzer prize, is alleged to have used the racial slur in front of a group of 26 students and some of their parents.
But the Times has decided not to fire him after its editor believed McNeil did not use the words with ‘hateful or malicious’ intent.
The incident comes just a week after the paper ended the contract of an editor after she tweeted that she had ‘chills’ watching President-elect Biden’s plane landing at Andrew Air Force Base shortly before his inauguration.
In McNeil’s case, more details were revealed by the newspaper in a statement on Thursday night.
‘In 2019, Donald McNeil Jr. participated in a Student Journeys trip as an expert,’ The Times said in the statement. ‘We subsequently became aware of complaints by some of the students on the trip concerning certain statements Donald had made during the trip.
‘We conducted a thorough investigation and disciplined Donald for statements and language that had been inappropriate and inconsistent with our values.
‘We found he had used bad judgment by repeating a racist slur in the context of a conversation about racist language. In addition, we apologized to the students who had participated in the trip.’
The Times would not provide details of how McNeil had been disciplined.
McNeil, who has worked for the paper since 1976 and is a science and health reporter, has also declined to comment on the claims.
Students and parents complained to the tour company and the newspaper that Donald McNeil Jr. made sexist or racist remarks on the trip. Pictured, The New York Times Building HQ
Students who were on the trip to Peru together with their parents complained McNeil used the ‘n-word,’ said that white supremacy did not exist.
He is also said to have made other disrespectful comments about black teens while on the trip, according to the Daily Beast.
A photo from the $5,000-a-head trip seen by the Beast showed 26 students took part.
From the group, at least six complained to the tour company that McNeil used racially insensitive or racist language.
‘I expect immediate action on the actions taken by Donald, I am deeply disappointed about the New York Times because of the comments he made during our trip. I think firing him would even be appropriate,’ one traveller wrote.
McNeil joined the Times in 1976 and his his COVID-19 coverage has been submitted for a Pulitzer Prize for public-service journalism
‘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,’ another stated in their review.
‘I would change the journalist. He was a racist,’ a third person wrote. ‘He used the ‘N’ word, said horrible things about black teenagers, and said white supremacy doesn’t exist.’
‘He made students in the program feel uncomfortable with his remarks. I was really disappointed after hearing great things about his work,’ added a fourth participant.
On Thursday night, the Times’ editor Dean Baquet, pictured, sent an email to staff at the paper explaining what had happened and said McNeil’s conduct did not appear to be ‘hateful or malicious.’
On Thursday night, the Times’ editor Dean Baquet sent an email to staff at the paper explaining what had happened.
Baquet said he had authorized an investigation into McNeil’s conduct but found that his intentions did not appear to be ‘hateful or malicious.’
‘When I first heard the story, I was outraged and expected I would fire him. I authorized an investigation and concluded his remarks were offensive and that he showed extremely poor judgment, but that it did not appear to me that his intentions were hateful or malicious,’ Baquet wrote.
‘I believe that in such cases people should be told they were wrong and given another chance. He was formally disciplined. He was not given a pass.’
Baquet admitted that the Times had been ‘too tolerant in disciplining high-profile journalists.’
‘Fair treatment has to be the foundation of the diverse and equitable newsroom we are building,’ he wrote.
McNeil’s racist comments come when the paper has been the subject of controversy.
Last week, the Times came in for criticism after ending the contract of editor Lauren Wolfe after she tweeted that she had ‘chills’ on Joe Biden’s inauguration day.
Wolfe lost her gig with the paper, where she had started working last May, after tweeting: ‘Biden landing at Joint Base Andrews now. I have chills.’
Lauren Wolfe lost her gig as a New York Times freelance editor last week
Lauren Wolfe lost her gig with the paper, where she had started working last May, after tweeting: ‘Biden landing at Joint Base Andrews now. I have chills’
She also tweeted that Trump was ‘mortifying’ and ‘childish’ for having refused to send Biden a military place to bring him to D.C. She later deleted that tweet after acknowledging that it was inaccurate, and Biden had made the choice not to take a military plane
In her new blog Wolfe says she has ‘spent two decades in journalism or press freedom advocacy’. She detailed covering rape in Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo
Wolfe also tweeted that Trump was ‘mortifying’ and ‘childish’ for having refused to send Biden a military place to bring him to D.C. She later deleted that tweet after acknowledging Biden had made the choice not to take a military plane.
On Tuesday Wolfe launched her own site to defend her post, asking ‘is it cold in here?’ and arguing that working at the paper was like ‘being in a shoe that was a bit too tight’.
She added: ‘I was fired from my only straight news job I’ve ever had last week — because I expressed emotion publicly on something I should not have, according to the publication.’
But Wolfe argues the tweet was ‘the only reason they fired me’, calling their statement on the matter ‘a shot at my reputation’.
The Times had said Wolfe’s dismissal was not on the basis of the tweet alone, but did not comment any further on the reasons for letting her go.