“It is now official NYT policy that for some words, intent does not matter, and it only takes one strike to sink a 47-year career,” Reason editor-at-large Matt Welch said of NYT reporter Donald McNeil Jr.’s resignation.
Last week, the Daily Beast reported that New York Times health and science reporter Donald McNeil Jr. had landed himself in hot water with the paper over allegations he used racially offensive and sexist language during a 2019 student trip to Peru. The educational trip, which was open to high school and middle school students and their families, was sponsored by the Times.
According to the Daily Beast, the complaints about McNeil Jr. started after the 2019 trip ended:
After the excursion ended, according to multiple parents of students on the trip who spoke with The Daily Beast along with documents shared with the Times and reviewed by the Beast, many participants relayed a series of troubling accusations to the paper: McNeil repeatedly made racist and sexist remarks throughout the trip including, according to two complaints, using the “n-word.”
Two students specifically alleged that the science reporter used the “n-word” and suggested he did not believe in the concept of white privilege; three other participants alleged that McNeil made racist comments and used stereotypes about Black teenagers.
A spokesman for the paper told the DB that a “thorough investigation” had been conducted and that McNeil Jr. had been disciplined. According to that same spokesman, the investigation found that the paper’s top coronavirus reporter “had used bad judgment by repeating a racist slur in the context of a conversation about racist language.”
Dean Baquet, the executive editor for the New York Times, said initially he wanted to fire McNeil after hearing of the allegations, but after the investigation was conducted, he concluded that the “remarks were offensive and that he showed extremely poor judgment, but it did not appear to me that his intentions were hateful or malicious.”
This did not make at least 150 of McNeil Jr.’s colleagues very happy. They penned a letter to Baquet and others in senior leadership positions at the paper just a few days after the DB’s initial report and demanded the reporter apologize for the use of the n-word:
… the signees called upon newspaper brass to conduct further investigation of the complaints against McNeil; an apology from McNeil to the students and their parents, tour staffers, and his fellow Times colleagues.
“We, his colleagues, feel disrespected by his actions,” the letter said. “The company has a responsibility to take that experience seriously.”
But the company’s conclusion about McNeil’s intent was “irrelevant,” the irate staffers wrote in the letter, adding that the paper’s own harassment training “makes clear that what matters is how an act makes the victims feel; Mr. McNeil’s victims weren’t shy about decrying his conduct on the trip.”
Two days later, Baquet announced McNeil “will be leaving the company.” In a note to Times staffers, Baquet proclaimed “we do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent”:
Donald McNeil has left the company, say Dean and Joe. pic.twitter.com/sgTD52Bdit
— marc tracy (@marcatracy) February 5, 2021
Considering the paper’s investigation concluded McNeil did not intend to be “hateful or malicious” by using the n-word “in the context of a conversation about racist language,” the “regardless of intent” part of Baquet’s Friday statement is key, especially once you read McNeil’s apology letter and find out exactly what the context was:
“On a 2019 New York Times trip to Peru for high school students, I was asked at dinner by a student whether I thought a classmate of hers should have been suspended for a video she made as a 12-year-old in which she used a racial slur,” McNeil began the letter, which was obtained by The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple. “To understand what was in the video, I asked if she had called someone else the slur or whether she was rapping or quoting a book title. In asking the question, I used the slur myself.
“I should not have done that. Originally, I thought the context in which I used this ugly word could be defended. I now realize that it cannot. It is deeply offensive and hurtful. The fact that I even thought I could defend it itself showed extraordinarily bad judgment. For that I apologize,” McNeil wrote.
After expressing an apology to the students on the trip, the 66-year-old reporter acknowledged that his “lapse of judgment” has hurt his colleagues and the institution itself, which “puts its confidence in me and expected better.”
“So for offending my colleagues – and for anything I’ve done to hurt the Times, which is an institution I love and whose mission I believe in and try to serve – I am sorry. I let you all down,” McNeil concluded.
Includes McNeil apology: pic.twitter.com/Ikit7xs08i
— marc tracy (@marcatracy) February 5, 2021
So it appears McNeil, who had been with the paper for 47 years, was forced out for using the n-word after being asked about its usage by a student on that 2019 trip.
Other writers and journalists condemned the New York Times and McNeil’s co-workers at the paper for boiling a man’s near-50 year career down to racial words said in the context of questions that were asked about such terms:
This is the dumbest firing I have ever heard of https://t.co/oomAVpXjQ5
— Robby Soave (@robbysoave) February 5, 2021
It is now official NYT policy that for some words, intent does not matter, and it only takes one strike to sink a 47-year career. https://t.co/SImbZGdBDm
— Matt Welch (@MattWelch) February 5, 2021
This reads like a confession procured by the Khmer Rouge. It’s both ridiculous and terrifying. https://t.co/1wHoX4vw00
— Andrew Sullivan (@sullydish) February 5, 2021
Since the New York Times’ harassment training reportedly states that it’s not the intent that matters but “how an act makes the victims feel,” I suppose McNeil Jr.’s army of woke critics at the paper will sleep better tonight knowing that a guy who had been with the paper since 1976 was pushed out essentially because he (contextually) used a word that hurt their feelings.
The rot of political correctness and cancel culture is destroying this country a little bit every day. It’s just really sad to see.
— Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym “Sister Toldjah” and can be reached via Twitter. —DONATE
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