The New York Times’ executive editor Dean Baquet told staffers in an email on Thursday that he first “expected” to fire science and health reporter Donald McNeil, but changed his mind after an investigation into allegations made against him.
McNeil has become The Times’ top reporter for coronavirus-related content and his work is among those reportedly submitted for a Pulitzer Prize by the newspaper, according to The Daily Beast. In 2019, however, he quietly came under scrutiny after being chosen to serve as a guide for the newspaper’s yearly summer student trip.
Following the trip, multiple accusations were levied against McNeil, including that he “repeatedly made racist and sexist remarks throughout the trip,” The Daily Beast reported on Thursday. Two complaints accused McNeil of using the “n-word.”
The NYT was made aware of the accusations, but after diving into them, Baquet said his mind was changed. In particular, Baquet wrote that McNeil’s use of a racial slur was made “in the context of discussing an incident that involved racist language.” (RELATED: NYT Staffer Pleads With Newsroom: ‘We’re Not F**king Part Of The Resistance’)
“When I first heard the story, I was outraged and expected I would fire him,” Baquet wrote in the email. “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 that in some cases, such as with McNeil, “people should be told they were wrong and given another chance.” McNeil was “formally disciplined” and “not given a pass,” Baquet added.
Email from Times executive editor Dean Baquet to the newsroom pic.twitter.com/wX2iHzuOxV
— marc tracy (@marcatracy) January 29, 2021
One participant complained that McNeil seemed to “not believe in the concept of white privilege” while another wrote that “he wasn’t respectful during some of the traditional ceremonies we attended with indigenous healers/shamans,” among other accusations, according to The Daily Beast.
“This is a moment when newsrooms across the country – including ours – must fully state their values,” Baquet wrote. “We do not tolerate racism in any form and we are committed to building a newsroom and a report that fights it. There is a justified and overdue reckoning underway as to whether we have fully lived up to those values. I acknowledge that.”
“Some people think we have been too tolerant in disciplining high–profile journalists. I also welcome that conversation,” he continued. “Fair treatment has to be the foundation of the diverse and equitable newsroom we are building.”
In addition to reprimanding McNeil, The Times apologized to students who went on the trip, according to a statement from the newspaper given to The Daily Beast.
“In 2019, Donald McNeil, Jr. participated in a Student Journeys as an expert,” the NYT’s statement notes. “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.”