NYT, Which Called Lab Leak A ‘Fringe Conspiracy Theory,’ Wins Pulitzer For Pandemic Coverage

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The New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of the coronavirus pandemic despite calling the lab leak theory a “fringe conspiracy theory.”

The Pulitzer Prizes one of the most prestigious awards in journalism were announced Wednesday, with The New York Times (NYT) staff collectively receiving an award for its pandemic coverage.

The paper’s award-winning stories include one from January 2020 about a “mystery, pneumonia-like illness,” several early stories in spring 2020 detailing the spread of the pandemic, a constantly updated map about the case count across the U.S., and reporting on coronavirus in nursing homes, racial inequity during the pandemic and the virus spreading on college campuses.

One of the articles that won a prize was written by Donald McNeil, who was the paper’s top COVID-19 reporter before the NYT fired him for allegedly making “racist and sexist remarks” during a school trip that he was leading. McNeil said that he was asked about a high school student receiving a suspension for saying a racist slur when she was 12 years old, and in the process of answering the question, he repeated the slur. (RELATED: NYT Newsroom Sees More Infighting As Staffers Express Outrage Over Decision Not To Fire Reporter)

The NYT’s executive editor Dean Baquet initially told staff that he had decided to give McNeil a second chance. But after more than 150 individuals signed a letter saying the “community is outraged and in pain” over how the paper handled the situation, the NYT announced McNeil would be leaving the company, adding that they “do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent.”

McNeil later wrote in a Medium post that he was allegedly prevented from trying to give his side of the story and claimed that staff at the NYT had used the offensive word in the same context that he had.

In another Medium post, McNeil alleged that the NYT refused to publish a 4,000-word story that he wrote about the lab leak theory because the staff was “sharply divided” on the issue.

The paper has come under fire for a headline calling the lab leak theory a “fringe theory” that “lacks evidence” and slamming Republican Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton when he mentioned the theory on Fox News. The lab leak hypothesis has now become more mainstream as evidence has come to light that determined the theory is plausible.