Staff members at the New York Times are reportedly clashing after its longtime reporter Donald McNeil Jr. was forced to resign last week for using “racist language” in 2019.
In posts to a private Facebook group, the Washington Free Beacon reportedly discovered Times staffers heatedly arguing about whether the ousting of McNeil, a science reporter who had been at the paper for 45 years, was justified.
“What ever happened to the notion of worker solidarity … to giving a fellow worker the benefit of the doubt?” asked Steven Greenhouse, who worked as a labor reporter at the Times for more than 30 years.
“Why is it that the focus in discussions like this almost always [is] on ruining the perpetrator’s life, and not those who were harmed by [his actions]?” crossword columnist Deb Amlen replied to Greenhouse.
McNeil, who had emerged over the past year as a leading reporter on coronavirus for the paper, had, according to the Times, used a “racial slur” during a work trip to Peru in 2019 while serving as a guide to high school students, and the paper’s management had subsequently “disciplined” him for it. The Daily Beast provided further context, reporting that several students complained that McNeil had used the N-word specifically and two students alleged McNeil also rejected the concept of “white privilege.”
McNeil explained last week in an apology letter that a student during the trip had asked him if a classmate of hers should have been suspended for a video in which she used the word, and McNeil had replied to the student by repeating the word as he was clarifying her question.
Executive Editor Dean Baquet and Managing Editor Joe Kahn released a joint statement alongside McNeil’s apology, announcing his departure and pointing to a company policy on “racist language,” despite the Times having already “disciplined” McNeil after his trip.
“We do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent … and [we] will work with urgency to create clearer guidelines and enforcement about conduct in the workplace, including red-line issues on racist language,” they wrote.
Baquet and Kahn’s comment was met with outrage and confusion.
“‘We do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent’ might be the most racist statement I’ve ever read,” author Lawrence De Maria, who used to report on crime and finance at the Times, wrote in the Facebook group.
The paper’s magazine also printed the N-word in a feature piece just last week, as the Free Beacon pointed out, despite a spokeswoman reaffirming Baquet and Kahn’s policy to the Free Beacon.
Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of a widely criticized 1619 Project essay that contained fundamental inaccuracies, also quoted the word multiple times on social media in 2016. The Free Beacon reported that when Hannah-Jones responded to an inquiry from the outlet about her use of the word, she posted the phone number of the Free Beacon reporter, Aaron Sibarium, to Twitter and left it online for more than 24 hours:
Hannah-Jones has taken down the tweet that contained my phone number. I appreciate that.
But it took her over 24 hours to do so—and she clearly knew my number was out there. pic.twitter.com/EBdbPPwjpf
— Aaron Sibarium (@aaronsibarium) February 9, 2021
Hannah-Jones and race reporter John Eligon were among those who took issue with the McNeil incident. Eligon openly lashed out at his colleague, Times free speech reporter Michael Powell, for proving “how isolating it is” to be a black person working in the mainstream media:
You often wonder what your white colleagues who are lovely to your face are actually thinking or saying about you — or people like you — behind your back.
— John Eligon (@jeligon) February 7, 2021
“Dean [Baquet] and AG [Sulzberger] make a decision, and then are bullied by a vocal minority into changing their minds … This is not the NYT I know,” another Times contributor, Robert Worth, said in the Facebook group.
The Times publicly displayed similar internal upheaval last summer after it published then retracted an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) calling for the use of military to address ongoing riots. The article resulted in the resignation of its opinion editor James Bennet.
Write to Ashley Oliver at email@example.com.