Former New York Times reporter Donald McNeil says he’s not racist

Former New York Times reporter Donald McNeil on Monday blamed the Gray Lady for exacerbating the N-word debacle that torpedoed his career, while broadcasting a full-throated defense of himself online.

In a more than 20,000-word, four-part post on Medium, the journalist, who spent 45 years at the newspaper, spoke about the scandal that erupted over comments he made during a student trip to Peru in 2019.

“I never dreamed that one of the two trips to Peru that I did, which for me were just lows in my life, something I had done largely as a favor to a friend who needed experts to make the trips sell, would sink my career at the Times. ”McNeil wrote in the first of a four-part Medium post.

In late January, the Daily Beast reported claims that McNeil, who recently led the newspaper’s COVID-19 coverage, dropped the N-word and other offensive comments during the trip.

McNeil, who has been publicly silent on the matter after his resignation letter last month, criticized the Times for its reaction to the looming Daily Beast story.

After the Beast contacted McNeil on January 28 for comment on his report, he said the Times went into “completely insane message control mode,” asking him to immediately apologize and rejecting lengthy explanations that initially wanted. send the Beast.

“If the Times hadn’t panicked and allowed me to post some version of that, maybe the Beast would have rewritten or even improved their story,” McNeil said. “Almost certainly, the reaction within the Times itself would have been different.”

Four days later, McNeil claims that Times executive editor Dean Baquet and deputy editor Carolyn Ryan “twisted their arms” to consider resigning, prompting him to say no and introduce himself as a lawyer.

“You’ve lost the newsroom,” Baquet, a former McNeil’s colleague, allegedly told him during the phone call. “Many of your colleagues are injured. Many of them won’t work for you. Thanks for writing the apology. But we would like you to consider adding that he is leaving. “

McNeil’s resignation, along with the departure of Andy Mills, co-host of the “Caliphate” podcast, was announced on February 5 in a statement noting that “this is the right next step.”

McNeil, who admitted to using the N word in his resignation letter, said the assumptions by some that he is a racist are “quite disconcerting and painful.”

“Im racist? I do not believe it. After working in 60 countries for 25 years, I think I’m pretty good at judging people as individuals, ”he said in the post, which claimed that it was vetted by two lawyers beforehand.

He added: “What particularly puzzled me was that anyone would look at my work and come to the conclusion that I would have chosen my pace if it was racist, and could or would have survived that long,” and pointed to a number of awards. it won for its coverage involving countries like Uganda, South Africa, Nigeria, and Haiti.

McNeil said he was paid $ 300 a day to accompany private school students throughout Peru, and give three talks “on global health,” as well as “be available to students as much as possible,” as part of the newspaper “Student Travel Program”.

The veteran journalist suggested that his conversations with young people may have been misinterpreted due to a generation gap.

“My girlfriend thinks I have a high-functioning Asperger aspect to my personality; I am empathetic with suffering but I also misunderstand the public a lot, ”he wrote.

“So, I was five decades older than the students in Peru and not in touch with their sensibilities? Absolutely. Did you have perspectives to offer that you didn’t get in high school? I think so.”

McNeil, 67, whose work on the pandemic was submitted to the Pulitzer Prize for consideration, also questioned the timing of the allegations.

“I have been asked many times: Who was the source of the Daily Beast? And why is it leaked now, just when you fancy a Pulitzer? said the journalist.

“The answer is: I have no idea. The story includes a quote from an internal Times email, so I have to assume it was leaked from within. But you never know. And because? I do not know.”

McNeil said he had used the N word in response to a conversation he was having with a student about “if I thought a classmate should have been suspended for a video she made when she was 12 using” The insult .

He said the other allegedly offensive comments were misinterpreted.

McNeil promised to discuss the matter only on March 1, when his resignation became official.

In concluding his lengthy article, he lamented the scandal that marred his decades-long reputation as a science reporter covering global health issues.

“Obviously, I misjudged my audience in Peru that year. I thought he was generally arguing for open-mindedness and tolerance, but he clearly didn’t express himself that way, “he wrote. “And my arrogance makes me an imperfect pedagogue for sensitive teenagers.”

“And now I would like to put this behind us. He hoped to be remembered as a good science reporter whose work saved lives. Not for this. ”


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