Donald G. McNeil Jr., a science and public health reporter for The New York Times who resigned under pressure last month after 45 years at the newspaper, published an account on Monday describing the circumstances of his departure, in an essay by four parts that often criticized the leadership of the Times.
A prominent reporter on the coronavirus pandemic, McNeil announced his departure last month following an article in The Daily Beast about his comments and behavior during a Times-sponsored trip for high school students to Peru in 2019. Several students and their students Parents complained that Mr. McNeil, who was serving as an expert guide on the trip, had used a racial slur and made other insensitive comments.
Shortly after his return, The Times investigated the matter and sanctioned him, saying he had shown poor judgment in using the insult in a conversation about racist language. The Times investigation into Mr. McNeil’s behavior on the trip was not made public until The Daily Beast reported it.
After the publication of the Daily Beast article, a group of Times employees sent a letter to the leaders of the Times, questioning how the newspaper had handled Mr. McNeil. On February 5, Dean Baquet, the executive editor, and Joe Kahn, the managing editor, announced their departure in a memo to the staff. As part of the announcement, Mr. McNeil apologized and said in a statement: “Originally, I thought the context in which I used this ugly word could stand up for itself. Now I realize that it can’t. It is deeply offensive and painful. “
In his four-part essay, published on the online platform Medium in more than 20,000 words, he wrote that his attempts to discuss serious problems with students had sometimes failed. He again acknowledged using the insult, saying its use had occurred during a conversation with a trip participant about a student who had been suspended from a high school after a video surfaced two years earlier showing the student using the insult.
“Im racist?” Wrote Mr. McNeil. “I don’t think so, after working in 60 countries for 25 years, I think I’m pretty good at judging people as individuals. But ‘am I a racist?’ it’s actually a harder question to answer about yourself than some moralistic people think. “
He denied the accusation of having rejected the existence of white privilege in conversation with the students. And he criticized an internal Times process that culminated, he said, with Baquet’s suggestion that he resign after he “lost the newsroom.”
“We support Donald’s right to voice his opinion,” The Times said in a statement.
McNeil also writes more generally about his decades at the newspaper, describing his active role in the NewsGuild union, adding that he found it unfair that some Times leaders considering his case had been on the opposite side during labor negotiations for the last years. .
His departure from The Times has sparked a broader debate, with some people inside and outside the company saying it suggested the newspaper had an inhospitable climate to debate, and others arguing that McNeil should not have been allowed to continue on. your previous job. paper.
Mr. McNeil published his account on his first day as a former Times employee. The trial was reviewed by two attorneys, he said.
“What happened to me has been called a ‘witch hunt’,” he wrote. “It is not. It is a series of misunderstandings and mistakes. I may be the only living Times reporter who has actually covered a 1997 Zimbabwe witch hunt. It is bound to end worse for the defendants. At least I’m getting my opinion. “