Last Thursday the Daily Beast reported that a star reporter at the NY Times had generated complaints after he used the N-word during a school trip. The details in the story were a bit vague but several of the students, whose parents had paid more than $5,000 for them to take the trip to Peru with health expert Donald McNeil Jr., had complained. Today, McNeill was fired by the Times:
McNeil, formerly the paper of record’s top reporter on COVID-19, leaves amid fallout from an incident that occurred during a Times-sponsored educational trip to Peru when he used the “n-word” and made other racist comments, according to complaints first reported by The Daily Beast. At least six students or their parents claimed McNeil had made racist and sexist remarks throughout the trip…
The science reporter further described the “n-word” incident as having occurred during a dinner discussion about the use of racial slurs, in which one student on the trip asked whether a classmate should have been suspended for using racist rhetoric in a video.
“To understand what was in the video, I asked if she had called someone else the slur or whether she was rapping or quoting a book title. In asking the question, I used the slur itself,” McNeil wrote.
Here’s McNeil’s full apology letter along with a comment from executive editor Dean Baquet:
In a note to staff, top NYT editors Dean Baquet and Joe Kahn wrote, among other things, "We do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent."
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) February 5, 2021
If that’s an accurate description of what happened, and I don’t see anyone denying it, then McNeil should not have been fired. In fact, the NY Times investigated this incident in 2019 when it happened and executive editor Dean Baquet concluded at the time that there was no malice in the use of the word.
A Times spokesperson told The Daily Beast on Thursday, “In 2019, Donald McNeil, Jr. participated in a Student Journeys as an expert. 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.”
Times executive editor Dean Baquet addressed the controversy in an email to the newsroom Thursday night, saying that when he first heard about McNeil’s remarks, he was “outraged” and expected to fire him.
“I authorized an investigation and concluded his remarks were offensive and that he showed extremely poor judgment, but it did not appear to me that that his intentions were hateful or malicious,” he wrote.
But obviously standards have changed and now any use of the word is grounds for termination. It appears the Times decided on this new standard under duress. Yesterday the Daily Beast reported Times’ staffers had sent an angry letter demanding consequences for McNeil.
In the Wednesday afternoon letter, signed by more than 150 staffers and addressed to executive editor Dean Baquet along with other top members of the Times masthead, employees expressed feeling “deeply disturbed” by the paper’s handling of the allegations, which thus far included a statement declaring McNeil had been “disciplined.”…
“We, his colleagues, feel disrespected by his actions,” the letter said. “The company has a responsibility to take that experience seriously.”
It’s a weird thing when people who weren’t there feel disrespected by something they didn’t experience and only heard about years later. The woke newsroom mob strikes again. Did any of these people try to talk with McNeil before mobbing up against him?
There’s a funhouse mirror aspect to this whole story. McNeil was asked about whether someone should be punished for using the n-word and he responded by asking for context, i.e. was this used maliciously or was someone quoting a rap lyric. That’s precisely the same standard the Times used when investigating this, finding that since it wasn’t malicious he didn’t need to be fired. That makes sense to me and the new standard, i.e. we can’t even use the word to discuss the rules about not using the word, seems a bit absurd. It’s an ugly word but talking about why it’s understandably radioactive when asked isn’t at all the same as using it as a slur.
Update: Andrew Sullivan calls the apology letter “ridiculous and terrifying.”
This reads like a confession procured by the Khmer Rouge. It’s both ridiculous and terrifying. https://t.co/1wHoX4vw00
— Andrew Sullivan (@sullydish) February 5, 2021
One of the most important coronavirus reporters on the planet had to resign from the Times because he used the N-word in the context of asking about a controversy involving the N-word. https://t.co/LU3Ej4B9eY
— Jesse Singal (@jessesingal) February 5, 2021
But, hey, if the new standard is ‘context doesn’t matter’ how long before one of the Times’ black employees is fired for using the word. I would bet money some of the black employees have rapped along with Drake or someone else using the n-word in the last two years (and probably a bunch of the white employees too). If Dean Baquet isn’t prepared to fire them all indiscriminately, then this firing makes zero sense.
Update: Another NY-Times employee is eager to see more people fired over forbidden words.
NYT’s Taylor Lorenz, perhaps seeking to keep up the momentum from Donald McNeil’s firing, falsely accuses venture capitalist Marc Andreessen of using a slur on Clubhouse. pic.twitter.com/DPFTHzXG5c
— Chuck Ross (@ChuckRossDC) February 7, 2021
Meanwhile, a writer for the Free Beacon sent emails to several black NY Times writers who have used the n-word on Twitter:
like I actually yelled lmaooo pic.twitter.com/VD3SNSO0Yf
— Steadman™ (@AsteadWesley) February 7, 2021
The amused responses suggest people think this is a serious effort to get black writers in trouble with their employer. I think they are missing the point. The author seems to be trying to point out that the Times’ context-doesn’t-matter standard is absurd.
Taken literally, this implies that a black staffer who used the N-word with another black staffer should be fired. https://t.co/rnci0fdlLp
— Aaron Sibarium (@aaronsibarium) February 6, 2021
And he has, indirectly, prompted the response I think he was looking for.
It’s almost as if context matters when evaluating the use of language!
— Wesley (@WesleyLowery) February 7, 2021
Yes, context matters. Now if only we could get the executive editor of the NY Times to admit it.