- A reporter at The New York Times reportedly made racist comments while leading a student trip in 2019.
- The Times said they investigated the matter and disciplined the journalist.
- The executive editor at The Times sent an email to staff Thursday evening addressing the matter.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Months before he was warning the country about the impending COVID-19 pandemic, Donald McNeil Jr., a high-profile science reporter at The New York Times, was disciplined for making racist comments and using the “n-word” during a Times educational travel program for students, according to The Daily Beast.
“I expect immediate action on the actions taken by Donald, I am deeply disappointed about the New York Times because of the comments he made during our trip. I think firing him would even be appropriate,” one student participant wrote after the trip in documents shared with The Times and reviewed by The Daily Beast.
McNeil is a 45-year veteran of the newspaper, whose coverage of the coronavirus has made him a frequent guest on the outlet’s popular news podcast, “The Daily.”
In the summer of 2019, McNeil was a leader on a New York Times Student Journey, a program for high school and middle school students that visits destinations the newspaper has covered. The trips allow students to benefit from the outlet’s “special understanding and insider’s view as they explore themes and topics associated with Times coverage of local issues,” according to the program website.
The newspaper selects top reporters to serve as subject guides on the trips, which cost nearly $US5,500, according to the website.
In 2019, McNeil accompanied at least 26 students on a Times trip to Peru, focused on community-based health-care, according to The Daily Beast. Multiple parents of students on the trip told The Daily Beast that McNeil made sexist and racist comments throughout the program.
Two students reportedly complained that he had used the “n-word” and made comments suggesting he didn’t believe in white privilege. Three others noted that he also made stereotypes about Black teenagers.
“I would change the journalist. He was a racist,” one student reportedly wrote. “He used the ‘N’ word, said horrible things about Black teenagers, and said white supremacy doesn’t exist.”
“He wasn’t respectful during some of the traditional ceremonies we attended with indigenous healers/shamans,” another wrote. “He made students in the program feel uncomfortable with his remarks. I was really disappointed after hearing great things about his work.”
In a comment to The Daily Beast, a Times spokesperson confirmed the newspaper became aware of students’ complaints about McNeil after the trip. The spokesperson said the outlet conducted a “thorough” investigation and disciplined McNeil for the statements and language he had used, calling them “inappropriate” and inconsistent with the Times’ 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 apologised to the students who had participated in the trip,” the spokesperson told The Daily Beast.
After The Daily Beast’s story broke, The New York Times published its own article Thursday on the allegations against McNeil.
Dean Baquet, the executive editor of The Times, sent an email to staff Thursday evening, according to the newspaper. In it, he said that he was outraged when he first heard about the complaints and had expected to fire McNeil.
However, after the investigation, Baquet said he “concluded his remarks were offensive and that he showed extremely poor judgment, but that it did not appear to me that his intentions were hateful or malicious.”
“I believe that in such cases people should be told they were wrong and given another chance,” Baquet wrote. “He was formally disciplined. He was not given a pass.”
The Times would not provide any details about McNeil’s discipline, according to the outlet.
After parents complained, managers at The Times became concerned about the allegations and immediately alerted the paper’s public relations department and publisher, according to The Daily Beast.
“It’s highly likely his comments will become public at some point,” Danielle Rhoades Ha, a vice president of communications for The Times, wrote in an email exchange reviewed by The Daily Beast.
McNeil declined to comment for The Times story.