The New York Times disciplined one of its prominent COVID-19 reporters, Donald McNeil Jr., for using racist language when he led a Times-branded student trip in 2019, a company spokeswoman confirmed to TheWrap.
“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,” the Times’ Eileen Murphy said. “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 judgement 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.”
The Times did not comment further on how McNeil was reprimanded for his language. McNeil did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Thursday, the Daily Beast reported that students who attended the trip, as well as their parents, had complained that McNeil used the “n-word,” said that white supremacy did not exist and made other disrespectful comments about Black teenagers when he led the student trip to Peru.
In an email sent to the newsroom on Thursday night, the Times’ executive editor, Dean Baquet, said that he had authorized the investigation into McNeil’s conduct but found that McNeil’s intentions did not appear to be “hateful or malicious.”
“When I first heard the story, I was outraged and expected I would fire him. I authorized an investigation and 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,” Baquet wrote. “I believe that in such cases people should be told they were wrong and given another chance. He was formally disciplined. He was not given a pass.”
McNeil, a science and health reporter for the Times, is one of the paper’s top journalists covering the COVID-19 pandemic and most recently won the 2020 John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism from the Columbia Journalism School.