The New York Times newsroom has been roiled by a pair of widely publicized resignations last week — and the outcry of staffers over how the paper has handled personnel issues and conflicts over sensitivity.
During a “State of the Times” town hall meeting Thursday, there was even more confusion about how the paper had handled the ouster of longtime reporter Donald McNeil Jr., who had previously been disciplined for using the N-word during a Times-sponsored trip to Peru with high school students.
According to the Times’ media reporter Marc Tracy, executive editor Dean Baquet walked back the paper’s previous “ham-handed” statement on McNeil that “We do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent” — calling the phrasing “a deadline mistake.” In his address to staff on Thursday, Baquet said, “Of course intent matters when we’re talking about language in journalism. Intent matters.”
A rep for the Times did not respond to a request for comment for this story but issued a fuller statement from Baquet.
But the McNeil episode, along with the resignation of journalist Andy Mills, has sowed further discord at the Times over how it handles complaints about staffers.
While there is confusion and anger over the lack of transparency from leadership about the timing of the resignations, which both came down on Friday, there is also annoyance internally that the departures might be the latest example of “cancel culture” at the Times.
McNeil, a prominent health and science reporter at the paper covering COVID-19, used the N-word during a trip with high school students in 2019, as first reported by the Daily Beast. He stated it was done in the context of pointing out what someone else had said — but only issued a public apology on Friday at the time of his resignation.
Mills was the audio producer who helped lead the now-discredited “Caliphate” podcast and was later accused of sexual harassment as well as more recent complaints about his behavior, according to Vanity Fair.
This is not the first time the paper and its leadership have faced accusations of kowtowing to a “woke” contingent of staffers, nor is it the first time a resignation has followed employee outcry. When she resigned in July 2020, former op-ed writer Bari Weiss said her Times colleagues made the workplace hostile for her because she had — and published — views they did not agree with. Also last summer, opinion editor James Bennet resigned after public backlash to an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton calling for military intervention in protests.
The paper has also faced criticism from the left after firing digital editor Lauren Wolfe after she tweeted that she got “chills” over Joe Biden arriving in Washington, D.C., ahead of his inauguration as president.