Donald McNeil, the New York Times’ top reporter on the coronavirus, has resigned after reports surfaced that he had made racist comments in 2019 while on a working trip to Peru.
The Daily Beast initially reported on these allegations on Jan. 28, 2021.
McNeil allegedly made the comments in the summer of 2019 during a trip to Peru in which he and other New York Times reporters were to inform high school students about various issues. In the summer of 2019, when McNeil made such a trip to Peru, he spoke to high school students there about community-based health care.
The allegations themselves, however, are vague and provide little context to McNeil’s statements.
A number of students have told The Daily Beast that they had seen and heard McNeil repeatedly using racist language during the trip. In some cases, even parents made such allegations.
More specifically, two students claim to have heard McNeil use the n-word and to say that he did not believe that there is such a thing as white privilege. Three other students claim to have heard him make racially charged comments about black teenagers.
As far as anyone can tell, what seems to have happened is that a student asked McNeil a question during dinner about a friend of hers who had made a video in which she had said the N-word. The student asked whether he believed the friend should have been suspended from school for saying that. McNeil asked for clarification about the context in which the word was said, and in asking his question, he also used the N-word.
It’s not clear what is supposed to be so horrifying about this, but McNeil appears to have been pressed into resigning over this incident.
Regarding this incident, McNeil issued a statement where he said the following: “On a 2019 New York Times trip to Peru for high school students, I was asked at dinner whether I though a classmate of hers should have been suspended for a video she had made as a 12-year-old in which she used a racial slur. To understand what was in the video, I asked whether she had called someone else the slur or whether she was rapping or quoting a book title. I used the slur itself. I should not have done that.
“Originally, I thought the context in which I used this ugly word could be defended. I now realize that it cannot.”
For bowing to the outrage mob in this way, McNeil has sealed his fate.
What has happened to him individually may be rather unfortunate, but in fostering an atmosphere in which anyone can cynically exploit the mere feeling of being aggrieved — no matter how tenuous and divorced from reality that feeling is — New York Times reporters like McNeil and other workerati have no right to be surprised.