The New York Times has confirmed the paper investigated and “disciplined” its high-profile public health and Covid-19 reporter after he used racial slurs during a trip with high school students in 2019.
Donald McNeil Jr, a 45-year veteran of the paper and its lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic, was accused by a number of students of using the N-word during a Times-endorsed educational trip to Peru. The reporter also suggested he did not believe in white privilege and used stereotypes about Black teenagers, according to complaints filed to the paper, which were reported by the Daily Beast.
Six students or parents complained to the paper following the trip, which was part of the Times’s “student journeys” program, for which participation typically costs over $5,000.
On Thursday the Times confirmed McNeil had used “racist language” during the trip in a statement issued to reporters.
“In 2019, Donald McNeil Jr participated in a Student Journeys as an expert,” the statement said. “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,” the statement continued. “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.”
The paper has not provided further details on how McNeil was disciplined.
Following the Daily Beast’s reporting, the New York Times editor, Dean Baquet, emailed staff to inform them he was “outraged” by the remarks and had expected to fire the reporter when he first heard the complaints. But after the investigation the editor “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”.
His email continued: “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.”