Last month, the New York Times found itself embroiled in controversy after dropping journalist Lauren Wolfe. Now a new controversy, this time involving a different reporter, has staff demanding action. It started last week when the Daily Beast reported high-profile health and science veteran Donald McNeil Jr. allegedly used racist and sexist language, including the n-word, in front of participants on a 2019 Times-sponsored student trip to Peru. Several of those on the trip said McNeil also scoffed at the concept of white privilege and pushed stereotypes of Black teens. When complaints about McNeil's behavior made their way up to management, Dean Baquet, the paper's executive editor, says he started an investigation, thinking he'd probably have to fire McNeil. But Baquet said the probe found McNeil's behavior to be "offensive" but not a fireable offense, as he didn't have "hateful or malicious" intent.
The paper noted it disciplined McNeil internally instead of letting him go. Now, more than 150 Times staffers have written a letter to the paper's top brass, demanding they look more closely at all complaints against McNeil—including newly surfaced allegations about "bias against people of color in his work and in interactions with colleagues over a period of years." They also want the reporter to apologize to the students, their parents, Peru tour staff, and his fellow workers at the paper, per the Guardian. "Our community is outraged and in pain," write the employees, who note one of McNeil's recent beats is COVID-19, which disproportionately affects people of color. On Wednesday, Baquet, publisher AG Sulzberger, and CEO Meredith Kopit Levien responded. "We are determined to learn the right lessons from this incident," they wrote in an email, per the Washington Post. "You will see results." As for McNeil, his curt email reply to the Post: "Don't believe everything you read." (Read more New York Times stories.)