- The Washington Times
Monday, March 1, 2021

Former New York Times journalist Donald G. McNeil Jr. published a piece Monday online in which he promises to lay out the reasons the paper forced his resignation after a nearly half-century career.

Mr. McNeil became yet another prominent name in the growing list of cancel culture victims at The Times when the story broke that the paper pressured him to leave because he used the n-word in Peru in 2019. In the past few months, the newspaper has seen three high-profile departures brought about by woke cadres at the paper who are policing what they consider is fit to print.

Last year, James Bennet, the paper’s op-ed editor, left in a storm over his decision to publish a column by Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton favoring law enforcement to cope with violent urban demonstrations. Bari Weiss, a longtime editor at the Times, departed because she objected to what she described as an ideological straitjacket the paper is zipping on its staff.

Mr. McNeil, writing for the first time since his departure from the Times, said he felt compelled to share his own version of events.

“Since January 28, I’ve been a jackal circled by jackals,” he wrote on Medium, referring to the day the left-wing Daily Beast published a story about his trip to Peru with a group of high school students.

Monday’s piece, which he called “This Introduction,” is the first of four Mr. McNeil said he will publish. He said he waited until March 1 to do so on the advice of his attorney.

He has not spoken about the matter with other journalists because he said his career taught him journalists are not to be trusted with quotes. 

“I chose this route so I can control at least one part of the narrative: my own,” he wrote.

His troubles began in Peru where he was a Times reporter working on a $5,490 (plus airfare) trip sponsored by the newspaper for high school students. Sophie Shepherd, a student from Phillips Andover, an exclusive prep school in Massachusetts, asked Mr. McNeil if he believed a suspension was warranted for a high school student who had used the racial slur in a short video.

While asking if the person used the n-word in a racist sense or was simply quoting popular music lyrics, Mr. McNeil used the word himself.

Dean Baquet, the newspaper’s executive editor, had looked into the incident when complaints about Mr. McNeil’s conduct on the trip were raised. Mr. McNeil, who began at the Times as a copy boy in 1976 and last year became its lead reporter on the COVID-19 pandemic, received a reprimand when the union defended him.

His new prominence because of the coronavirus apparently resurrected the claim against him, and the paper’s woke employees swung into action, declaring they were “outraged and in pain” from what Mr. McNeil said in Peru two years ago.

In the face of the new outrage, management told Mr. McNeil he would be demoted. He chose to leave.

That made headlines, but so, too, did the Times’ choice to publish a column on Feb. 14 that described Mr. McNeil as something of a longtime problem at the paper because of his cantankerous personality and impolitic outbursts. Vanity Fair also wrote about the incident, and anonymously quoted someone at the paper as saying he marked “the end of the a—hole era” at the Times.

Mr. McNeil addressed those descriptions Monday, allowing that he can seem difficult, and hinted the story from Peru is nuanced.

The New York Times did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Am I principled? Old-school? Blunt? Cranky?” he wrote. “Was I speaking to innocent children? Or privileged prep schoolers burnishing their resumes?”

The answers to those questions, Mr. McNeil said, are to come.

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