A former New York Times science editor forced out after using the n-word is now claiming the company defended him to the Pulitzer Prize committee in an effort to secure its award for his reporting on the COVID pandemic.
Donald McNeil Jr., who left his position in the company in February, said executives reached out to the Pulitzer Prize committee after the news broke of him using the slur on a trip to Peru in 2019, to ‘reassure them that I was not a racist.’
‘They said they had looked into the same accusation in 2019 and had found hem mostly false,’ McNeil told Fox News. ‘I was told this both by [Times executive editor] Dean Baquet and by [assistant managing editor] Glenn Kramon, who oversees prize submissions.’
‘The tactic seemed to have worked,’ he concluded. ‘Bravo.’
The newspaper earned the coveted prize in the ‘public service’ category on Friday, which was largely due to McNeil’s contributions.
Now, he said, he just hopes his name is on the prize.
‘When the company adds this award to the 15th floor Pulitzer Wall, I hope they will include me in the credits,’ McNeil said, ‘I aspired to make it there my whole life.’
But he also criticized his former employer for saying that he left because he was ‘criticized for using a racial slur,’ a claim he has denied.
The New York Times quietly approached the Pulitzer Prize committee to ensure them that ousted COVID reporter Don McNeil wasn’t racist for using the n-word
The NY Times won a Pulitzer Prize, pictured, for McNeil’s reporting on Friday, with the veteran journalist now fearful his name will be scrubbed from the paper’s ‘Pulitzer Wall’ in its offices
‘Even as it celebrates my work, The Times is again libeling me,’ he said.
The Daily Beast first published reports that he had used the N-word on an August 2019 trip with wealthy students at the end of January 2021.
McNeil later explained that he used the N-word, McNeill said, when in conversation with a 17-year-old girl about a previous classmate of hers who’d been suspended from school for saying the word. McNeil asked the 17-year-old: Was the girl suspended for actually saying N-? He used the word itself when asking the question.
After the complaints regarding the slur resurfaced, McNeil was eventually forced out after 150 NYT employees – out of a global staff of 4,500 – signed a letter slamming the handling of the 2019 decision to let him stay on staff and demanding an investigation.
He said ever since he has been a ‘jackal circled by jackals’ and that he is now ‘somewhat relieved’ to be out of journalism.
In his Medium post, however, McNeil admitted that he never thought his use of the N-word during that trip would have ended his decades-long career at the newspaper.
‘I never dreamed that one of the two Peru trips I took – which to me were just blips in my life, something I’d done largely as a favor to a friend who needed experts to make the trips sell – would sink my Times career,’ he said
‘It’s been quite baffling and painful for me to have people assume I’m a racist and believe that I said the ridiculous things I’m accused of saying.’
He said, however, that he doesn’t believe what has happened to him should be called a ‘witch hunt’, saying instead that it is a ‘series of misunderstandings and blunders’.
Explaining the context behind his use of the word, McNeil said: ‘A student asked me if I thought her high school’s administration was right to suspend a classmate of hers for using the word in a video she’d made in eighth grade.
McNeil was ousted after the Daily Beast reported that he’d used the n-word while chatting with a student about a classmate who’d been suspended for it during a 2019 trip to Peru
‘I said ‘Did she actually call someone a (‘offending word’)? Or was she singing a rap song or quoting a book title or something?’ When the student explained that it was the student, who was white and Jewish, sitting with a black friend and the two were jokingly insulting each other by calling each other offensive names for a black person and a Jew, I said ‘She was suspended for that?
‘Two years later? No, I don’t think suspension was warranted. Somebody should have talked to her, but any school administrator should know that 12-year-olds say dumb things. It’s part of growing up’.’
After the exchange resurfaced in the Daily Beast report in January, McNeil said he repeatedly asked the NYT if he could clarify the context behind his conversation but was told to remain quiet.
Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet, pictured, is said to have told McNeil of the explanation offered to the Pulitzer committee
McNeil said he was willing to apologize but also wanted to clarify the circumstances and be given a chance to refute some of what he says were false allegations, particularly the claim that he said white privilege doesn’t exist.
‘The portrait the Daily Beast paints of a dyspeptic old man abusing students by spouting ‘wildly racist and offensive comments’ is inaccurate. I was trying to engage them in a serious conversation that opened their eyes. Which is what, as a Times Expert, I had been assigned to do,’ he said.
‘Obviously, I badly misjudged my audience in Peru that year. I thought I was generally arguing in favor of open-mindedness and tolerance – but it clearly didn’t come across that way. And my bristliness makes me an imperfect pedagogue for sensitive teenagers. Although the students liked me in 2018, some of those in 2019 clearly detested me. I do not see why their complaints should have ended my career at the Times two years later. But they did.
‘I’d like to put this behind me. I had hoped to be remembered as a good science reporter whose work saved lives. Not for this.’
Still, the new report sparked backlash among his colleagues, some of whom demanded he resign.
‘In February, in a moment of panic, The Times pressured me to resign over false accusations that I was racist,’ McNeil recounted to FOX News on Friday. ‘Sine they had ordered me to not respond in detail to the Daily Beast’s accusations, I was unable to explain why they were false (until after I had departed on March 1).’