The New York Times superstar reporter who resigned amid allegations of insensitive language now says the paper practically forced him out.
Donald McNeil, the health reporter who did groundbreaking work for the newspaper throughout the coronavirus pandemic, was pushed out over a 2019 incident in which he used a racist slur.
The word was not used as an epithet, but rather in a discussion of the word itself on a trip to Peru with a group of students.
Sponsored: Urgent Alzheimer’s Information
In other words, the context is important.
But the distinction didn’t sway his employer of 45 years.
At that moment he resigned, and released a statement of apology:
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. It is deeply offensive and hurtful. The fact that I even thought I could defend it itself showed extraordinarily bad judgment. For that I apologize.
Now, however, he says he was strong-armed into quitting. The newspaper caved to pressure from the cancel culture crowd.
Both McNeil and The Times were attacked on social media, even though the incident had already been investigated by the paper and the writer punished for it at the time.
So the story seemed initially that McNeil had heard his critics – and stepped aside to end the matter.
But now, in a series of lengthy posts on the Medium blog website, McNeil says the resignation wasn’t really his idea after all.
The TRUTH about your tinnitus [sponsored]
“We’re not firing you,” executive editor Dean Baquet had reassured him, according to his blog posts. But what Baquet said next shows it wasn’t exactly a gesture of support: “We’re asking you to consider resigning.”
In a new twist on cancel culture, he was essentially told to cancel himself.
“You’re twisting my arm,” he replied.
“We’re not twisting your arm,” the editor replied, according to McNeil. But clearly, he was being pushed out and asked to make it look like a resignation in the public eye, which he said felt like “intimidation.”
As far as the incident itself goes, during the Peru trip, a student asked McNeil about a fellow pupil who had been suspended for using the epithet. During a discussion of the context in which the word was used, he also repeated the epithet.
The discussion also touched on blackface, cultural appropriation, white privilege, and more… but all as part of a conversation on what’s allowed and whereas McNeil tried to explain the importance of context.
The 3 foods that GROW cancer [sponsored]
It mattered little to the mob on social media, which demanded that McNeil be fired over the incident – just the latest outcry in a series of online outrages with the newspaper at the center of the storm.
Last year, columnist Bari Weiss quit The Times after both her colleagues and the social media crowd demanded that she be fired over her opinions.
Weiss accused the newspaper of “unlawful discrimination, hostile work environment, and constructive discharge” in a scathing resignation letter.
“Twitter is not on the masthead of The New York Times,” she wrote. “But Twitter has become its ultimate editor.”
The Times has also had some other problems.
In December, the paper retracted its award-winning 2018 podcast “Caliphate,” saying the series “gave too much credence to the false or exaggerated accounts of one of its main subjects.”
In other words, part, or possibly all of the story was embellished.
That subject, Shehroze Chaudhry, had claimed to be a former ISIS terrorist. However, he was arrested in Canada and accused of pulling off a hoax.
Sponsored: Over 55? Here’s how to IMPROVE lung health
McNeil said the paper was worried that his controversy would be “lumped in” with the Caliphate scandal.
“That’s ridiculous,” he recalled responding. “What in the world do I have to do with Caliphate?”
The paper’s instincts were correct on some level; after all the McNeil story became a social media scandal and Twitter outrage, ultimately leading to his resignation.
“What’s happened to me has been called a ‘witch hunt,’” he wrote on Medium. “It isn’t. It’s a series of misunderstandings and blunders. I may be the only living Times reporter who has actually covered a witch hunt – in Zimbabwe in 1997. They inevitably end worse for the accused. I’m at least getting my say.”
— Walter W. Murray is a reporter for The Horn News. He is an outspoken conservative and a survival expert.