I’ve only been a fan of Donald McNeil’s reporting since I first heard him on The Daily podcast last spring when the first wave of the pandemic was just getting rolling. McNeil spoke matter-of-factly and provided some much needed guidance in a world full of speculation and fear. He explained how testing, isolation, and contact tracing were the three tools that were going to get us through this mess. From that point on whenever McNeil was on the podcast I would parrot the information to friends and coworkers, and I felt like I knew what I was talking about concerning the pandemic. It was more than just great reporting — his reporting was full of information and history. They don’t have a prize for this, but they should. It’s reporting that’s useful, timely, and life-saving.
Last month I read about The New York Times’ decision to fire McNeil. Apparently, he had used the N-word while talking with students on a New York Times field trip for wealthy American teens in Peru. His statement:
“I was asked at a dinner by a student whether I thought a classmate of hers should have been suspended for a video she had made as a 12-year-old in which she used a racial slur. To understand what was in the video, I asked if she had called someone else the slur or whether she was rapping or quoting a book title. In asking the question, I used the slur itself. 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.”
Is it just me or does this apology sounds like it was written by lawyers?
Anyway, more details started to leak out. It was strange that the Times also let go Andy Mills — notorious drink dumper and misogynous Caliphate podcast dude — on the same day. You can’t help but wonder about the timing. What does one have to do with the other? We may never know.
Last week McNeil responded to the students’ accusations in four parts on Medium. It took me awhile to get to all four parts but it’s recommended reading, this guy knows how to write:
After reading his side of the story, and there may be more the story that even McNeil doesn’t realize, but if we take him at his word that this is what happened, I’m left thinking that the Times made a huge mistake and I look forward to hopefully hearing from McNeil at his next gig.