Media

Ousted NYT reporter says he's been a jackal circled by jackals

Donald McNeil, the veteran New York Times global health reporter who resigned in the wake of a race-related controversy, posted a lengthy four-part explanation describing his experience on Medium Monday.

McNeil resigned from the paper - or, as he describes it, was pressured to resign - in early February not long after allegations surfaced that he had made inappropriate comments about race as well as used a racial slur while acting as a guide on a Times-sponsored 2019 student trip.

In his resignation letter, McNeil apologized, writing; "For offending my colleagues - and for anything I've done to hurt The Times, which is an institution I love and whose mission I believe in and try to serve - I am sorry. I let you all down."

However, in his Medium post, McNeil said media reports by their very nature will add color to the story, and he wanted to "control at least one part of the narrative: my own." 

"I'm publishing my thoughts here on Medium because I know journalists. We make America what it is - without a free press, democracy dies. But we're still jackals,"  McNeil wrote. "Since January 28, I've been a jackal circled by jackals."

A New York Times spokeswoman said the paper had no comment on McNeil's blog. "We're reviewing the posts and not commenting further for now," she said in an email Monday. 

McNeil divided his story into four parts, all of which, he wrote, had been "vetted by two lawyers." 

The first was an introduction to the situation, which he described as "a series of misunderstandings and blunders" rather than a witch hunt.

"It's been quite baffling and painful for me to have people assume I'm a racist," he said, "and believe that I said the ridiculous things I'm accused of saying - that 'racism is over,' that 'white supremacy doesn't exist,' or 'white privilege doesn't exist,' or that I defended the use of blackface or said horrible things about black teenagers in general."

In the second section of his post, McNeil describes what happened after Jan. 28, when he was first contacted by the Daily Beast about the 2019 trip and how the Times's management reacted to the controversy. 

At first, McNeil said, he resisted the calls from Executive Editor Dean Baquet and other Times executives asking him to resign. But eventually "at the Times' request and urging, I allowed the Times to announce I was stepping down."

In sections three and four, McNeil describes in further detail the 2019 trip where he made the racial slur and the other comments highlighted in the Daily Beast article. He also describes the first Times investigation into the trip, which he said he thought had made the entire affair a "dead issue."

"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," he wrote. "I do not see why their complaints should have ended my career at the Times two years later. But they did."

McNeil's wasn't the only controversy involving a Times journalist in February.

Audio journalist Andy Mills, who helped create "The Daily" podcast and also produced and co-hosted the 2018 podcast "Caliphate," also resigned over past behavior; specifically, allegations of unwanted touching and sexual harassment from 2018.

The Caliphate podcast had itself become the source of controversy at the Times after significant errors were found in the production. 

Separately, last week the Times released a wide-ranging diversity report and plan that acknowledged the paper needed to transform a culture that makes the paper an "unwelcoming place for many people," especially for people of color.

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