A New York Times reporter used a racial slur while leading an official student trip for the paper but remains employed, the company has confirmed.
Donald McNeil Jr. made “offensive remarks, including repeating a racist word in the context of discussing an incident that involved racist language,” editor-in-chief Dean Baquet said in email to staff on Thursday that was leaked and published by news outlets.
Baquet said he thought he would fire McNeil when he first learned of what he said.
“I authorized an investigation and concluded his remarks were offensive and that he showed extremely poor judgment, but that it did not appear to me that his intentions were hateful or malicious,” he wrote. “I believe that in such cases people should be told they were wrong and given another chance. He was formally disciplined. He was not given a pass.”
In a statement to news outlets, New York Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said McNeil Jr. was part of a Student Journeys trip as an expert.
“We subsequently became aware of complaints by some of the students on the trip concerning certain statements Donald had made during the trip,” she said. “We conducted a thorough investigation and disciplined Donald for statements and language that had been inappropriate and inconsistent with our values. We found he had used bad judgement by repeating a racist slur in the context of a conversation about racist language. In addition, we apologized to the students who had participated in the trip.”
McNeil, who has worked for the paper for 44 years, couldn’t be reached for comment. He told the Washington Post, “Don’t believe everything you read.”
McNeil was spoken to by editors last year after he told Dr. Robert Redfield, at the time the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that he “should resign.”
His editors have discussed the issue with him to reiterate that his job is to report the facts and not to offer his own opinions,” a spokeswoman said after the interview. “We are confident that his reporting on science and medicine for The Times has been scrupulously fair and accurate.”