Two journalists responsible for some of the New York Times’ best-known work over the past three years have left the paper after past criticism of their behavior inside and outside the organization.
In two memos on Friday afternoon, Dean Baquet, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, and Joe Kahn, the editor-in-chief, briefed staff on the departures of Donald G. McNeil Jr., a science correspondent covering the coronavirus pandemic, and Andy Mills Audio journalist who helped create “The Daily” and was the producer and co-host of “Caliphate,” a 2018 podcast that was found to be severely flawed after an internal investigation.
Mr. McNeil, a Times veteran who has covered from 60 countries, was an expert guide on a Times-sponsored student trip to Peru in 2019. At least six students or their parents complained about comments he made, The Daily Beast last week. The Times confirmed that he used a “racist bow” during the trip.
In their memo, Mr. Baquet and Mr. Kahn wrote that Mr. McNeil “did a lot of good reporting over four decades” but added “that this is the right next step”.
The statement was a turning point from last week when Mr. Baquet sent a message to staff defending his decision to give Mr. McNeil “another chance”.
“I cleared an investigation and found that what he had said was offensive and that he displayed extremely poor judgment,” wrote Mr Baquet, “but that it did not appear to me that his intentions were hateful or malicious.”
Days after this note, a group of Times staff sent a letter to the publisher, AG Sulzberger, criticizing the paper’s attitude towards Mr. McNeil. “Despite the Times’ apparent commitment to diversity and inclusion,” said the letter, viewed by a Times reporter, “we have given a prominent platform to someone who has chosen to use it – a critical blow, the one Pandemic that disproportionately affects people with color. ” Language that is offensive and unacceptable by newsroom standards. “
Mr. Sulzberger, Mr. Baquet and Meredith Kopit Levien, the CEO of the New York Times Company, responded to the group in a letter on Wednesday with the words: “We welcome this contribution. We appreciate the spirit in which it has been offered and broadly agree with the message. “
In a statement to Times staff on Friday, Mr. McNeil wrote that he used the bow in a discussion with a student about the suspension of a classmate who had used the term.
“I shouldn’t have done that,” he wrote. “I originally thought that the context in which I used this ugly word could be defended. I now realize that it can’t. It’s deeply offensive and hurtful. “
Mr. McNeil concluded, “I am sorry for offending my coworkers – and for everything I have done to hurt The Times, an institution I love and whose mission I believe in and try to serve . I let you all down. “
The departure of Mr. Mills, the audio journalist, was announced nearly two months after an editorial note was posted about the bugs in “Caliphate”. The note says the series on Islamic State put too much faith in the misrepresentation or exaggeration of one of its main themes.
In an interview with Michael Barbaro, the host of the Times podcast “The Daily”, Mr. Baquet attributed the show’s shortcomings to “an institutional failure”. The note and the interview with the editors followed a month-long internal investigation into reporting on the “Caliphate”.
Following the correction, people who worked with Mr. Mills in his previous job on the WNYC show “Radiolab” posted complaints on Twitter about his behavior towards women in the Radiolab workplace and in social settings.
In February 2018, two months before the debut of Caliphate, an article in New York magazine The Cut about sexual harassment on New York public radio reported that Mr. Mills had been the subject of complaints while at Radiolab.
Women interviewed for the article said he asked them about dates, gave unsolicited back massages and poured beer on the head of a woman he worked with, and he said a woman in the office was about her a man’s sex has been set. WNYC Human Resources investigated Mr. Mills’ behavior, reported The Cut, and issued him a warning while allowing him to keep his job. In an interview for The Cut, Mr. Mills admitted much of the behavior described in WNYC’s HR report.
In an online post on Friday, Mr Mills said that his departure from The Times was not due to problems with “Caliphate” and that those responsible for the newspaper “did not blame us” for their shortcomings.
After posting the editor’s note, “Another story surfaced online: my lack of punishment was due to entitlement and male privilege,” he wrote. “This accusation gave some the opportunity to revive my previous personal behavior.”
He wrote that when he was hired, he told The Times about his past mistakes and received good reviews for his work in the newspaper. He also said he received a promotion in December. But in the weeks after Caliphate’s errors were publicized, “allegations on Twitter quickly escalated to the point where my actual flaws and past mistakes were replaced by gross exaggerations and unsubstantiated claims.”
In the end: “I believe it is in the best interests of me and my team to leave the company at this point,” he wrote. “I do it without joy and with a heavy heart.”