A New York Times science and health correspondent, whose coverage of the coronavirus pandemic was a staple of the newspaper’s front page and its leading podcast, The Daily, was accused of using a racist slur and making racist comments while listening to it as an expert guide on a Times-sponsored student trip, the Times said Thursday.
Donald G. McNeil Jr., a 45-year veteran of the Times who has covered from 60 countries, has been the subject of complaints from travelers traveling to Peru for student journeys in 2019, a number of experts from the list of newspapers at Employees and contributors.
The Daily Beast reported Thursday that at least six out of 26 students or their parents complained about Mr. McNeil’s comments. The Times later confirmed in a statement that Mr. McNeil had used a “racial fraud”.
“In 2019, Donald McNeil Jr. was an expert on a student tour,” the Times said in the statement. “As a result, we became aware of complaints from some students on the trip about certain statements Donald had made during the trip.
“We conducted a thorough investigation and disciplined Donald over statements and language that were inappropriate and inconsistent with our values,” the statement continued. “We found that he had used poor judgment by repeating a racist arc in a conversation about racist language. We also apologized to the students who participated in the trip. “
The Times would not provide details of how or when Mr. McNeil had been disciplined. Mr. McNeil declined to comment. Putney Student Travel, the organizer of the 14-day trip, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In an email to the Times staff Thursday night, Dean Baquet, the editor-in-chief, said when he first heard of the complaints about Mr. McNeil, “I was outraged and expected to be fired.” However, after investigation, Mr. Baquet concluded that what he had said was offensive and that he displayed extremely poor judgment, but that it did not appear to me that his intentions were hateful or malicious.
“I believe that in such cases, people should be told that they are wrong and that they are given another chance,” continued Mr. Baquet. “He was formally disciplined. He didn’t get a passport. “
Mr. McNeil has been involved with infectious diseases for more than a decade. He received the John Chancellor Award for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism last year. His first article on the coronavirus, written with a China correspondent, Sui-Lee Wee, appeared on Jan 8, 2020. It helped educate American readers who were unaware of the threat from a virus that appeared to be confined to Wuhan, China.
This week, Mr. McNeil wrote an article based on an interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci on his experience as director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases under President Donald J. Trump. Mr. McNeil discussed the interview on an episode of “The Daily”.