Left-leaning establishment journalists came to the defense of a veteran New York Times science reporter who was forced to resign after he apparently offended several “progressive-leaning” mostly white students during a trip to Peru in 2019.
Donald McNeil Jr., a long-time science reporter for the paper, turned in his resignation late last week following a Daily Beast story that said he was reprimanded by Times management after they got complaints from students who said he utilized offensive language that included the “n-word.”
But a subsequent report by the Washington Post’s media critic Erik Wemple that was published on Tuesday delving deeper into the controversy suggests that McNeil’s biggest sin is that he wasn’t ‘woke’ enough.
After Wemple interviewed a half-dozen students who were on the trip, he explained that the veteran science writer “provided expertise about public health and science consistent with what the students had expected.” However, Wemple added that McNeil became “brusque and difficult” as he engaged in “informal chatter” with the students.
Wemple wrote that students confirmed to him McNeil had indeed used the “n-word,” but within the context of a discussion about the word itself. The Post media critic noted that McNeil “uttered the epithet in a way that they perceived as casual, unnecessary or even gratuitous.”
Then, McNeil allegedly “scoffed” during a discussion about cultural appropriation, saying “what’s the problem” with people from all over the world consuming “imported Italian tomatoes.”
McNeil then reportedly committed a cardinal sin in terms of today’s progressive movement — he cast aspersions regarding the notion of “white supremacy.”
“Two students reported coming away with troubling impressions of McNeil’s view of white [sic] supremacy, with one of them claiming that he said it didn’t exist,” Wemple wrote. “Speaking about high incarceration rates of African Americans, McNeil argued that if they engage in criminal activity, that’s on them, and not on an oppressive and racist power structure, recalls a trip participant who said that the comments were ‘triggering’ to the group. The participant, however, said that McNeil’s opinions didn’t disparage African Americans.”
The Post media critic went on to note that the group was largely white with “progressive sensibilities.”
Interestingly, several left-wing journalists responded online in support of McNeil, who had been with the Times since 1976, while being critical of the students.
“McNeil was fired for being sane,” wrote Andrew Sullivan, the former editor of The New Republic.
“A predominantly white [sic] group of high school students who can afford a $5500 trip to Peru with NYT reporters are the vanguard of the revolution,” The Intercept’s Washington, D.C. bureau chief Ryan Grim noted.
“Basically, McNeil spent almost 50 years reporting from global virus hot zones but nothing he did prepared him for contact with the American upper middle class’s social mores,” writer Zaid Jilani tweeted.
“Read this and rejoice that you are not subject to the completely arbitrary, repressive and punitive despots who rule the NYT despite not being on the masthead. What an appalling and dishonest debacle,” liberal journalist Glenn Greenwald added.
“The lesson, as always: strenuously avoid being around the children of wealthy NYT readers if you value your job,” Sonny Bunch, culture editor for The Bulwark, wrote.
“While they clearly point to McNeil being surly old dude, hard to argue these are fireable offenses,” noted Steve Krakauer, a media critic for Fourth Watch.
McNeill was fired for being sane. https://t.co/t8bEtLyzPm
— Andrew Sullivan (@sullydish) February 9, 2021
Basically, McNeill spent almost 50 years reporting from global virus hot zones but nothing he did prepared him for contact with the American upper middle class’s social mores.
— Zaid Jilani (@ZaidJilani) February 9, 2021
Read this and rejoice that you are not subject to the completely arbitrary, repressive and punitive despots who rule the NYT despite not being on the masthead. What an appalling and dishonest debacle: https://t.co/K53PXYrZsf
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) February 9, 2021
The Daily Beast also reported that some 150 NYTimes staffers sent messages to their supervisors expressing their anger over how claims made against McNeil, 67, were handled by management.
The Washington Free Beacon added that Times staffers debated in a private Facebook group over whether the long-serving science reporter should have been made to resign.
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