Home/Rod Dreher/At Times, Don McNeil Scandal Deepens

At Times, Don McNeil Scandal Deepens

Nikole Hannah-Jones, the real power at The New York Times (PBS NewsHour)

This business over The New York Times pushing out veteran science journalist Donald G. McNeil, Jr., is shaping up to be deeply symbolic of the way wokeness has corrupted a major American institution. Seriously, the rot goes all the way to the top.

You will recall that publisher A.G. Sulzberger and editor-in-chief Dean Baquet pushed out McNeil, 67, who has over four decades of service to the Times, after the Daily Beast reported that a group of high school kids on a Times-sponsored field trip accused McNeil of using the N-word, and other offenses. It turns out that Baquet was aware of this, and had done an internal investigation, but clear McNeil after he (Baquet, who is black) became satisfied that McNeil had meant no harm. The Beast story made the issue public, and stirred up the Woke Mob within the Times. After a meeting in which Madame Defarge Nikole Hannah-Jones was present, and reportedly threatened Baquet by proposing to undertake her own investigation of what happened on that 2019 field trip, Baquet and Sulzberger reversed course, and showed McNeil the door. These are the statements that came out last week:

Unfortunately, McNeil abased himself before his persecutors:

So that’s why one of the world’s top Covid journalists was forced to resign? Because he used the N-word in characterizing a dilemma in which the students were discussing whether or not it is just to punish someone for the N-word?

It has been pointed out that contrary to Baquet’s line that the Times does not tolerate racist language regardless of intent, the Times uses the word quite a bit. A search I just did of the Times website reveals that the word has appeared in its pages 20 times in the past year. Try it yourself.

Here is how the word appears in a 2019 Times op-ed about school busing:

You know who wrote that op-ed? Nikole Hannah-Jones, who persecuted Don McNeil. When Dean Baquet says “we do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent,” he is lying. The only question is whether or not he’s also lying to himself.

Now, today Erik Wemple, the Washington Post‘s media columnist, wrote a piece in which he contacted some of the students who were on that 2019 field trip to Peru with McNeil, and who complained about him. The trip, by the way, cost over $5,000 per student; your parents would have had to be pretty well-off to send you on it. Here is what Wemple found:

Six students who participated in the trip told the Erik Wemple Blog a consistent story about McNeil’s comportment: He provided expertise about public health and science consistent with what the students had expected. When the structured discussions yielded to informal chatter about other topics, it was a different story. McNeil was brusque and difficult, they said, in keeping with his prickly reputation in the newsroom.

As for specifics:

  • Students largely confirmed in broad outlines McNeil’s account of the n-word fiasco. But they said that he uttered the epithet in a way that they perceived as casual, unnecessary or even gratuitous.
  • In a discussion of cultural appropriation, McNeil scoffed. Though the term applies to people in Western countries adopting fashions or other items from other cultures, McNeil offered the example of people all over the world eating imported Italian tomatoes, according to a student in attendance. What’s the problem with that?
  • Two students reported coming away with troubling impressions of McNeil’s view of white supremacy, with one of them claiming that he said it didn’t exist.
  • 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.

A caveat: There were about 20 students on the trip and many conversations. This is not a comprehensive inventory. But the tensions between McNeil and the students — a predominantly White group with progressive sensibilities — led some participants to withdraw from interacting with him as the trip wore on.

So these were rich liberal white kids. An older white man questioned their woke assumptions about “cultural appropriation,” and that hurt their feelings. The older white man supposedly said that high incarceration rates among black Americans might be a result of high black crime rates, and not racism. Hey maybe he’s wrong about that, but that’s a debatable proposition — though not to these rich white progressive snowflakes, who were “triggered.” I would very much doubt that a New York Times reporter would deny that white supremacy exists, but I would imagine such a figure saying that it is not as ubiquitous as these teenagers think it is.

Over nit-picky crap like this, the Times cashiered an irreplaceable resource of science reporting expertise. That newspaper doesn’t want to be a newspaper anymore; it wants to be a day-care center to coddle woke crybabies.

Aaron Sibarium of the Washington Free Beacon peeked in on a private Times employee Facebook group, and reports on infighting there:

The Washington Free Beacon reviewed a series of postings to a Facebook group for current and former Times staffers, where a tense debate is unfolding over McNeil’s exit. One camp argues that his dismissal was justified and another asserts it set a troubling precedent, which the New York Times union should have done more to prevent.

“What ever happened to the notion of worker solidarity … to giving a fellow worker the benefit of the doubt,” asked Steven Greenhouse, who spent three decades covering labor issues for the Times. “And why didn’t the NewsGuild do far more to defend and protect the job of a long-time Times employee, one who at times did tireless, heroic work on behalf of the Guild to help improve pay and conditions for all NYT employees?” McNeil had excoriated management’s attempts to freeze pension plans in 2012, calling those involved “belligerent idiots.”

Times crossword columnist Deb Amlen accused Greenhouse of an excessive focus on the “perpetrator,” arguing that he and others should shift their attention to the people McNeil had “harmed.”

“Why is it that the focus in discussions like this almost always [is] on ruining the perpetrator’s life, and not those who were harmed by [his actions],” she asked. Reached for comment, Amlen told the Free Beacon this is a “private group” and that she would “appreciate it if you do not use anything I said or wrote.”

“Harmed.” When Sibarium reached out to Nikole Hannah-Jones for comment, she doxxed him by releasing his phone number onto Twitter, in violation of Twitter’s policy. But we know that nobody will ever hold Hannah-Jones responsible for her actions. She’s untouchable. After all, she runs The New York Times, and tells Dean Baquet and A.G. Sulzberger what to do — including, it appears, to fire an old white man after 45 years of service to the Times, and who happens to be one of the most valuable science reporters in the nation, for spurious ideological reasons.

What does this say about the Times‘s commitment to serious journalism? To providing its readers with the best possible coverage on urgently important news (McNeil was the lead Covid-19 reporter)? It is clearly more important to the Times leadership mollify the zealously woke screaming meemies in the newsroom than it is to serve the readers who pay the salaries of the whole lot.

What is it going to take for sane, serious people to regain control of The New York Times? 

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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