Longtime science reporter Donald McNeil Jr. and audio journalist Andy Mills, who have been mired in separate controversies, have both exited The New York Times, it was announced Friday.
The Daily Beast first revealed in late January that McNeil Jr., who joined the Times in the 1970s, allegedly used racist language including the “n-word” during a 2019 trip with students to Peru. Some students and their parents complained to the Times. The media company told The Daily Beast that it had investigated the incident at the time and “disciplined Donald for statements and language that had been inappropriate and inconsistent with our values.”
But in the days after it became public, executive editor Dean Baquet came under pressure from staffers to take further action. That happened Friday, with Baquet informing them in a company-wide memo that McNeil Jr. will be leaving the company.
“Donald joined The Times in 1976 and has done much good reporting over four decades. But we feel that this is the right next step. We do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent. We are committed to building a news report and company that reflect our core values of integrity and respect, and will work with urgency to create clearer guidelines and enforcement about conduct in the workplace, including red-line issues on racist language,” the note said.
McNeil Jr.’s apology was also shared with staffers. Part of it read: “On a 2019 New York Times trip to Peru for high school students, I was asked at dinner by a student whether I thought a classmate of hers should have been suspended for a video she had made as a 12-year-old in which she used a racial slur. To understand what was in the video, I asked if she had called someone else the slur or whether she was rapping or quoting a book title. In asking the question, I used the slur itself. I should not have done that. Originally, I thought the context in which I used this ugly word could be defended. I now realize that it cannot. It is deeply offensive and hurtful. The fact that I even thought I could defend it itself shows extraordinarily bad judgement.”
As for Mills, he was a producer on the “Caliphate” podcast about the Islamic State, which had to return high-profile awards, including a Peabody, after its main subject was discovered to be a fraud. Management was criticized for demoting the main reporter, Rukmini Callimachi, on the podcast, but not taking action against Mills.
Before the podcast was released, The Cut published an article alleging that Mills had behaved inappropriately toward female coworkers at Radiolab, including unsolicited back rubs at one colleague’s desk and spilling beer on another. According to the article, he was given a warning by parent company WNYC. The allegations resurfaced following the “Caliphate” correction.
Mills announced on his website Friday that the had resigned from The Times.
“Like all human beings, I have made mistakes that I wish I could take back. Nine years ago, when I first moved to New York City, I regularly attended monthly public radio meet-up parties where I looked for love and eventually earned a reputation as a flirt. Eight years ago during a team meeting, I gave a colleague a back rub. Seven years ago I poured a drink on a coworker’s head at a drunken bar party, I look back at those actions with extraordinary regret and embarrassment,” he said.
He claimed that he had informed The Times of his warning at Radiolab when he joined in 2016. “They said that they appreciated my candor and defended me publicly.”
This is not the only controversy that has surrounded the fallout of the “Caliphate” failure. Michael Barbaro, the host of the wildly popular “The Daily” podcast, apologized after a number of reporters said he contacted them about their coverage of the “Caliphate” podcast, with the goal of trying to influence their reporting. The Times also faced criticism for not disclosing that Barbaro, who interviewed executive editor Dean Baquet about the “Caliphate” fallout, is in a relationship with Lisa Tobin, its executive producer.
Metro editor Cliff Levy has been promoted to deputy managing editor with oversight of the audio department, as of late last month. The position will be temporary and Levy, who has been in charge of metro since 2018 and was a onetime Moscow correspondent for the paper, will subsequently move on to a broader role.
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