New York Times Reporter Donald McNeil Says Paper Twisted His Arm Into Resigning

Times executive editor Dean Baquet said privately McNeil wasn’t a racist

The New York Times / Getty Images
March 1, 2021

Former New York Times reporter Donald McNeil says he was pushed out of the paper by Dean Baquet, the Times’s executive editor, even though Baquet conceded that the allegations against McNeil were baseless.

Baquet allegedly told McNeil, "I know you’re not a racist," but encouraged him to resign anyway because he had "lost the newsroom." "We’re not firing you," Baquet said. "We’re asking you to consider resigning." McNeil, whose work on the coronavirus pandemic is being considered for a Pulitzer Prize, recounted the incident in a Medium post on Monday.

The post confirms what several Times insiders had alleged: Although McNeil technically resigned of his own volition, he was under intense pressure to do so. When the star science reporter asked for details about the allegations, Baquet was silent. "It felt like an attempt to intimidate me," McNeil wrote.

The conversation occurred a few days after the Daily Beast reported that McNeil said the n-word while chaperoning high school students in Peru. One student had asked him if her classmate should have been suspended for using the word, and McNeil, requesting context, uttered it aloud himself. Baquet had initially reprimanded McNeil for his "extremely poor judgment" but stopped short of firing him. It was only after the Daily Beast report that McNeil was pushed out.

The Medium post also suggests that the New York Times union was unwilling to defend McNeil. The union "was deeply split over my case," McNeil said, so "I decided I needed my own lawyer." As the Washington Free Beacon reported last month, the union even exploited U.S. labor law to up the pressure on McNeil.

While McNeil said he still considers Baquet a friend, he had harsher words for Charlotte Behrendt, the human resources official who oversaw the investigation into his conduct. "She makes the Times newsroom more like North Korea every day," he said in a follow-up Medium post, quoting an email he had sent to a friend.

Behrendt herself had used the n-word while grilling McNeil about the Peru incident. "I flinched a little as she said it," McNeil said, recounting a meeting at which he and Bill Baker, the New York Times union chair, were present. "[M]ostly because Bill, who was sitting next to me, is black."

Neither Baquet nor Behrendt responded to requests for comment.