New York Times Covid Star Is Out Following Reports He Used Slur

Donald G. McNeil Jr., the New York Times science reporter whose fame grew during the Covid-19 pandemic, is stepping down following allegations that he used the N-word during a company-sponsored student trip to Peru in 2019.

“We do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent,” Executive Editor Dean Baquet and Managing Editor Joe Kahn said in a memo to staff on Friday. The company is committed to “core values of integrity and respect,” they said, “and will work with urgency to create clearer guidelines and enforcement about conduct in the workplace, including red-line issues on racist language.”

The Daily Beast reported last week that students and parents on the Times-sponsored trip complained about McNeil’s language, with two students saying he said the N-word. The Times followed with its own story on the incident, saying that the newspaper had apologized for McNeil’s behavior.

McNeil was a 45-year veteran of the newspaper and previously covered the AIDS, Ebola and Zika epidemics, in addition to the Covid-19 pandemic. Last year, he won the John Chancellor Award for lifetime achievement in journalism.

In his own statement Friday, McNeil apologized to the students on the trip and his colleagues, including “the hundreds of people who trusted me to work with them closely during this pandemic.”

“For anything I’ve done to hurt the Times, which is an institution I love and whose mission I believe in and try to serve, I am sorry,” he said. “I let you all down.”

The announcement of McNeil’s departure coincides with the resignation of Andy Mills, a podcast journalist who worked on a Times series about the Islamic State that had to be corrected. Mills also faced allegations of harassment when he worked at public radio station WNYC.

Mills responded to the allegations in a letter posted to his website, saying, “Actual shortcomings and past mistakes were replaced with gross exaggerations and baseless claims.”

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