Two New York Times journalists who had recently attracted scrutiny for their past conduct – and, in one case, sparked an outcry from staff against management – have left the organization, according to notes sent to the newsroom by top Times editors Friday evening.
High-profile science reporter Donald McNeil Jr.’s departure comes after the Daily Beast reported that he had used a racial slur during a 2019 trip to Peru for high school students. The Times also confirmed McNeil, who has been a key reporter covering covid-19, “had used bad judgment by repeating a racist slur in the context of a conversation about racist language.” McNeil initially responded to the report by telling The Post, “don’t believe everything you read,” without elaborating.
The other departure is Andy Mills, whose past behavior and employment status came under scrutiny both by his colleagues and his peers in the podcasting world after the collapse of “Caliphate,” which he helped produce and host along with star Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi.
This week, staffers sent a letter to management saying they were “outraged” that the company’s previous investigation into his comments had not resulted in a more severe punishment and that the company needed to do more. Managers signaled agreement.
“We do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent,” executive editor Dean Baquet and managing editor Joseph Kahn wrote to staffers Friday. “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.”
They also shared a note from McNeil, who explained that he had repeated a racial slur in asking a question about the use of the slur. “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 showed extraordinarily bad judgement. For that I apologize.”
Mills’s departure comes months after the Times released the results of its three-month internal review into the veracity of “Caliphate,” concluding that the account of the would-be Islamic State terrorist at the center of the podcast could not be substantiated. The Times returned the prestigious Peabody awarded to “Caliphate” and removed Callimachi from the terrorism beat.
A few days later, Mills guest-hosted the popular Times podcast “The Daily.” Some Time staffers questioned why Mills retained his role when Callimachi had not; on Twitter many journalists resurfaced a New York Magazine article that reported on his past behavior as a WYNC employee and also that his new bosses on the Times were aware of the past incidents, saying Mills had shown genuine remorse and had changed.
Soon, people worked in audio publicly shared other stories about Mills’s past behavior, including an incident in which he poured a beer over co-worker’s head during a bar gathering and other situations in which he allegedly belittled women. The attention even prompted WYNC to issue a note about how it handled Mills’s employment. “We hate that this happened and we apologize to those we failed,” it read in part.
Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha confirmed Mills resigned but declined to elaborate. Mills posted a lengthy departure note on his personal website, explaining he regretted his past behavior.
“As the pressure of this online campaign has grown to encompass some staffers of The Times, it has led to a climate where, even though I still love the mission of this important institution, I feel it is in the best interest of both myself and my team that I leave the company at this time,” he wrote. “I do this with no joy and a heavy heart.”
Baquet and Kahn did not elaborate on the exact circumstances of his departure, but noted “we owe each other a culture of collaboration, collegiality and respect in our workplace.”
“We know this has been a difficult stretch for our audio team,” they wrote.