Science writer Donald McNeil Jr. was released by The New York Times this year for having spoken a slur during a conversation two years ago about the term itself. But when the Pulitzer committee came to award McNeil for his coverage of the coronavirus, the Times assured them that McNeil was not racist, even though his employment with the paper was severed over allegations of racism.
That's right. The Times let their star science writer go rather than defend him against bogus charges, and then told the Pulitzer committee that the allegations were garbage, all because they wanted both the glory of the award, and the social justice points for having let him go.
Apparently, according to Fox News, the Times actually reached out to the Pulitzer committee to let them know that McNeil wasn't really racist, despite their having accepted his resignation on the grounds that he was in fact racist.
The Times received the Pulitzer for McNeil's work in the category of "public service." McNeil's work was the foundation of their reporting. McNeil said he was "very happy for my former colleagues" but also said that the awarding of the top prize in journalism was "bittersweet."
McNeil said that: "Fearing the controversy would cost them a Pulitzer, the Times wrote to the Pulitzer jury and board to reassure them that I was not a racist. They said they had looked into the same accusations in 2019 and had found them mostly false." He stressed that "I was told this both by [Times executive editor] Dean Baquet and by [assistant managing editor] Glenn Kramon, who oversees prize submissions."
"That tactic seems to have worked. Bravo," McNeil said. But even as the Times takes the award, primarily for McNeil's contribution, they say that he left because he was "criticized for using a racial slur." McNeil called them out on that, too, saying "That sounds as if I insulted someone, which I did not."
"Even as it celebrates my work, the Times is again libeling me," McNeil said.
McNeil told Fox News that "In January, I was told that my articles and appearances on The Daily would be a prominent part of this submission. In February, in a moment of panic, the Times pressured me to resign over false accusations that I was a racist. Since they had ordered me to not respond in detail to the Daily Beast's accusations, I was unable to explain why they were false (until after I departed on March 1.)."
The incident, which happened two years ago, was one in which McNeil responded to a question from a student during a chaperoned trip to Peru. The student asked McNeil if one of her classmates should have been suspended for using the n-word. In his answer, in a conversation about a word, McNeil said the word. We all know the word. But if we can't speak it, how can we discuss it? How can we take away its power?
The reporter who uncovered the controversy that led to McNeil's departure from the Times endured his own ordeal for having done so. Prominent New York Times writer Nikole Hannah-Jones doxxed him for his audacity to call out the process—namely vitriol in private messages—that led to McNeil's ouster.
The New York Times wants to have it both ways, and it appears they have the clout to do so.