Culture War: Trouble at the Times

Donald McNeil is currently out. The renowned science journalist worked for the New York Times until recently. His coverage of the coronavirus pandemic is shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize. He was urged to resign last week anyway due to statements he is said to have made in 2019 on a trip to South America organized by the Times for youth interested in health policy.

As various media report, McNeill accompanied a group of American high school students to Peru two years ago. Over dinner, a student apparently asked him if he thought it would be right to suspend a student who had used the “N-word” from high school. In the context of the discussion resulting from this question, McNeill himself is said to have used the expanded word in question.

According to the Daily Beast magazine, six students and their parents complained to the newspaper about this language use. Some also accused the journalist of spreading clichés about black teenagers and of not believing in the concept of “white privilege“. The Times executive opened an investigation, “disciplined” the employee (although admitting that he had not acted “maliciously”) and apologized to the teenage group.

Finish with pathetic, whimpering self-criticism

So far, so woke. But the story is not over yet. McNeill’s colleagues reopened the case last week. More than 150 Times employees signed an open letter to the newspaper’s management demanding a further investigation into the incident and a personal apology from the journalist. They also vaguely wrote of the bias against colored people that McNeill supposedly showed in his journalistic work and in his interactions with colleagues.

The Times publisher Arthur G. Sulzberger, Editor-in-Chief Dean Baquet and CEO Meredith Kopit Levien welcomed the letter and announced the “results”. In the face of this threat, McNeill thought the best option would be to voluntarily leave the medium for which he had worked for many years. In keeping with our neo-Maoist times, he accompanied his departure with a pathetic, whimpering self-criticism. Will that help him to get back on his feet professionally?  Unlikely.

McNeill is not the first journalist to be banned for political and ideological reasons from the left-wing liberal newspaper, which was once valued worldwide as a quality newspaper. In 2020, the head of the opinion section, James Bennet, quit his job. More than 800 of his Times colleagues had signed a petition protesting the publication of a text by Republican Senator Tom Cotton. In his opinion piece, Cotton had called for a “show of force” by the military to respond to violations of the law in anti-racism protests.

A few weeks later, Bari Weiss, also from the opinion team, quit. The classically liberal journalist complained about the “constant bullying”, intimidation and attrition of employees like you who were not “progressive” enough, and even wrote of a “civil war” within the editorial team. The McNeill case shows once again which side is winning this war.

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