A top New York Times The columnist claims the newspaper’s editor has put aside his opinion column defending Donald McNeil, the reporter who recently left the newspaper after reports emerged that he said a racial insult on an accompanying trip high school students.
Earlier this month, McNeil, a leading science journalist, left the Times after The Daily Beast reported weeks before several students on the 2019 Times– sponsored trip to Peru complained, he said the “n-word” and made other remarks which they perceived as racist and offensive.
News of these complaints, along with his possible ouster, sparked an internal fire storm at the newspaper, dividing much of the newsroom and raising questions about Times the management of the brass test.
In an internal email obtained from The Daily Beast on Thursday, Stephens, a Conservative columnist, claimed he wrote a column defending McNeil – but was put on ice by the Times‘editor. His request was first reported by NBC’s Dylan Byers.
“If you are wondering why it was not in the newspaper, it’s because AG Sulzberger made it rich,” he wrote at the top of the email.
Tentatively titled “Regardless of Intent,” the draft column seemed to focus on Editor Dean Baquet’s statements about McNeil. A copy of the column obtained and published by the New York Post On Thursday night, Stephens singled out Baquet and accused The Times of hypocrisy, writing that “the Times has never before shied away from citing racist slurs to explain a point.”
Initially, the editor defended McNeil, noting that the newspaper found no malicious or hateful intent in his remarks. More than 150 staff members sent an “indignant” email to the newspaper’s bosses, at one point telling Baquet that the intent was “irrelevant” in this matter. And so, upon the journalist’s exit last Friday, the editor wrote: “We do not tolerate racist remarks whatever their intention.” (Baquet pulled him back slightly during a meeting on Thursday, saying: “Of course, intention is important when we talk about language in journalism. Intention matters. “)
“Every serious moral philosophy, every decent legal system and every ethical organization cares deeply about intention,” Stephens began in his column outline. “It’s the difference between murder and manslaughter. It is an aggravating or mitigating factor in legal contexts. It’s a cardinal consideration in pardons (or at least that was until Donald Trump stepped into the act). It is a basic aspect of parenthood, friendship, dating and marriage. “
The columnist added: “A characteristic of injustice is indifference to intent.”
When contacted for comment, Stephens said, “I wouldn’t even speak to The Daily Beast. Goodbye.”
Kathleen Kingsbury, Editor-in-Chief of Times“ opinion section, disputed Stephens’ account, telling the Daily Beast that although she consulted Sulzberger about the column, it was ultimately her decision to remove it.
“I have a particularly high bar in handling any column that might have a bad image of a colleague and I don’t feel that this piece has reached that level,” she said, noting that she thought Baquet was planning to correct the diary file. view on “intention”.
“Bret and I had a professional conversation to kill the column on Monday night and he expressed his disappointment and we continued,” she said.
In the weeks since McNeil’s first report of comments, The New York Times was swallowed up by the internal “chaos” of the scandal.
McNeil initially faced private internal discipline in 2019 for his conduct during the trip, The Daily Beast reported, but after his comments were made public, dozens of Times staff members wrote the letter to Sulzberger, Baquet and the newspaper’s main editors asking for an apology and a further investigation into the trip. At a meeting earlier this month, Pulitzer Prize winner Times Staff member Nikole Hannah-Jones told Baquet and associate editor Carolyn Ryan that she plans to personally call parents and students during the trip to learn more about McNeil’s comments.
McNeil apologized several days later and announced he was leaving the newspaper. But he explained that when he used the “n-word” he was engaged in a discussion with a student who asked him if a classmate should have been suspended for using the racial insult.
“To understand what was in the video, I asked if she had called someone else the insult or if she was rapping or quoting the title of a book. In asking the question, I used the insult itself, ”McNeil wrote in the Friday email shared with Times Staff. “I should not have done that. Originally, I thought the context in which I was using that ugly word could be defended.
McNeil’s departure also sparked an external backlash, with some pundits critical of the ‘cancellation culture’ arguing that because the reporter did not use the word derogatory, he should not have been ostracized for have used it in a discussion. “Describing a slur is not the same as using it”, title a column of new York Jonathan Chait of the magazine.
Developing The Daily Beast’s original report, The Washington Post reported that the students confirmed McNeil’s account of using the “n-word,” but said he deployed it in a way they deemed “occasional” and “free.” In addition, participants alleged that the reporter rejected the existence of concepts such as cultural appropriation and white supremacy; and suggested that the high rate of incarceration of black Americans is the responsibility of those who commit the crimes and not the result of a racist criminal justice system.
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