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Two New York Times journalists resigned Friday amid public controversies over their past behavior — with science reporter Donald McNeil and Andy Mills, a producer on the botched “Caliphate” podcast, each stepping down.
McNeil’s resignation came after more than 150 Times staffers reportedly sent a letter to the Grey Lady’s honchos this week demanding he be “disciplined” after it emerged that he said the N-word on a Times-sponsored student trip to Peru in 2019.
McNeil, who spearheaded the paper’s coverage of COVID-19, admitted in a statement that he used a “racial slur” — though said it was in the context of quoting a student who had asked “whether I thought a classmate of hers should have been suspended for a video she had made as a 12-year-old in which she used” the term.
“To understand what was in the video, I asked if she had called someone else the slur or whether she was rapping or quoting a book title. In asking the question, I used the slur itself.
“I should not have done that. Originally, I thought the context in which I used this ugly word could be defended.
“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.”
In a statement to staffers about McNeil, top Times editors Dean Banquet and Joe Kahn said, “We do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent.”
“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.”
Meanwhile, Mills had faced his own brewing storm when old allegations that he harassed female coworkers at a former job resurfaced.
In his resignation published online, Mills admitted to bad behavior while working as a producer for the WNYC show “Radiolab” — including giving one colleague an unwanted backrub and pouring a drink on a coworker’s head at a party seven years ago — but said he was stepping down over an “online campaign” that had painted him as a “predator.”
“I look back at those actions with extraordinary regret and embarrassment,” he wrote Friday.
Mills noted that the claims resurfaced amid questions about why he had survived the “Caliphate” scandal seemingly unscathed — while star reporter Rukmini Callimachi was moved to a new beat after it emerged that the main source of their podcast about terrorism was a fraud.
“After Caliphate was corrected, in print and in audio, peers of mine in the audio industry, from outside of The Times, began to raise questions about why I had been allowed to remain in my position,” Mills wrote.
Mills ascribed the fraudulent material to a break-down in fact-checking for which he and his production team were “not to blame.”
But then “another story emerged online: that my lack of punishment came down to entitlement and male privilege.”
However, he claimed that his “actual shortcomings and past mistakes were replaced with gross exaggerations and baseless claims” in the process.
“Several people have even alleged that I am a predator and a dangerous threat to my colleagues,” he said.
“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. I do this with no joy and a heavy heart.”