PEN America Responds to Resignation of New York Times Reporter McNeil
The word McNeil uttered has uniquely cruel, painful, and dangerous associations; still, Times' reversal in this instance sends worrying signal
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York, NY) — New York Times science reporter Donald McNeil Jr. resigned Friday after revelations that he uttered a racial slur during a 2019 trip to Peru for high school students. PEN America CEO Suzanne Nossel said the following:
“The N-word is a slur with uniquely cruel, painful, and dangerous associations. Saying the word—even when it is clearly not intended to be used as a slur—can be profoundly offensive and inappropriate. People in positions of authority who hold large platforms have a responsibility to attend to the import of words and to be cognizant of the sensibilities of groups with whom they interact.
“As such, it is understandable that the students on the trip in question, New York Times staffers, and others responded to McNeil’s reported usage of the word with upset and anger. But particularly when there is a credible apology and a recognition of the offense caused, mention of the word—for example, in an attempt to clarify how it was used in another context—must not be treated as the equivalent of a racist attack. Recognizing that words can be jarring and hurtful even absent any ill-will, intent and context are nonetheless essential to evaluating the import of speech and determining what consequences it should bear. For reporter Donald McNeil to end his long career, apparently as a result of a single word, risks sending a chilling message. That the paper apparently altered its course in relation to this incident as a result of public pressure is a further worrying signal. The Times‘ readers depend upon its journalists and editors to be able to carry out their work without fear that a lone errant statement may cost them their job.”