Ex-NYT journo Don McNeil says paper reached out to Pulitzer jury ‘fearing’ N-word saga would ‘cost them’ prize
Donald McNeil Jr., the veteran New York Times journalist who was forced out by paper earlier this year, revealed that his former employer did damage control with the Pulitzer Prize organization in order to salvage its chances of earning an award over its coronavirus coverage.
On Friday, the Times received the coveted journalism prize in the “public service” category for its reporting throughout the pandemic, which was largely spearheaded by McNeil before his dramatic exit from the paper in February after it was reported that he had used the N-word in context of a conversation during a 2019 educational trip to Peru.
In a statement to Fox News, McNeil said he was “very happy for my former colleagues,” but called the win “bittersweet.”
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“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,” McNeil told Fox News. “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.).”
However, amid the N-word controversy, the Times apparently reached out to folks at the Pulitzer Prize hoping that the negative publicity wouldn’t jeopardize its consideration for the award.
“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,” McNeil wrote, stressing, “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 told Fox News, “When the company adds this award to the 15th floor ‘Pulitzer Wall,’ I hope they will include me in the credits. I aspired to make it there my whole career.”
The former health reporter also knocked the Times for claiming that he left because he was “criticized for using a racial slur,” 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.
The Times did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.
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The Daily Beast broke the story about McNeil’s use of the N-word to college students on 2019 trip but lacked key details about the conversation that tackled the word itself. Despite the Times having previously addressed complaints made by students and their families at the time it happened, the new report sparked backlash among McNeil’s own colleagues.
McNeil has since accused the paper’s management of panicking and botching the situation, which stemmed him from reportedly using a racial slur in the context of asking a question about its usage. Regardless of who was at fault, McNeil no longer works with the group that won the prestigious award partially because of his contributions.