The same stunted mentality just resulted in the destruction of the career and reputation of Lorenz’s far more accomplished colleague, science reporter Donald McNeil. On a 2019 field trip for rich high school kids to Peru, he used the “n-word” after a student asked him whether he thought it was fair that one of her classmates was punished for having used it in a video. McNeil used it not with malice or as a racist insult but to inquire about the facts of the video so he could answer the student’s question.
After New York Times senior editors — including African-American editor-in-chief Dean Baquet — investigated and concluded that “only” a reprimand was appropriate — “it did not appear to me that his intentions were hateful or malicious,” said Baquet — dozens of McNeil’s colleagues wrote a furious letter demanding far more severe punishment. “Our community is outraged and in pain,” said the 150 Times employee-signatories, adding: “intent is irrelevant.” Intent is irrelevant when judging how harshly to punish this storied journalist for uttering this word.
They got what they wanted. McNeil wrote a grovelling, abject apology, and then the Times announced he was gone from his job after forty-five years with the paper, including for COVID reporting over the last year that the paper had submitted for a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. Just think about that: New York Times employees, who are unionized, demanded that management punish a fellow union member more harshly than management wanted to. In 2002, McNeil won the 1st place prize from the National Association of Black Journalists for excellence in his reporting on how the AIDS crisis was affecting Africa. Now his forty-five-year career and reputation are destroyed — at the hands of his own colleagues — because “intent is irrelevant” when using off-limit words.