Dean Baquet, Joe Kahn, Racist Slurs, Twitter and Mao: on Passing the Torch at The New York Times

The newsroom doesn’t need new blood as much as it needs a new, less mean spirit

Donald G. McNeil Jr.
7 min readApr 22, 2022


Since people have been sending me articles about the recent New York Times transition — and commenting, sometimes angrily, on the references to me in them, here’s what I think:

Dean Baquet

I still like Dean, though of course I’m disappointed at how things worked out.

I have no proof — and Dean is too good a soldier to say so — but I assume he was ordered to force me out. We’ve known each other for decades, and he knows I’m no racist.

He said so twice in the days before asking me to resign, and reassured the Pulitzer committee I was not one. He publicly walked back his “we do not tolerate racist language, regardless of intent” remark.

The Times has done everything short of admitting it erred. It still occasionally uses the very word that got me ousted, a word it was using in the same month in 2019 I uttered it in Peru. It didn’t punish Bret Stephens for his leaked column calling its decision hypocritical. It canceled the student trips program. It hired John McWhorter as a columnist even though he had trashed the decision to oust me and called it “contemptible.”

The Times has not publicly disputed even one of the 20,000 words I published March 1, 2021, describing what really happened in Peru and during the internal investigations.

Why? Because it knows they’re true. And because of corporate cowardice. The company instantly corrects its reporters’ errors, but it takes decades to admit blunders by its owners (such as ignoring the Holocaust.)

When I started in 1976, The Times was run by a former Marine who cared more about the mission — journalism — than about policing the personalities of his troops. Now it’s run by his grandson, a Brown graduate who believes in safe spaces and race-based capitalization. It once dealt calmly with criticism. Now it panics — even over a tabloid piece based on anonymous quotes from very naive teenagers. It hunts for someone to flog into the street, or uses threats to extract apologies it can issue…



Donald G. McNeil Jr.

New York Times, 1976–2021. Last beat: lead Covid reporter. 2020 Chancellor Award; 2021 NYT team Pulitzer