Donald G. McNeil Jr.

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Donald McNeil Jr.
BornDonald Gerard McNeil Jr.
(1954-02-01) February 1, 1954 (age 69)
San Francisco, California, U.S.
Alma materUniversity of California, Berkeley (BA)
SubjectsScience and health reporting
Years active1976–present
Notable worksZika: The Emerging Epidemic (2016)
(m. 1980; div. 2003)

Donald Gerard McNeil Jr. (born February 1, 1954) is an American journalist. He was a science and health reporter for The New York Times where he reported on epidemics, including HIV/AIDS and the COVID-19 pandemic. His reporting on COVID-19 earned him widespread recognition for being one of the earliest and most prominent voices covering the pandemic.

McNeil resigned under pressure from The New York Times following reports that high-school students on a trip to Peru organized by the Times accused McNeil of making racially offensive remarks. After his resignation, McNeil published a lengthy response, disputing the high-school students' accusations and criticizing the Times.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

McNeil was born on February 1, 1954, in San Francisco. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of California, Berkeley in 1975 with a bachelor's degree in rhetoric.[2]


McNeil started at The New York Times in 1976 as a copy boy.[3] He left in 1979 to teach journalism at Columbia University while studying history. From 1995 to 2002, he was a foreign correspondent based in South Africa and France. It was during this time that McNeil began covering HIV/AIDS and took an interest in vaccine-preventable diseases.

In 2002, McNeil joined the science staff of The New York Times and was assigned to cover global health. McNeil's later work on a series of stories about diseases on the brink of eradication was awarded the top prize by the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Prize in Journalism in 2006.[4]

In 2013, he was featured in an acclaimed documentary about AIDS drugs, Fire in the Blood.[5]

McNeil began covering the outbreak of the Zika virus for The New York Times in late 2015.[6] He gained attention for his coverage of viral outbreaks.[7]

During the COVID-19 pandemic, he became known for his early and persistent warnings about the severity of the situation.[8] McNeil appeared on The Daily to discuss COVID-19 on February 27, 2020, marking him as one of the first to bring widespread attention to the COVID-19 virus in the United States.[9][10] He also interviewed Dr. Anthony Fauci about Fauci's working relationship with President Donald Trump.[10] His early coverage and acclaimed writing made him one of the prominent journalists covering COVID-19.[11][10][12] He was the author of two of the fifteen articles about the coronavirus pandemic that won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for the Times.[13][14]

Contract negotiations with The New York Times[edit]

McNeil was part of a brief walk-out during contract negotiations between newsroom members of the Newspaper Guild of New York and the management of The New York Times.[15] During negotiations on October 12, 2012, McNeil reported that 375 union members had walked out of the New York City offices and another 23 had walked out of the Washington D.C. newsroom.[16] At the time, union members had been without a contract for 18 months and talks over pension payments were at a standstill. McNeil was joined by many other prominent reporters and editors in directing harsh criticism at the paper.[17]

Dismissal from The New York Times[edit]

In 2019 McNeil accompanied a group of high school students on a New York Times sponsored trip to Peru. The purpose of the trip was for the students to learn about community-based healthcare in Peru. On January 28, 2021, The Daily Beast reported that multiple participants accused McNeil of repeatedly making racist and sexist remarks, including having used the word "nigger" in the context of discussing racist language, as well as "[using] stereotypes about Black teenagers".[10] McNeil initially released a very short statement to The Washington Post, saying "Don't believe everything you read", which led to 150 Times employees signing an internal letter on February 3, demanding an apology from McNeil.[12]

The New York Times said they had "disciplined Donald for statements and language that had been inappropriate and inconsistent with our values" after initial complaints in 2019,[12] writing that the Times "found [McNeil] had used bad judgment by repeating a racist slur in the context of a conversation about racist language".[10] On February 5, The New York Times announced that McNeil would be leaving.[18][12] In the announcement McNeil apologized, saying that he had been "asked at dinner by a student whether [he] thought a classmate of hers should have been suspended for a video she had made as a 12-year-old in which she used a racial slur. To understand what was in the video, [he] asked if she had called someone else the slur or whether she was rapping or quoting a book title. In asking the question, [he] used the slur itself."[12]

In March 2021, McNeil published an essay on Medium contesting the students' allegations and criticizing the Times' handling of his case.[19][20][1] Describing his interactions with the high school students on the trip to Peru, McNeil wrote, "I thought I was generally arguing in favor of open-mindedness and tolerance — but it clearly didn't come across that way. And my bristliness makes me an imperfect pedagogue for sensitive teenagers."[21][22]

Personal life[edit]

McNeil lives in Brooklyn. He was previously married to Suzanne Daley, also a journalist for the Times. He has two daughters and a stepson.[23][24]




  1. ^ a b McCarthy, Tom (March 1, 2021). "Reporter says New York Times panicked over alleged racism case that led to his resignation". The Guardian. Retrieved March 2, 2021.
  2. ^ "Poynter Fellowship in Journalism: Donald McNeil". Office of Public Affairs & Communications, Yale University. May 27, 2016. Retrieved February 9, 2021.
  3. ^ "Philanthropy in Global Health: Speakers". Basel Institute on Governance. Archived from the original on July 25, 2011. Retrieved November 28, 2012.
  4. ^ Dunavan, Claire Panosian (August 2019). "Vaccine Confidential A Conversation with Donald G. McNeil Jr". The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. 101 (2): 472–474. doi:10.4269/ajtmh.19-0427. ISSN 0002-9637. PMC 6685584. PMID 31287040.
  5. ^ Bale, Miriam (September 5, 2013). "'Fire in the Blood' Spotlights AIDS in Africa". The New York Times. Archived from the original on August 3, 2020. Retrieved January 22, 2021.
  6. ^ a b "'Zika: The Emerging Epidemic' Takes An In-Depth Look At The Virus". WBUR-FM. August 11, 2016. Retrieved February 9, 2021.
  7. ^ Kiely, Kathy (April 22, 2020). "Global Journalist: Covering Two Deadly Viruses". KBIA. Retrieved February 9, 2021. But New York Times reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr.'s interest in what would become the Zika epidemic has made him something of an expert on viral outbreaks.
  8. ^ Delkic, Melina (March 19, 2020). "Our Infectious Diseases Reporter on the 'Urgent' Response to the Coronavirus". The New York Times. Retrieved June 19, 2020.
  9. ^ "The Coronavirus Goes Global". The New York Times. February 27, 2020. Retrieved February 11, 2021.
  10. ^ a b c d e Tani, Maxwell; Cartwright, Lachlan (January 28, 2021). "Star NY Times Reporter Accused of Using 'N-Word,' Making Other Racist Comments". The Daily Beast. Archived from the original on February 7, 2021. Retrieved January 28, 2021.
  11. ^ Kang, Shinhee (December 15, 2020). "The best journalism of 2020: Covering the pandemic". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved February 11, 2021.
  12. ^ a b c d e Pompeo, Joe (February 10, 2021). ""It's Chaos": Behind the Scenes of Donald McNeil's New York Times Exit". Vanity Fair. Retrieved February 11, 2021.
  13. ^ Robertson, Katie (June 11, 2021). "Pulitzer Prizes Focus on Coverage of Pandemic and Law Enforcement". The New York Times. Retrieved June 27, 2021.
  14. ^ Jones, Tom (June 14, 2021). "A special Poynter Report: Looking at this year's Pulitzer Prizes". Poynter. Retrieved June 27, 2021.
  15. ^ Beaujon, Andrew (October 10, 2012). "Guild: New York Times management canceled today's negotiations, plans 'final offer' tomorrow". Poynter Institute. Retrieved February 10, 2021.
  16. ^ Moos, Julie (October 8, 2012). "New York Times union members stage brief walkout to protest contract negotiations". Poynter Institute. Retrieved February 10, 2021.
  17. ^ "New York Times' Donald G. McNeil Jr. On Contract Talks: Management Has 'Acted Like Belligerent Idiots'". HuffPost. October 9, 2012. Retrieved February 10, 2021.
  18. ^ Folkenflik, David (February 6, 2021). "Two Prominent 'New York Times' Journalists Depart Over Past Behavior". NPR. Archived from the original on February 6, 2021. Retrieved February 6, 2021.
  19. ^ McNeil, Donald G. Jr. (March 1, 2021). "NYTimes Peru N-Word, Part One: Introduction". Medium. Retrieved March 25, 2021.
  20. ^ Tracy, Marc (March 1, 2021). "Ex-Times Reporter Who Used Racial Slur Publishes a Lengthy Defense". The New York Times. Retrieved March 2, 2021.
  21. ^ McNeil, Donald G. Jr. (March 12, 2021). "NYTimes Peru N-Word, Part Four: What Happened in Peru?". Medium. Retrieved March 25, 2021.
  22. ^ Moore, Thomas (March 1, 2021). "Ousted NYT reporter says he's been a jackal circled by jackals". The Hill. Retrieved March 24, 2021.
  23. ^ "Donald G. McNeil Jr". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 7, 2010. Retrieved November 28, 2012.
  24. ^ Hannerz, Ulf (2012). Foreign News: Exploring the World of Foreign Correspondents. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 98. ISBN 978-0-226-92253-9.
  25. ^ "2002 NABJ Award Winners". National Association of Black Journalists. Archived from the original on August 3, 2002. Retrieved February 11, 2021.
  26. ^ "2006 OPC Award Winners". Overseas Press Club of America. May 1, 2007. Archived from the original on January 30, 2021. Retrieved January 22, 2021.
  27. ^ "2007: Donald McNeil, Jr. and Celia W. Dugger, "Disease on the Brink" New York Times". Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights. Archived from the original on January 8, 2011. Retrieved December 8, 2020.
  28. ^ "2012 winners named in top health journalism awards". Association of Health Care Journalists. February 25, 2013. Archived from the original on October 30, 2020. Retrieved December 8, 2020.
  29. ^ "Awards for Excellence in Health Care Journalism: 2013 winners". Association of Health Care Journalists. Retrieved December 8, 2020.
  30. ^ "New York Times Science and Health Reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. Wins Prestigious 2020 John Chancellor Award". Columbia Journalism School. September 29, 2020. Archived from the original on January 30, 2021. Retrieved December 8, 2020.
  31. ^ 2020 Chancellor Ceremony - Donald G. McNeil, Jr. Alfred I. duPont Awards. November 19, 2020. Retrieved February 9, 2021 – via Vimeo.

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