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DJ New York Times Audio Producer Andy Mills Resigns -- 2nd Update

· 02/05/2021 20:09
By Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg

Two high-profile New York Times staffers are leaving the company amid allegations of improper conduct in the workplace, the latest in a string of internal crises at the news outlet.

Audio producer Andy Mills, who played a key role in the launch of "The Daily" news podcast and was involved in the troubled podcast "Caliphate, " and Donald G. McNeil Jr., a star science and health reporter whose work on the coronavirus pandemic has been widely acclaimed, are leaving the Times, senior executives told staff on Friday.

Messrs. Mills and McNeil each survived the Times' initial probes into the issues surrounding them; the publisher parted ways with the men after internal and public criticism that the Times hadn't taken sufficient action.

In a statement announcing his resignation, Mr. Mills said recent events, including the resurfacing of allegations regarding his behavior before his joining the Times in 2016, made the work atmosphere more difficult.

"The allegations on Twitter quickly escalated to the point where my actual shortcomings and past mistakes were replaced with gross exaggerations and baseless claims," Mr. Mills wrote, noting that the online campaign had "grown to encompass some staffers of The Times."

Mr. Mills cited his own poor behavior. "Eight years ago during a team meeting, I gave a colleague a back rub," he wrote. "Seven years ago I poured a drink on a co-worker's head at a drunken bar party. I look back at those actions with extraordinary regret and embarrassment."

Mr. Mills said he apologized to the individuals whom he made uncomfortable and disclosed his past behavior to the New York Times when he was hired there. "They said that they appreciated my candor and defended me publicly," he said. The recent backlash against him, including within the paper, became overwhelming, he said.

Reached by phone, Mr. Mills declined to discuss any financial terms associated with his departure. "I'm very sad to be leaving the New York Times," he said.

In a note to the audio team, Executive Editor Dean Baquet and Managing Editor Joe Kahn said, "We owe each other a culture of collaboration, collegiality, and respect in our workplace. We all want and need a culture in which any of us feels comfortable coming forward with complaints or concerns and can trust they will be examined fully and fairly."

Mr. Mills, 36 years old, was both a producer and reporter on "Caliphate, " a podcast from 2018 about the Islamic State whose substantial problems forced the Times to issue a major correction in December.

The Times said the 12-part series erred by giving credibility to an account provided by Shehroze Chaudhry, a Canadian resident who claimed to have been involved with Islamic State executions. Mr. Chaudhry was arrested last September by Canadian police and charged with perpetrating a terrorist hoax. His lawyers has said he would contest the hoax charge.

The "Caliphate" series was led by star foreign correspondent Rukmini Callimachi, who was reassigned and now covers higher education.

Last week, the Times said Cliff Levy, who had been Metro editor since 2018, was promoted to deputy managing editor and would oversee new policies for the audio unit.

Mr. McNeil, the health and science reporter, came under criticism late last month after allegations surfaced that he had used racist language during a New York Times-sponsored trip to Peru for high-school students in 2019.

Mr. McNeil was originally investigated by the Times after the allegations surfaced, but Mr. Baquet wrote in a memo that "it did not appear to me that his intentions were hateful or malicious." As such, Mr. McNeil remained on staff.

However, a number of Times staffers responded with a letter to senior management seeking another investigation. The Times and Mr. McNeil then decided to part ways.

"We do not tolerate racist language regardless of intent," Messrs. Baquet and Kahn said in a note to staff announcing Mr. McNeil's departure Friday. "To those of you who have reached out to us with your honest and sometimes painful feelings about this incident, we thank you."

In a statement accompanying the note, Mr. McNeil acknowledged he used a racial slur during that Peru trip but said he did so while quoting somebody else, which he said he now realized showed bad judgment.

"For offending my colleagues -- and for anything I've done to hurt the Times, which is an institution I love and whose mission I believe in and try to serve -- I am sorry. I let you all down," Mr. McNeil said.

Efforts to reach Mr. McNeil for comment were unsuccessful.

Mr. McNeil, who has been at the Times since 1976, was a frequent guest of the "The Daily" podcast, with some of his appearances early in the pandemic helping turn him into a breakout star.

During an interview on Feb. 27, 2020, Mr. McNeil said that the looming coronavirus threat reminded him of the 1918 Spanish influenza. "I'm trying to bring a sense that if things don't change, a lot of us might die," he said, according to a transcript. "If you have 300 relatively close friends and acquaintances, six of them would die in a 2.5% mortality situation."

The paper's online thumbnail biography of Mr. McNeil notes that his "articles and his appearances on the Times podcast 'The Daily' helped raise awareness of the pandemic threat posed by Covid-19."

Write to Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg at jeffrey.trachtenberg@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 05, 2021 20:09 ET (01:09 GMT)

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