James Courtright McKinley Jr. (born 1962) is an American journalist for The New York Times, a position he has held since 1989.
McKinley is a son of James C. McKinley, a retired professor and former editor of New Letters, and Mary Ann McKinley. Jesse McKinley, one of McKinley's brothers, is also a reporter for the Times.
McKinley earned a Bachelor of Arts from Cornell University in 1984 and attended the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1985-1986.
McKinley began his career in journalism while still in college, working for local radio stations in Ithaca and stringing for the The Syracuse Post Standard. In late 1986, he started at The New York Times as a copyboy eventually earning a spot on the staff. He covered the police department, city hall, and Federal courts in Manhattan before being named the Nairobi Bureau chief in 1995. In Nairobi, he covered the return of Rwandan refugees after the genocide, the fall of Mobutu, the rise of Laurent Kabila in the former Zaire, and the bombing of U.S. embassies.
He returned to New York in 1999, working as an investigative journalist in the Sports Department then as a political reporter in the Albany Bureau between 2000 and 2004 where he covered the Pataki administration, the budget and dysfunction in the state legislature. In 2004, he was named Mexico City Bureau chief, a position he held until 2008, covering the election of President Felipe Calderón and his government’s war against drug cartels. He was Houston Bureau Chief between 2009 and 2012 and covered events such as the Fort Hood shootings, Hurricane Ike and the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf. He then became the Times pop music reporter and returned to New York City.
On March 8, 2011, The New York Times published an article by McKinley on the rape of an eleven-year-old girl in the East Texas town of Cleveland. The story prompted outrage, not only because of the crime involved - a gang rape perpetrated by 18 boys and men - but also because of how McKinley framed the piece. That framing included relying heavily on quotes from individuals who blamed the victim, scant attention to reporting details on the boys and men involved, and an overemphasis on the impoverished environment where the assault occurred.
On March 11, 2011, The New York Times' public editor Artur R. Brisbane wrote that he found that the outrage was understandable. He agreed that the piece lacked critical balance by relying heavily on quotes from individuals who expressed concern for the perpetrators, as well as detailing the victim's appearance. McKinley and The New York Times, Brisbane determined, created an impression that the victim "had it coming". Brisbane never interviewed McKinley, nor his editors, before writing his column.
On March 29, 2011, the Times published a second article by McKinley and Erica Goode that delved more deeply into the criminal backgrounds of many of the alleged rapists as well as the family of the victim. The second article left no doubt the girl was the victim of a horrendous crime.