The New York Times admitted Friday that it had the allegations of a Canadian man whose report of atrocities for the Islamic State in Syria was a central part of its podcast, Caliphate. ”
The series had won a Peabody Award, the first for a podcast produced by the newspaper, but within hours, administrators said the Times would return the award. The Overseas Press Club of America said he would receive his honor for “Caliphate. ”
With a big hole in the narrative, the Times added an audio correction to the beginning of each part of the 12-part podcast and published an investigation in the Friday paper on what went wrong with the story. The story’s central reporter, Rukmini Callimachi, will be reinstated after the terrorist attack, according to the Times.
Dean Baquet, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, said on a podcast distributed on Friday, “That mistake wasn’t about a reporter. I think that was an institutional failure. ”
The Times hired an investigation team to investigate the story after Canadian police arrested Shehroze Chaudhry, using the pseudonym Abu Huzayfah, in September for a terrorist joke. He told the Times that as an Islamic state soldier, he shot one man in the head and stabbed another in the heart.
Chaudhry’s story fell apart on further examination. Investigators concluded that they couldn’t be sure if he had ever been to Syria and almost certainly had not committed the atrocities he alleged. Alleged evidence he offered to support his story, including photos from Syria, has been gathered from other sources.
The Times concluded that he was a « fabulist » who made up stories to escape his everyday life in suburban Toronto or to live with grandparents in Pakistan.
« All of the evidence he came up with that he went to Syria was either snatched from elsewhere, inconclusive, or simply not holding up, » said Mark Mazzetti, who led the Times’ investigation team into Chaudhry Podcast. “We have found many misrepresentations of him and nothing to independently confirm his claims to be an ISIS executioner in Syria. ”
Chaudhry’s attorney, Nader Hasan, would not comment on the Times story. He said Chaudhry was not guilty of the Canadian charges and would “vigorously defend himself. ”
The Times had enough reason to be suspicious of Chaudhry’s report, as an episode of « Caliphate » was devoted to discrepancies in his story and its own fact-checking. But Baquet compared it to a confirmatory bias of wanting to believe what seemed like a great story.
« This is one of those cases where I think we haven’t listened carefully enough to the things that questioned the story, or the signs that the story wasn’t as strong as we thought it was « , he said.
Callimachi said Friday that it was « disgusting » to abandon her colleagues. She said she should have caught more of the « lies » Chaudhry was telling her, trying to make it clear what the paper did and what it didn’t.
« It wasn’t enough, » she said in a statement. “I apologize to our audience for what we missed and what we did wrong. We correct the record and I undertake to do better in the future. ”
Callimachi worked at the Associated Press from 2003 to 2014. The news organization said Friday that its coverage of terrorism “went through a rigorous editorial process at all stages of coverage and prior to publication. We stand by the stories. ”
As a result of an investigation into their work, the Times added notes from the editorial staff correcting some details in two other stories under their direction. In a 2014 story about a Syrian journalist who alleged he held American hostages in a former factory in Syria, the Times notes that the source gave inconsistent stories to others. The Times also questioned the documents that formed the basis of a 2019 story that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was hidden at the base of a rival group for paying protection money.
The brother of the murdered American journalist James Foley had previously questioned details of a Callimachi story about her brother, but the Times supported their work.
Baquet, realizing the difficulty of covering up terrorism, accused himself and the top MPs of “neglecting the Caliphate. In contrast, he said he had looked at so many versions of the newspaper’s investigation into President Donald Trump’s finances that “I could almost do Trump’s taxes at the time. ”
The episode raises questions about whether the Times applies the same journalistic rigor to stories created by its audio unit as it does to printed matter. The Times got more aggressive into audio about four years ago, producing « The Daily, » one of the most successful podcasts out there.
In an interview with NPR, Baquet said that editors who are used to printing pieces are respectful of an ambitious audio team that presents a compelling narrative thread.
This pissed off Madhulika Sikka, a former top NPR executive who was also an audio executive producer for the Washington Post before joining publishing. She tweeted that if audio products were operated according to different rules than the rest of the newsroom, the problem was in the newsroom and not in the platform.
« If this had been a printed story, would other rules have been applied? » Sikka said in an interview. « I dont know. It was the implication in Dean Baquet’s quote that I found uncomfortable. ”
The New York Times, Podcast, The New York Times Company, Rukmini Callimachi, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
World News – CA – New York Times: Podcast « Caliphate » Satisfied not the standards
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