Friday, December 18, 2020

If it fits, it's probably wrong

New York Times admits ‘Caliphate’ podcast based on botched reporting

The New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-nominated podcast about ISIS was an “institutional failure” that included shoddy reporting based off interviews with a “con artist,” executive editor Dean Baquet said Friday.

In a blistering editors’ note, the newspaper said the 2018 series “Caliphate” blew its journalistic standards.

An internal investigation into the 12-part series was launched after the main subject, Shehroze Chaudhry, was arrested in late September in Canada on charges he lied about his role in ISIS activity in Syria.

Chaudhry had told the Times that he participated in executions carried out by the terror group.

But the Times “found a history of misrepresentations by Mr. Chaudhry and no corroboration that he committed the atrocities he described in the ‘Caliphate’ podcast,” the paper said in an editors’ note added Friday.

“As a result, The Times has concluded that the episodes of ‘Caliphate’ that presented Mr. Chaudhry’s claims did not meet our standards for accuracy.”

The note highlighted two main issues — that an editor with experience in the subject of terrorism was not assigned to keep a close eye on the series and that reporters “should have pressed harder to verify Chaudhry’s claims before deciding to place so much emphasis on one individual’s account.”

“It is also clear that elements of the original fact-checking process were not sufficiently rigorous: Times journalists were too credulous about the verification steps that were undertaken and dismissive of the lack of corroboration of essential aspects of Mr. Chaudhry’s account,” the Times said.

Baquet spoke about the bungle on the Times’ podcast “The Daily,” telling host Michael Barbaro that there was a possibility that Chaudhry had “duped” the paper.

“Look, there was a well-known reporter involved in it — Rukmini Callimachi,” Baquet said in the Friday episode. “But this failing isn’t about any one reporter. I think this was an institutional failing.”

Andy Mills and Rukmini Callimachi at the 78th Annual Peabody Awards
Andy Mills and Rukmini Callimachi at the 78th Annual Peabody Awards

Baquet said Times investigators found zero evidence to verify Chaudhry’s story that he was an ISIS executioner in Syria.

“I think this guy, we now believe, was a con artist, who made up most if not all that he told us,” he said.

Episodes of the podcast will now include audio corrections pointing out the shaky reporting.

Callimachi’s byline has not appeared in the paper since the review began, the paper noted. She declined to comment to the Times.

Baquet said she’s staying on but will be taking on a new beat.

“She and I are discussing possibilities,” he said. “I think it’s hard to continue covering terrorism after what happened with this story. But I think she’s a fine reporter.”

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