"New York Times Retracts Core Of Hit Podcast Series 'Caliphate' On ISIS"


An interesting NPR (David Folkenflik) story, prompted by the Times' official retraction:

The New York Times has retracted the core of its hit 2018 podcast series Caliphate after an internal review found the paper failed to heed red flags indicating that the man it relied upon for its narrative about the allure of terrorism could not be trusted to tell the truth.

The newspaper has reassigned its star terrorism reporter, Rukmini Callimachi, who hosted the series.

Caliphate relayed the tale about the radicalization of a young Canadian who went to Syria, joined the Islamic State and became an executioner for the extremist group before escaping its hold.

Canadian authorities this fall accused the man, Shehroze Chaudhry, of lying about those activities. He currently faces criminal charges in a federal court in Ontario of perpetrating a terrorism hoax.

"We fell in love with the fact that we had gotten a member of ISIS who would describe his life in the caliphate and would describe his crimes," New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet tells NPR in an interview on Thursday. "I think we were so in love with it that when when we saw evidence that maybe he was a fabulist, when we saw evidence that he was making some of it up, we didn't listen hard enough."

See also the Times' own A Riveting ISIS Story, Told in a Times Podcast, Falls Apart (Mark Mazzetti, Ian Austen, Graham Bowley & Malachy Browne). (The controversy itself, of course, isn't new.) It's a sad reminder that, unfortunately, readers and listeners need to be skeptical about everything, including material published by leading media outlets, and by authors and editors who have a lot to lose in the event of error.

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  1. His nickname was “curveball”. You’d think the NYT would have wised up this time.

  2. But election coverage it totes trustworthy.

    1. The difference, of course, is that to believe the Caliphate podcast, you have to trust the Times, With election results you have dozens if not hundreds of news outlets all corroborating what the Times says.

      Which is to say you’d need to believe that it is a huge conspiracy, rather than a couple of reporters credulously believing an unreliable source.

      1. Truth isn’t determined by a popularity contest.

        And it doesn’t take a conspiracy for similarly-educated (or indoctrinated) people with similar goals to all act in a similar manner to accomplish that goal. That’s as true for the news media during an election year as it is for a platoon in combat.

        I must ask though: why do all the billionaires, including those who own the media, meet in Davos except to conspire?

      2. The Times bias it a lot more telling with what it chooses not to report, than the stories it does.

        Take for instance the recent story that a Chinese spy met and started grooming Eric Swalwell when he was a city councilman in a Bay Area suburb in 2012, helped him get elected to Congress in 2014, and helped place an intern on his staff. Even ignoring the allegations of a sexual relationship between a congressman and a Chinese spy, which Swalwell claims is “classified”, you would think the Times would think it’s newsworthy. Especially since Swalwell is on the House intelligence committee, and Pelosi and Hoyer knew about his involvement with the Chinese spy when they appointed him to the intelligence committee.

        1. Too much other actual news for outlets to cover, like “Gay guy likes trains!”

  3. “Then I went into my harem…say, it’s hard to talk with a dry throat, could you top off my beer glass, Mr. Reporter?”

  4. Embarrassing though this surely is for the Times, at least they have the integrity to retract it. A lot of peer-reviewed scientific papers get retracted too. That’s not an excuse to reject science.

    One might argue that being willing to retract a story (or a study) is the hallmark of a trustworthy source. As long as there’s not too many retractions.

    1. Exactly this. The difference between “being mistaken” and “lying” is that people correct their mistakes. When media sources correct their errors, they earn credibility. When they report with nuance, they earn credibility.

      It’s easy to make zero errors as a reporter. Just transcribe whatever the famous person said say, “[s]he said the following.”

      Come to think of it, maybe the NYT should have left the podcast up. It’s not the role of journalists to verify the accuracy of sources, right?

      1. Did the Pulitzer committee ever get around to admitting its mistakes with Duranty and the 1619 Project?

    2. “Embarrassing though this surely is for the Times, at least they have the integrity to retract it…”

      “The Times did not remove the episodes from its site or feeds. Asked whether its actions constitute a retraction, Baquet pauses and says, “I guess for the parts that were about Chaudhry and his history and his background. Yeah, I think it is. Sure does.”

      1. It got some awards too, bet they don’t return those either.

        1. “And the Walter Duranty award goes to…”

  5. >aces criminal charges in a federal court in Ontario of perpetrating a terrorism hoax.

    I think of a ” terrorism hoax” as being something like a bomb scare, not lying to reporters about past activities. This seems more like an “ordinary hoax that includes the subject of terrorism.”

    Is is the statutory definition really so broad/vague in Canada as to cover (criminally) this kind of speech?

  6. It’s a sad reminder that, unfortunately, readers and listeners need to be skeptical about everything, including material published by leading media outlets, and by authors and editors who have a lot to lose in the event of error.

    So what does NYT actually lose here?

    1. I don’t know, but I can see how lying about knowledge of terrorism might be a bigger deal than lying about some other crime.

      Lying about terrorism might get them to waste precious time and resources, and potentially put lives in danger.

      So I suppose it’s reasonable to have a separate category for this kind of hoax. It probably helps terrorists to have people feed governments bad intel about terrorism.

  7. “newspaper has reassigned its star terrorism reporter, Rukmini Callimachi”

    Edit or approve an op ed by a US senator, resign under extreme pressure, write fiction, merely reassigned. Nice.

  8. The first thing you should do Mr. Baquet is correct your misuse of pronouns and stop using ‘we’ when you mean ‘I’.

    1. As best I can tell, Baquet is speaking here for the organization as a whole, or at least the parts of the organizations (editors and writers) who were involved in the process; it seems quite reasonable to use the plural here.

  9. Oh My God!!
    The New York Times is full of bullshit!!

    In what way is any of this ‘news’?

  10. The rush to use this anecdote as proof is as expected.

    And it’s not even very good proof of what Prof. Volokh posits – it was an internal review, that found this.
    The NYT could have not bothered with internal controls, or even kept it secret when they found out, but they chose not to.

    Not a great day for the NYT, but tons better than plenty of more agenda-driven sources (on both sides!) that go all in with too good to check.

    1. What drove the internal review? The RCMP investigation and the terrorism hoax charge. If you’re going to be dishonest, at least be familiar with the material.

      1. Nothing you just said, even assuming all of it is correct, contradicts anything I wrote.

  11. It’s a sad reminder that, unfortunately, readers and listeners need to be skeptical about everything, including material published by leading media outlets, and by authors and editors who have a lot to lose in the event of error.

    What does it mean to say, “readers and listeners need to be skeptical about everything, . . . ?” Without more, that just tars the best media for the sins of the worst. And as reading advice, it’s mistaken. Readers have better reason to rely on journalists who stand to lose personally if they get stories wrong, than readers do when they rely on information sourced from others who can lie with impunity—and who may be getting paid specifically to lie. That ought to be obvious. So what’s needed is advice, about how to tell the first group from the others.

    Try the following:

    1. True stories tend to be less tidy than deliberate lies. True stories tend to include parts that seem irrelevant, or at least beside the point. Fabrications tend to be sparse, thin on context, and lack information which does not seem materially to advance the theme of the story. If everything reported fits seamlessly, and it all tends to one conclusion, be careful, reality seldom works that way.

    2. True stories are best written as tales of discovery, instead of bare recitals telling what was discovered. When the former happens, questions about why a reader should believe the information tend to get answered in the story itself—it’s because this journalist asked these questions of these sources, and not only got the answers reported, but reported the whole process of gathering the information. The more specifics about the locale, the occasion, others present, etc., the more likely the account is to be true.

    3. Does the report contain names of specific people, cited as sources, who could at least in principle be asked to confirm the report? If you finish reading or hearing a story, and can’t afterward think of anyone someone could go to to double-check, a likelihood of unreliable reporting exists.

    4. Which sources you rely on does matter. The most trustworthy news publishers are generally those which have, over a long history, made notable mistakes, corrected them, and sometimes punished mistake makers, by demoting or discharging them. If a source you want to rely on seems never to publish an embarrassing correction, or to punish anyone on its staff for getting a story wrong, look out.

    5. Anonymously-sourced stories are always occasions for skepticism. If they come from publishers who score well on criterion 4 above, then cautious acceptance may be warranted. Just stay ready to change your mind if you hear the contrary. Otherwise, if the publisher lacks the track record suggested in criterion 4, make it a point to get confirmation elsewhere before believing a word of it.

  12. I’m confused. I had listened to the first seven episodes before this retraction and it seemed pretty clear they were unsure about the veracity of what Chaudhry told them. I assume the podcast makes some concrete conclusions about what did or did not happen in later episodes, but these first few episodes don’t.

    If anything, it was interesting to see just how difficult it is to report on in terrorism and that, even after the amount of time spent by the team on this story, it wasn’t enough to meet NYT’s standards after an internal review. That’s a good sign for the quality of NYT’s reporting (at least on less politically polarised issues).

    1. I’d wager nobody here had listened to the podcast. Interesting to hear from an earwitness.

      1. Does one have to have listened to disapprove of poor journalistic practices? Think, don’t emote.

        1. Clearly not, as I also opined without listening. But there is additional information in Just another person’s post to inform both of our opinions.

          Unless you don’t much care, hating on the NYT being too good to check and all…

          1. Nipping weakly at the ankles of their betters may be all the clingers have left.

            Well, that and replacement.

  13. haplessly nipping
    at the ankles of betters;
    the clinger’s station

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