The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
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.