Commentary

'New York Times' Avoids Issuing Needed Retraction Of 'Caliphate' Podcast

The New York Times last week admitted its popular podcast about Islamic State terrorism didn't "meet its standards for accuracy," but stopped short of issuing a full retraction or removing the series from its website. Instead, listeners of the "Caliphate" podcast are somehow expected to sift through the wreckage of the newspaper's flawed reporting and determine for themselves what's fact or fiction.

So much for explanatory journalism.

The NYT's lengthy correction acknowledged the central figure in the 2018 podcast, a Canadian man who claimed he had killed people in Syria as a member of ISIS, had misrepresented himself on several occasions. Shehroze Chaudhry, who spoke under the pseudonym Abu Huzayfah, shared stories about the atrocities he'd seen in Syria and his role in shooting and stabbing people to death.
Amid a political firestorm in Canada that ensued after the podcast appeared, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. tracked down Chaudhry, who said he had made up the stories that appeared in "Caliphate." While it could be argued that he recanted the stories to avoid criminal prosecution for murder, he didn't avoid other charges. In September, Canda arrested him and charged him with perpetrating a terrorist hoax.
The arrest led the NYT to re-examine its reporting in the series, an internal investigation that took several months. In addition to acknowledging its editorial failings, the newspaper reassigned terrorism reporter Rukmini Callimachi to another beat.
As the host of "Caliphate," Callimachi became a star journalist who won a Peabody Award for the newspaper and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The NYT last week gave back its Peabody as part of its reckoning with the "Caliphate" debacle.
Even though the series provides some disclaimers that it couldn't verify Chaudhry's claims, such as an entire episode devoted to examining discrepancies and highlighting its fact-checking process, the NYT didn't do enough to absolve itself.
It's also doubtful that readers want to waste time examining the NYT's own reporting about its internal review -- which basically serves as an anti-listening guide for "Caliphate."The newspaper must scrap the podcast entirely rather than keeping it on its website as a symbol of its journalistic failures.

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