When the New York Times reports on foreign affairs, it’s at best tendentious. Sometimes it’s just flat-out false. Fake news, as the MAGA people say. Most of the time the “paper of record” never bothers to correct the record. But occasionally it does. Today is one of those rare occasions, with the Times admitting that its award-winning “Caliphate” podcast from 2018 was pure fiction.
Hosted by “journalist” Rukmini Callimachi, the podcast revolved around interviews with a Canadian man named Shehroze Chaudhry. Calling himself Abu Huzayfah, Chaudhry claimed to have been an ISIS fighter in Syria and described in graphic detail the atrocities he supposedly participated in. Callimachi played the role of credulous listener, taking for granted that everything Chaudhry told her was true.
As it happens, everything he told her was made up. This became clear back in September, when Chaudhry was arrested in Canada for perpetuating a “terrorist hoax.” As news of Chaudhry’s arrest made the rounds and people began asking questions, the Times defended its reporting using a rather curious argument, namely, that they never claimed their journalism was accurate.
“The uncertainty about Abu Huzayfah’s story is central to every episode of ‘Caliphate’ that featured him,” the paper said.
Ah, the classic “unreliable narrator” device. Common to fiction, but traditionally frowned-upon in journalism, to put it mildly. Then again, the Times has made it a sort of specialty in recent years, quoting all kinds of anonymous intelligence officials to persuade the American public that Russia, Iran and Venezuela are behind every iniquitous act under the sun.
Anyway, the Times evidently decided that “Caliphate” was a little to fraudulent for comfort. So the paper performed a review of the podcast and concluded that it “did not meet the standards for Times journalism.” That’s debatable, but OK.
“The Times found that ‘Caliphate’ gave too much credence to the false or exaggerated accounts of one of its main subjects, Shehroze Chaudhry, a resident of Canada who claimed to have taken part in Islamic State executions.”
How embarrassing. I didn’t study journalism in school, but if I had, I imagine The Importance of Vetting Primary Sources would have been among the first lessons taught.
As for Rukmini Callimachi, the terrorist conman’s willing dupe (chatbots in Australia would have done a better job running the podcast), the Times says she’s going to be allowed to keep her job. “She’s going to take on a new beat, and she and I are discussing possibilities,” said executive editor Dean Baquet. “I think it’s hard to continue covering terrorism after what happened with this story. But I think she’s a fine reporter.”
That someone like Callimachi can be seriously described as a “fine reporter” is a damning reflection of the extreme low to which journalistic standards have sunk.