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'Caliphate' Podcast on ISIS Executioner Withdrawn After New York Times Fails to Verify Claims

Photo of ISIS flag. (Image: Reuters)

Photo of ISIS flag. (Image: Reuters)

The Times said the two-month review had concluded that the 12-part podcast featuring award-winning correspondent Rukmini Callimachi, who has frequently reported on IS, 'gave too much credence to the false or exaggerated accounts' of Chaudhry.

The New York Times said Friday that its award-winning podcast "Caliphate" failed to meet editorial standards, admitting it was unable to corroborate a Canadian's claim that he executed people for the Islamic State group.

The newspaper launched an investigation into the 2018 series after authorities in Canada in September charged 25-year-old Shehroze Chaudhry -- the podcast's central figure -- with perpetrating a terrorist hoax.

Chaudhry claimed in "Caliphate," which won a Peabody Award, that he had traveled to Syria in 2016 and personally carried out at least two executions and witnessed other acts of violence.

The account caused an uproar in Canada's parliament, with opposition Conservatives expressing outrage that Chaudhry was living freely in Ontario province after making the terror claims.

Chaudhry said he had taken on the nom de guerre of Abu Huzayfah as a member of IS.

"I think this guy, we now believe, was a con artist, who made up most if not all that he told us," Dean Baquet, the Times' executive editor, said in an audio interview published by the paper Friday.

The Times said the two-month review had concluded that the 12-part podcast featuring award-winning correspondent Rukmini Callimachi, who has frequently reported on IS, "gave too much credence to the false or exaggerated accounts" of Chaudhry.

Baquet described it as an "institutional failing," saying newsroom leaders, including himself, had not provided the project with the appropriate scrutiny.

The Times said it would not be withdrawing the series. Instead, on Friday, it uploaded a new editor's note to the podcast's site explaining its failings. Callimachi will stay on, but be moved to another beat.

"From the outset, 'Caliphate' should have had the regular participation of an editor experienced in the subject matter," it read.

"In addition, The Times should have pressed harder to verify Mr. Chaudhry's claims before deciding to place so much emphasis on one individual's account," the note added.

"Caliphate" marked a foray into narrative audio reporting for the Times, which is increasingly seen as a major revenue stream for the paper.

The show became a major hit, rising to the top of the Apple podcast charts in 2018.

However, red flags surrounding the series' veracity were never far away. In 2017, Chaudhry gave a different account of his time with IS to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The following year, he told the CBC that he had falsely told the Times that he had taken part in the atrocities.

In October, the Times' media columnist reported that senior editors had raised concerns about the program before its release.

first published:December 19, 2020, 11:34 IST