NYT retracts main story in hit 'Caliphate' podcast, citing failures

New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi is being taken off the terrorism beat after an inquiry found missteps in verifying claims that the podcast's main subject had been an IS fighter.

al-monitor Title card for the New York Times' hit 2018 podcast series "Caliphate" Photo by New York Times.

Topics covered

podcasting, journalists, journalism, new york times, caliphate, islamic state

Dec 18, 2020

The New York Times retracted the central story in its smash hit podcast "Caliphate" on Friday after an internal inquiry found missteps by its reporters in verifying the account of a self-proclaimed former Islamic State member.

Released in 2018, the podcast follows Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi as she tracks developments in the crumbling Islamic State.

The narrative comes to center on a man living openly in Canada named Abu Huzaifa al-Kanadi, who told the podcast he had participated in executions after joining the jihadist proto-state.

Al-Kanadi, whose real name is Shehroze Chaudry, was arrested by Canadian police in September for fabricating his alleged history with IS. The arrest prompted public criticism of the podcast, forcing the newspaper to address the concerns.

Callimachi will keep her job but has been taken off the terrorism beat, executive editor Dean Baquet told NPR in an interview. The internal review, being led by senior investigative editor Dean Murphy, will also pore over the star reporter’s other work. Baquet said there had been no dishonesty or efforts to mislead on the part of employees involved in "Caliphate."

Callimachi, whose role in the podcast catapulted her to superstardom in the reporting world, is no stranger to controversy.

During the Battle of Mosul in 2016, she led an effort to gather up thousands of documents and data from territory liberated from IS and remove them from Iraq, raising concerns by academics and other journalists over potential ethical lapses, even legal violations.

Following the death of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during a US Special Forces raid in Syria last year, Callimachi came under fire for a story based on documents that experts later said should have been recognized as obvious forgeries.

The documents, which Callimachi obtained through a contact at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, appeared to show that IS was paying a local al-Qaeda offshoot, Huras al-Din, to protect Baghdadi.

The New York Times has not removed episodes of "Caliphate" but will add an editor’s note stating that the podcast should not have centered on Al-Kanadi.

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