The Tempest Exclusive series Media Watch investigates and introspects on the intricacies of free speech around the world, right from The Tempest newsroom. 

The New York Times has landed itself in what might be termed as a breach of the ethics of journalism or a failure of responsible journalism. The newspaper’s 2018 hit podcast series Caliphate has been revealed to be all fabricated, based on unreliable sources and an untrusted central figure like Shehroze Chaudhry who claimed that he had to join the Islamic State and travel to Syria to bring truth to the forefront.

The podcast series revolved around a Canadian young boy who went to Syria to join the IS before finally escaping the trap he fell in.

According to the executive editor Dean Baquet at NYT, they “fell in love” with the fact that they had gotten a member of the IS “who would describe his life in the caliphate and would describe his crimes”.

Baquet also added that when they saw evidence that maybe he was a fabulist, that he was making some of it up, they did not listen hard enough in an interview regarding the controversy that brought the NYT’s fact checking and credibility under scrutiny.

On December 18 of this year, after a two-month review and investigation, the newspaper retracted the podcast series on the basis of red flags indicating that the story which made it so powerful – giving insights about the allure of the world of terrorism -could not be trusted as a truthful narrative and therefore failed to meet editorial standards.

Chaudhry, the man in question, currently faces criminal charges in a federal court in Ontario under the charges of perpetrating a terrorism hoax.



The host of the series, Rukmini Callimachi has been taken off the terrorism beat and will be reassigned duties. The golden word here is ‘reassigned’ as it is a clear signifier of the power dynamics prevailing in today’s journalism industry in which a lower level staff reporter would have likely been immediately taken off the desk and fired before anyone would even get a chance to figure out what actually happened. Or, would have been subject to a much more rigorous fact-checking and source building procedure. But, this is Callimachi. A four time Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Talking to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in May 2018 as Caliphate episodes were all set to go on air, Callimachi said that Chaudhry gave the newspaper and the team focusing on terrorism “a gift with the story” and as they say, gifts are only accepted with joy. Who would ever wanted to get into details where the gift came from or who sent it? However, this “gift” was one of those unpleasant surprises that leaves a bad taste in the mouth for long time.

According to Baquet, “This failing was not about any one reporter. It was an institutional failing.”

After the NYT’s report on the matter, Callimachi apologized on Twitter for “what we missed and what we got wrong.” What once propelled Callimachi into the wide journalistic horizon, has now left the journalist high and dry.

The series was labelled as a highly produced work in the domain of terrorism reporting at the South By Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas in March, 2018. Caliphate became a huge deal when the podcast started getting nominations and winning several awards and acclaims. It also helped gather new listeners for the NYT podcasts, ultimately resulting in new paying subscribers.

The recent investigation resulted in the return of a Peabody Award that the Calipahte won, followed by The Overseas Press Club rescinding its Lowell Thomas Award given to the podcast’s producers.

Baquet said to look at the controversy as part of what he says is a push for transparency.

The New York Times has done tremendously ambitious journalism over the last few years. All of it has held up to the greater scrutiny,” Baquet said in the interview.

He further added, “When we get it wrong, I want people to understand we are going to talk about it and what I am hoping is that by talking about it, people will understand that we want to win their trust. And we want them to believe what we report.”

Like Baquet said, it is important that other journalists and reporters learn from this incident since journalism is fighting an internal battle against fake news slogans and Trumpism. One mistake, like this one which nearly proves their claims about the mainstream news media, could give them all the ammunition they need to diminish the reputation of journalism altogether.

Assistant managing editor, Sam Dolnick said in unveiling the podcast, “Caliphate represents the modern New York Times.” If really this is the standard being set by one of the top media houses in the world, then God save journalists. Especially in this day and time where journalists are competing against one another for the next big story, while also on a run to gather more clicks and likes on the story rather than making sure that the information that they are putting out there is hard-core reporting, combined with rigorous storytelling that makes the audience want more.

Times are tough for journalism and journalists all across the world with lines being blurred between what is truth and what is manufactured. It is upon each individual who claims the label ‘journalist’ to make sure that the story that is being pushed out with their name is factually correct and meets the ethics of the field of journalism. Otherwise, it is simply misinformation.

 

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  • Haddiqua Siddiqui is a Multimedia Journalist based in Karachi, Pakistan. Haddo, as her close friends call her, identifies as food-sensitive and stays away from anyone who does not have a sweet tooth. Currently, her wandering soul is on a quest of unlearning and relearning life. Send help!!

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