Dec 18, 2020 - Economy

NYT returns Peabody after finding "significant falsehoods" in podcast

Rukmini Callimachi

Rukmini Callimachi at 2017 Matrix Awards at Sheraton New York Times Square on April 24, 2017 in New York City. Photo: Slaven Vlasic / Getty Images

The New York Times on Friday said it would return its 2018 Peabody Award for its "Caliphate" podcast, hours after the paper conceded that large parts of the audio series didn't meet its editorial standards.

Why it matters: It's an embarrassing error for The Times, which invested significant resources in the project since 2018. It's also a grim reminder to the journalism industry that even big, well-funded institutions can make costly mistakes.

What they're saying: “As the standard for quality media, the integrity of the Peabody Award is paramount, and we appreciate the professional manner in which the Times has handled this matter,” said Jeffrey Jones, executive director of the Peabody Awards, Friday evening.

  • “We will receive the return of the award, recognizing the mutual respect both organizations have for each other’s longstanding record of journalistic integrity.”
  • Rukmini Callimachi, who hosted the series, wrote in a tweet Friday: "To our listeners, I apologize for what we missed and what we got wrong."
  • The Times' executive editor Dean Baquet said in an interview with the paper's "Caliphate" podcast: "When The New York Times does deep, big, ambitious journalism in any format, we put it to a tremendous amount of scrutiny at the upper levels of the newsroom ... We did not do that in this case."
  • He conceded that he personally didn't provide the same review process for this story as he did other major investigations, like the Trump tax returns piece. "I completely regret that ... I didn't personally pay enough attention to this one."

The state of play: The Times added an editor's note to the top of the pages that include elements of "Caliphate."

  • The paper chose not to delete the episodes and the original story and podcasts are still listed on the company's website and podcast platforms.
  • The Times had its opinion and news sections cover the unfolding of events, and Baquet explained what happened on "The Daily."
  • Callimachi has been reassigned, the Washington Post writes.

Catch up quick: Earlier this year, reports began to surface that the main figure in the "Caliphate" podcast named Shehroze Chaudhry, a self-proclaimed ISIS executioner, had lied and exaggerated about his experience.

The Times conducted an internal investigation after numerous reports of holes in the central figure's story.

  • Canadian authorities arrested Chaudhry, in September, claiming he gave misleading statements about terrorist activities in interviews
  • The Times “found a history of misrepresentations by Mr. Chaudhry and no corroboration that he committed the atrocities he described in the ‘Caliphate’ podcast,” per the editor's note published Friday.
  • "I think this guy we now believe was a con artist," Baquet said. "I think this is one of those cases where we didn't listen hard enough to the stuff that challenged the story and to the signs that maybe our story wasn't as strong as we thought it was."

When asked whether the response to "Caliphate's" falsehoods constitutes a retraction, Baquet told NPR in an interview: "I guess for the parts that were about [Shehroze] Chaudhry and his history and his background. Yeah, I think it is. Sure does."

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