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The New York Times says there were 'significant falsehoods' at the center of its blockbuster ISIS podcast 'Caliphate'

  • After a monthslong internal investigation, The New York Times said there were serious falsehoods at the center of its blockbuster "Caliphate" podcast hosted by Rukmini Callimachi, one of its star reporters.
  • The podcast's main figure, Shehroze Chaudhry, said he joined ISIS in Syria, killed two people and participated in other terrorist activities, and then returned to his home in Canada.
  • Canadian officials believe that's a lie and have charged him with making false statements about terrorism.
  • The Times has issued editors notes on her podcast and other stories she's written over the years. The Times' top editor says she'll be assigned to another area of coverage.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The New York Times says it has "discovered significant falsehoods and other discrepancies" in the story at the center of "Caliphate," its blockbuster podcast about ISIS terrorists.

It's a dramatic blow to the reputation of host Rukmini Callimachi, one of the Times' star journalists and twice a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her reporting on extremist terrorism.

The Times' announcement comes at the end of a months-long internal investigation into "Caliphate" and the rest of Callimachi's reporting on the Islamic State. The podcast was largely based on the life of Shehroze Chaudhry.

Chaudhry said he adopted the name Abu Huzayfah, joined ISIS in Syria in 2014, participated in executions there, and planned terror attacks. He then moved back home to Canada in 2016, he said, where Callimachi interviewed him.

"Caliphate,"released in 2018, triggered outrage and puzzlement in Canada, as Canadians wondered why an apparently murderous terrorist was living freely in a Toronto suburb.

Chaudhry was interviewed by the RCMP, the Canadian equivalent of the FBI, after the podcast's release. The news came in a report by CBC journalist Diana Swain, who also reported discrepancies in his stories about his time in ISIS.

Chaudhry was charged in September 2020 with making false statements about terrorism. Canadian and American officials believe he lied about his involvement with jihadism and may have never stepped foot in Syria.

Other Times journalists weren't confident in Callimachi's work

The Chaudry affair drew widespread attention in the US with a series of articles by Washington Post journalist Erik Wemple, who found a pattern of misleading or unsubstantiated reporting throughout Callimachi's body of work.

The Daily Beast reported that other Times journalists with experience covering terrorists had repeatedly flagged problems with her stories. Michael Foley, the brother of murdered ISIS hostage James Foley, told the Daily Beast he had repeatedly alerted Times editors of errors in her work as far back as January 2015.

On Friday, the Times issued a lengthy editor's note on "Caliphate," saying it "found a history of misrepresentations by Mr. Chaudhry and no corroboration that he committed the atrocities he described."

"Times journalists were too credulous about the verification steps that were undertaken and dismissive of the lack of corroboration of essential aspects of Mr. Chaudhry's account," the note reads.

In an interview with the Times, the publication's top editor, Dean Baquet, said there was "an institutional failing" and blamed his own leadership.

"I thought we produced another, you know, 'Holy damn!' story," Baquet told NPR. "I was really proud of it. Another big story to embrace and applaud."

In a statement posted to Twitter, Callimachi said she regrets letting down her colleagues.

"I caught the subject of our podcast lying about key aspects of his account and reported that. I also didn't catch the other lies he told us, and I should have," she wrote, adding: "To our listeners, I apologize for what we missed and what we got wrong. We are correcting the record and I commit to doing better in the future."

Since the Times' internal investigation began, Callimachi has published only a handful of stories for the paper, including several on the killing of Breonna Taylor. Baquet told NPR that she would no longer report on terrorism.

Chaudhry's purported ISIS photos were from newswire services

In addition to an internal investigation, four Times reporters published a separate investigation into Callimachi's work. Chaudhry, the report said, was currently working at his family's shawarma shop.

The report also found that social media posts he made during the period of time he was purportedly in Syria were photos taken by reporters that could be found easily on Getty Images.

It also found he told The Times before "Caliphate" aired that he went to Syria in the fall of 2014, even though he was enrolled in a university at the time, along with other irregularities.

Experts told the Times that Chaudhry held extremist views, but that his stories about ISIS were "fantasies."

"He's an ISIS supporter, a hundred percent," Mubin Shaikh, a deradicalization guide who counseled Chaudhry, told The Times. "So it looks like he's created a fantasy for himself. I can see how this happens. You're consuming this ISIS stuff day in and day out. You have no life, no friends, no real anything."

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