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After review, NYT admits podcast on Islamic State was inaccurate, unreliable

Paper says it should have done more to scrutinize reporting that relied on made-up testimony of Canadian man who pretended to have served as IS executioner in Syria

In this undated file photo released online in the summer of 2014 on a militant social media account, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, terrorists of the Islamic State group hold up their weapons and wave its flags on their vehicles in a convoy on a road leading to Iraq, in Raqqa, Syria. (Militant photo via AP, File)
In this undated file photo released online in the summer of 2014 on a militant social media account, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, terrorists of the Islamic State group hold up their weapons and wave its flags on their vehicles in a convoy on a road leading to Iraq, in Raqqa, Syria. (Militant photo via AP, File)

The New York Times acknowledged Friday that an award-winning podcast it produced on the Islamic State was inaccurate, unreliable and failed to meet the publication’s journalistic standards.

The admission came in the form of an editor’s note that was attached to the “Caliphate” podcast, a 12-part 2018 audio documentary, which still remained available for listening on Friday.

The podcast was centered largely around NYT terrorism correspondent Rukmini Callimachi’s interview of Shehroze Chaudhry, a Canadian resident who claimed to have traveled to Syria where he joined the Islamic State and served as one of its executioners.

The editor’s note was the culmination of a two-month review process that began after Chaudhry was arrested by Canadian authorities in September on charges of lying about participation in terror activities.

Andy Mills, left, and Rukmini Callimachi, hold the award for their 2018 podcast ‘Caliphate’ at the 78th annual Peabody Awards in New York on May 18, 2019. (Brad Barket/Invision/AP, FIle)

The note stated that the review “found a history of misrepresentations by Mr. Chaudhry and no corroboration that he committed the atrocities he described in the ‘Caliphate’ podcast.”

“As a result, The Times has concluded that the episodes of ‘Caliphate’ that presented Mr. Chaudhry’s claims did not meet our standards for accuracy,” it continued.

NYT acknowledged that it should have assigned an editor familiar with the topic of terrorism to better scrutinize Callimachi’s reporting.

“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 noted stated.

An additional episode delving into the story’s faults has been added to the podcast.

A separate NYT report on the investigation described Chaudhry as “a fabulist who spun jihadist tales about killing.”

Demonstrators chant pro-Islamic State group slogans as they wave the group’s flags in front of the provincial government headquarters in Mosul, Iraq, June 16, 2014. (AP Photo, File)

Callimachi’s byline has not appeared on The Times since the start of the investigation and the paper’s executive editor Dean Baquet — while taking responsibility for some of the blame — said Callimachi would be reassigned to another beat.

The podcast came under immediate scrutiny after Canadian media picked up on other interviews in which Chaudhry admitted to having traveled to Syria, but never participated in any executions.

But Caliphate opens with him telling Callimachi he practiced the killings on dolls. He goes on to claim in the podcast that he participated in two executions, describing them in gruesome detail.

That interview led to outcry in Canada, where lawmakers demanded to know why Chaudhry was still living as a free man.

The Times in September was initially supportive, claiming it had done enough to highlight the “uncertainty” regarding Chaudhry’s story. Days later, an internal review was opened.

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