NYT: We Missed Red Flags in 'ISIS Executioner' Podcast

Caliphate series focused on fantasist who probably never went to Syria
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 18, 2020 8:43 AM CST

(Newser) – A big mea culpa from the New York Times: Executive editor Dean Baquet admits that the story of a Canadian man who traveled to Syria and became an ISIS executioner was so compelling that terrorism reporter Rukmini Callimachi and her editors failed to press hard enough to verify it—and ignored some red flags. The Times has now retracted key episodes of its hit 2018 podcast series Caliphate involving Shehroze Chaudhry. After the podcast—in which Chaudhry described executing civilians and attending terrorist training camps—raised concerns in Canada, investigators determined that he had never even been to Syria, the CBC reports. The 25-year-old was arrested by the Mounties last month and charged with hoax terrorist activity. The Times review found it's possible Chaudhry did go to Syria but at most for a few weeks, and that photos he supplied of ISIS fighters could be found on the internet.

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Associates in Canada, where Chaudhry works in his family's suburban Toronto kebab shop, describe him as a fantasist, though they say he does hold radical views. Baquet admits that even when facing many holes and inconsistencies in Chaudhry's story, the podcast team tried to find ways that it could still be true. "We fell in love with the fact that we had gotten a member of ISIS who would describe his life in the caliphate and would describe his crimes," Baquet tells NPR. "I think we were so in love with it that when when we saw evidence that maybe he was a fabulist, when we saw evidence that he was making some of it up, we didn't listen hard enough." Baquet says Callimachi, a four-time Pulitzer Prize finalist who joined the Times in 2014, will be reassigned. (Read more New York Times stories.)

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