New York Times Returns Peabody Award for Discredited Podcast ‘Caliphate’

Michael Schneider
·4-min read

Now that the New York Times has revealed that it can no longer confirm the tales shared by Shehroze Chaudhry, the central figure in the 2018 podcast “Caliphate,” the newspaper has agreed to return the Peabody Award it had previously won for the series.

The decision came following the newspaper’s internal investigation into the veracity of the podcast, and concluded that it did not meet its standards for accuracy.

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“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 Peabody Award executive director Dr. Jeffrey P. Jones. “We will receive the return of the award, recognizing the mutual respect both organizations have for each other’s longstanding record of journalistic integrity.”

The New York Times revealed Friday that it no longer stood behind the reporting on “Caliphate.” In a follow-up report, the newspaper wrote that it now believes that Chaudhry “was a fabulist who spun jihadist tales about killing for the Islamic State in Syria, Canadian and American intelligence and law enforcement officials contend.”

In originally awarding the Peabody to “Caliphate,” the org noted the work of Rukmini Callimachi and audio producer Andy Mills as they tried to answer the question of why people would join ISIS. They utilized reports from Iraq and interviews with a wide range of subjects, including ISIS members, as well as a young Yazidi girl who was tortured by ISIS troops.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Callimachi wrote: “I am fiercely proud of the stories I have broken on ISIS and its crimes against humanity. But as journalists, we demand transparency from our sources, so we should expect it from ourselves. Reflecting on what I missed in reporting our podcast is humbling. Thinking of the colleagues and the newsroom I let down is gutting. I caught the subject of our podcast lying about key aspects of his account and reported that. I also didn’t catch other lies he told us, and I should have. I added caveats to try to make clear what we knew and what we didn’t. It wasn’t enough. 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.”

The New York Times posted a report by Mark Mazzetti, Ian Austen, Graham Bowley and Malachy Browne dissecting what happened.

“Mr. Chaudhry, they say, was not a terrorist, almost certainly never went to Syria, and concocted gruesome stories about being an Islamic State executioner as part of a Walter Mitty-like escape from his more mundane life in a Toronto suburb and in Lahore, Pakistan, where he spent years living with his grandparents,” they wrote.

The 12-part narrative podcast series “Caliphate,” about the Islamic State terrorist group and its operations, was first released in 2018.

“While parts of the series involved a broad examination of the group’s tactics and influence, multiple episodes were driven primarily by the confessional tale of a Canadian man of Pakistani origin who called himself Abu Huzayfah and claimed to have been a member of the Islamic State who had taken part in killings in Syria,” the paper said in an editors note.

“During the course of reporting for the series, The Times discovered significant falsehoods and other discrepancies in Huzayfah’s story. The Times took a number of steps, including seeking confirmation of details from intelligence officials in the United States, to find independent evidence of Huzayfah’s story. The decision was made to proceed with the project but to include an episode, Chapter 6, devoted to exploring major discrepancies and highlighting the fact-checking process that sought to verify key elements of the narrative.

“In September — two and a half years after the podcast was released — the Canadian police arrested Huzayfah, whose real name is Shehroze Chaudhry, and charged him with perpetrating a terrorist hoax. Canadian officials say they believe that Mr. Chaudhry’s account of supposed terrorist activity is completely fabricated… 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.

“From the outset, “Caliphate” should have had the regular participation of an editor experienced in the subject matter… In the absence of firmer evidence, “Caliphate” should have been substantially revised to exclude the material related to Mr. Chaudhry. The podcast as a whole should not have been produced with Mr. Chaudhry as a central narrative character.”

Watch Mills accept the award at a July 2019 Peabody ceremony:

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