The New York Times is facing fresh blowback for how it handled the fallout over falsehoods unearthed in “Caliphate,” the paper’s award-winning, 12-part podcast about the Islamic State.
A group of 24 public radio stations sent a letter on Monday to The Times audio department with concerns about “lapses in judgment” in its response last month when the paper announced that the podcast “did not meet our standards for accuracy.” These stations broadcast “The Daily,” The Times’ flagship daily news podcast. The letter, obtained by CNN Business, was earlier tweeted by Washington Post’s Erik Wemple.
The Times started an investigation into the reporting process behind “Caliphate” in September after Canadian police charged Shehroze Chaudhry with “Hoax-Terrorist activity.” Last month, The Times said it “found a history of misrepresentations by Mr. Chaudhry and no corroboration that he committed the atrocities he described in the ‘Caliphate’ podcast,” according to an editor’s note, and affixed audio corrections to the episodes.
These journalistic errors have been a black mark on The Times’ audio ambitions led by the team behind “The Daily.” “Caliphate” won the 2018 Peabody in the radio/podcast category, a prestigious journalism award, which The Times has since returned.
Monday’s letter, sent by the Public Radio Program Directors Association, focused not on the merit of the podcast but on the way The Times handled the fallout. It expressed three concerns. The first of which was regarding the host of “The Daily,” Michael Barbaro, who contacted other journalists in what was perceived as an attempt to try to sway their coverage of the “Caliphate” fallout. These messages were previously reported by NPR’s David Folkenflik, who had been among those Barbaro contacted.
The letter also said The Times’ decision to have Barbaro interview Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet was “flawed,” in part because of Barbaro’s personal relationship with Lisa Tobin, the executive producer of “Caliphate.” The two are engaged.
The final concern was about Andy Mills, a producer of “Caliphate.” The letter takes issue with Mills being given “greater visibility” following the fallout whereas Rukmini Callimachi, the journalist behind the podcast, was reassigned. Mills had produced and hosted an episode of “The Daily” that released a few days after The Times announced the results of their investigation into the “Caliphate” podcast. The letter also linked to a Washington Post story about allegations of inappropriate behavior by Mills, most of which occurred at his previous job at WNYC’s Radiolab.
Abby Goldstein, president and executive director of the Public Radio Program Directors Association, told CNN Business on Tuesday that the letter was intended to communicate concerns and not “draw a line in the sand” with specific demands.
“When we put programming on the air for our audiences, we’re endorsing that programming. We’re telling our audiences we believe in the journalistic rigor of these programs, and we’re making them available to you through our biggest megaphone,” Goldstein said. The letter is “really about taking responsibility for the behavior of the staff.”
The Times responded on Tuesday to each of the concerns in a letter signed by Sam Dolnick, an assistant managing editor at the paper.
“We believe we’ve handled what was a significant journalistic lapse with accountability. We are deeply committed to continuing to pursue ambitious audio journalism and have already begun implementing changes that will make our audio report even stronger,” Dolnick wrote.
Dolnick wrote that The Times did not believe Barbaro had to disclose his relationship with Tobin since the conversation was seen as an “audio version” of an editor’s note whereas an “accountability interview” was given to NPR. He also said Barbaro “deeply regrets” the private messages he sent journalists and that “editors have discussed their expectations with him going forward.”
Regarding Mills, Dolnick wrote that The Times is taking the allegations of misconduct “very seriously.” As to why Mills hosted the recent episode of “The Daily,” Dolnick said the episode had been previously scheduled but that the company “should have changed plans.”
The Times did not comment beyond the letter. Barbaro and Mills did not respond to requests for comment.