The best stories in The New York Times often involve the Gray Lady’s self-flagellation over a doozy of a mistake, and Saturday was one of those days. The paper was crowded with confessions, explanations and apologies over a disgraced podcast called “Caliphate” that went off the rails and into the weeds of fiction.
Over 12 episodes in 2018, the program promoted the false boasts of a Pakistani man living in Canada who claimed he murdered and beheaded people as a member of Islamic State in Syria. The man, Shehroze Chaudhry, who went by the name Abu Huzayfah, also told tales about terrorist leaders using maps to plan attacks on Western targets and aiming for another 9/11. “They wanted to outdo Al Qaeda,” Chaudhry warned.
It was sensational stuff and the release sparked political fallout in Canada, with Justin Trudeau’s government accused of not monitoring the return of Islamic State fiends.
Soon, however, critics suggested the Times had been duped and that Chaudhry never joined ISIS or committed crimes. It turns out that the battlefield pictures he posted on social media as his own were taken off the Internet.
Although he visited South Africa and lived for a time in Pakistan with his grandparents, Canadian intelligence believes he never set foot in Syria. Indeed, by then Chaudhry was working in his family’s shawarma shop in a suburban Ontario strip mall.
Predictably, the Times and lead reporter Rukmini Callimachi fought the critics and insisted the paper had gotten the truth out of Chaudhry. The Times began to seriously re-examine its work only when their star confessor was arrested in Canada two months ago and charged with committing a terrorist hoax by claiming he was a killer when he actually wasn’t.
Finally, the paper’s surrender came Friday in a voluminous mea culpa, where top editor Dean Baquet shredded the podcast for failing to vet Chaudhry and ignoring discrepancies. The Times reporters who spent two months hunting the truth described Chaudhry as a “Walter Mitty” fabulist, and reporter Callimachi apologized. She keeps her job but is pulled off the terror beat and a Peabody award she won for the series has been returned, the Times said.
The bizarre episode is important because it helps illustrate what has happened to the Times since it abandoned its standards of fairness and accuracy to pursue a far-left political and cultural agenda.
While the ritualistic repentance in this case seems sincere, it is also designed to create the impression that everything else the paper publishes can be trusted.
Nonsense. Here are a few recent examples that had far worse impacts than “Caliphate” and none has been admitted or corrected.
The Times was the lead offender in the greatest error in modern journalism: The false claims that President Trump colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election.
The paper pushed the narrative and was rewarded with Pulitzers and other awards. The Times played Pied Piper to pack rats from other outlets who joined the feast of fabrication.
The campaign, based largely on anonymous sources, sabotaged a presidency for nearly three years. Even after special counsel Robert Mueller came up empty in trying to find collusion, the Times and fellow culprits never expressed contrition for their destructive errors. Their hatred of Trump was their justification.
The paper also played a major role in the unforgivable smearing of Brett Kavanaugh during the 2018 Supreme Court nomination battle. Times reporters reflexively gave credence to lurid allegations that had not a shred of evidence in a bid to block his confirmation. To this day, there have been no apologies or explanations.
Then there is the 1619 Project, where the Times took it upon itself to rewrite American history, despite esteemed historians pointing out its major errors. For Baquet and his crew, facts didn’t matter in their bid to advance a radical racial narrative.
The list of errors also includes things the Times doesn’t print because the facts conflict with its partisan position. It withheld until after the election the knowledge that e-mails linking Joe Biden to his son Hunter’s foreign business schemes were authentic.
Despite the different topics involved, the fundamental mistakes are similar. The Times runs afoul when it shapes stories to make the truth appear what reporters and editors want it to be. When facts don’t fit, they are ignored or massaged.
Baquet’s description of what went wrong in the “Caliphate” podcast could apply to the other cases as well.
“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,” he told NPR. “I think we were so in love with it that 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.”
“Love” may sound like an odd word in the context, but journalists with zeal for a story often act like people madly in love. Blind to flaws and drawbacks obvious to others, they race ahead convinced of their own righteousness.
Putting the brakes on zealousness is why rigorous standards were created at the Times more than a century ago. Rules demanding fairness, accuracy and impartiality aimed to keep stories straight and win public trust.
Baquet eliminated those standards in 2016 when he gave reporters free rein to trash Trump in virtually every story. Although the daily dose of Trump hate brought increased revenues, the more enduring result is a collapse of public trust in the Times.
Not coincidentally, the number and scope of major screwups has also ballooned. That’s what happens when you stop being a newspaper and become an activist chasing social and political agendas.
You’re starvin’ us, Gov. Cuomo!
Reader John Verras, describing himself as a restaurant worker who hasn’t worked in nine months, is near his wits’ end. He writes: “We are being discarded as if our services are no longer needed.
“Gov. Cuomo is so caught up in himself and the damage he created during the early days that he’s willing to throw anything at the situation, even our industry, to try to show he cares.
“So now I will be forced to use primitive instincts to survive because the city I was happy to serve all my life says ‘Closed Indefinitely’ to me and my family.”
Headline: Illegal winery found in Alabama sewage plant.
Does the aroma improve with age?
It’s not accurate to call Mayor de Blasio’s new admissions policy for middle schools an experiment because we already know the results. Most schools will get worse and many families will flee.
The plan is to eliminate merit — attendance, grades, test scores, behavior — in favor of a lottery.
Then again, maybe we should pick the next mayor the same way. Almost any New Yorker selected in a random drawing would be an improvement over de Blasio.