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New York Times condemned by public radio stations for letting man who degraded women host podcast

A group of 20 influential public radio stations has condemned the New York Times for allowing a producer who has been accused of degrading women to host its popular The Daily podcast.  

In a letter sent to the New York Times Audio division on Monday night, the Public Radio Program Directors Association questioned why producer Andy Mills is being given ‘greater visibility’ despite these accusations and his involvement in the controversial Caliphate podcast. 

The paper was also criticized for a ‘lack of transparency’ after personal ties between another host of The Daily, Michael Barbaro, and the discredited ‘Caliphate’ series emerged.

Barbaro was in December tasked with speaking to the Times’ executive editor Dean Baquet in an episode of The Daily in which the paper retracted much of the story on which popular series Caliphate had been built.

The Times acknowledged that it had been misled in the production of the series by Canadian-Pakistani man Shehroze Chaudhry, 25, who had fabricated his story of working as an ISIS executioner.

Yet in hosting the episode, Barbaro failed to disclose that much of the production team involved in ‘Caliphate’ had come from ‘The Daily’ – and that he is engaged to the series’ executive producer Lisa Tobin.

According to NPR, Barbaro also pressured at least five journalists via social media to play down the errors in Caliphate and to get them to pull back their public criticism of the series.

A group of 20 influential public radio stations has condemned the New York Times for a 'lack of transparency' after it emerged the star host of 'The Daily' Michael Barbaro is engaged to the executive producer of 'Caliphate' Lisa Tobin, pictured together above

A group of 20 influential public radio stations has condemned the New York Times for a ‘lack of transparency’ after it emerged the star host of ‘The Daily’ Michael Barbaro is engaged to the executive producer of ‘Caliphate’ Lisa Tobin, pictured together above

The letter also questioned why 'Caliphate' producer Andy Mills, pictured left with the series' host Rukmini Callimachi, hosted 'The Daily' the day after the retraction

The letter also questioned why ‘Caliphate’ producer Andy Mills, pictured left with the series’ host Rukmini Callimachi, hosted ‘The Daily’ the day after the retraction

A group of 20 radio stations in the Public Radio Program Directors Association voiced their concerns on Monday night in a letter to the New York Times Audio Division

A group of 20 radio stations in the Public Radio Program Directors Association voiced their concerns on Monday night in a letter to the New York Times Audio Division

The Daily is created by the Times but also reaches more than 2 million listeners weekly as a program on public radio stations.

‘We would just like the New York Times to admit this was a failure on their part and to work on remedying the situation,’ Abby Goldstein, president and executive director of the Public Radio Program Directors Association, told NPR.

The group includes stations such as KCRW and KPCC in Los Angeles, KOUW in Seattle, WAMU in Washington, D.C., and WBEZ in Chicago among its members.

Radio stations in Anchorage, Atlanta, Austin, Dallas and Minneapolis had also signed onto the letter.

‘We, along with our audiences, place tremendous value on the fact that our journalism is free from influence of any kind, whether motivated by financial, political, or personal enrichment reasons,’ said the letter of Barbaro’s alleged attempts to influence reporters.

‘We feel Barbaro’s actions are in direct conflict with our ethical guidelines and they call his general credibility into question.’

The association accused the Times of having a ‘serious lapse in judgment’ in also allowing Barbaro to host the thirty-minute retraction episode and said that the decision was ‘flawed’.

‘How are we to trust that difficult questions would be asked, answers would be demanded, and the truth be sought,’ the station executives asked.

‘This was a moment for transparency, that moment is now lost, and there should be accountability for this lapse in judgment.’

The letter also raised concerns over the presence of Mills, highlighting that several women had come forward during his time at WNYC to complain of degrading treatment.

Mills had presented the episode of The Daily coming straight after the Caliphate retraction. He had been a co-creator and co-star the series, acting as sidekick to main ‘Caliphate’ host Rukmini Callimachi.

The Times acknowledged that it had been misled in the production of Caliphate by Canadian man Shehroze Chaudhry, 25, who had fabricated his story of working as an ISIS executioner

The Times acknowledged that it had been misled in the production of Caliphate by Canadian man Shehroze Chaudhry, 25, who had fabricated his story of working as an ISIS executioner

Michael Barbaro is engaged to Lisa Tobin, who as an executive producer on ‘Caliphate’, but he failed to disclose his personal link to the series on The Daily episode about the retraction

Michael Barbaro and Lisa Tobin pictured working together above

Michael Barbaro and Lisa Tobin pictured working together above

While Callimachi has been reassigned within the Times, the letter questioned why Mills was being given ‘greater visibility’.

‘We fully recognize that this is a vast simplification of the situation, we understand the complexity of this issue and the many considerations that went into making the decision,’ the letter continued.

‘It seems, however, that the optics of this decision may not have been carefully considered. Over the past several years, public media has undertaken strenuous efforts to create diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces.

‘We have felt the inequity, exclusion and dominant white culture since #MeToo, carrying forward to the Black Lives Matter movement and the important cultural reckoning we experience in 2020 after the killing of George Floyd.’

The letter added that the Times’ decisions on Barbaro and Mills were ‘not just tone deaf’ but ‘blind to the current landscape in which we now exist’.

‘The times are changing and yet based on this decision, it appears that The Times is not changing along with them,’ it claimed.

In a response seen by the Washington Post, on Tuesday morning the Times said that Barbaro ‘deeply regrets’ placing pressure on reporters from other publications to control the spin on Caliphate’s grievous editorial errors.

Yet it argued that it did not think that Barbaro was required to disclose his relationship with Tobin during the retraction episode as it was ‘an audio version of our editors’ note, not an accountability interview’.

In its response, the Times argued that Barbaro was not under any obligation to disclose his relationship with Tobin as he had not been conducting 'an accountability interview’

In its response, the Times argued that Barbaro was not under any obligation to disclose his relationship with Tobin as he had not been conducting ‘an accountability interview’

Sam Dolnick, the Times’ Assistant Managing Director (pictured center with A. G. Sulzberger and Dean Baquet), responded to the claims in a letter to the association on Tuesday

Sam Dolnick, the Times’ Assistant Managing Director (pictured center with A. G. Sulzberger and Dean Baquet), responded to the claims in a letter to the association on Tuesday

It added that it was a ‘mistake’ to have allowed Mills to host the following episode of The Daily after the retraction, but claimed that it was part of a package that had been previously scheduled to run over the holidays and should have been moved.

‘We believe we’ve handled what was a significant journalistic lapse with accountability,’ said the response, written by Sam Dolnick, the Times’ Assistant Managing Director.

‘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. ‘

Last December, the Times admitted to ‘an institutional failure’ in the production of its podcast ‘Caliphate’ by giving ‘too much credence’ to the story of a man now revealed as a fantasist pretending to be a terrorist.

In a devastating internal review released, it was found that the paper had failed to corroborate the sensationalist claims made by Chaudhry and that the podcast team was duped by his fake story of working as an ISIS executioner.

Shehroze Chaudhry, 25, from Burlington, Ontario, has been charged with a terrorism hoax

Shehroze Chaudhry, 25, from Burlington, Ontario, has been charged with a terrorism hoax

Reporter Rukmini Callimachi, pictured above, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and won a Peabody Award for her work on the 'Caliphate' podcast. She has remained at the Times

Reporter Rukmini Callimachi, pictured above, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and won a Peabody Award for her work on the ‘Caliphate’ podcast. She has remained at the Times

The review began after Chaudhry was arrested by Canadian authorities in September and charged with ‘a hoax regarding terrorist activity’ as his lies fell apart.

Chaudhry’s remarkable, yet untrue, story of being a fighter and executioner with the Islamic State in Syria had been the centerpiece of the award-winning ‘Caliphate’, for which reporter Callimachi was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and won a Peabody Award.

Scandals that rocked the New York Times in 2020 

June 7: New York Times’ opinion editor, James Bennet, resigned following a controversial op-ed from Senator Tom Cotton. The opinion piece, entitled Send in the Troops, advocated using federal troops to quell unrest across the US caused by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. 

Bennet, who had revealed in a meeting that he had not read Cotton’s piece before it was posted online, had defended it following the initial protests, saying it was important to hear from all points of view. 

Yet more than 800 staff members signed a letter protesting its publication. 

Bennet then resigned from his position after the Times disowned the incendiary opinion piece.

Following a review, the newspaper said Cotton’s piece should not have been published, at least not without substantial revisions. 

July 14: One of Bennett’s hires, conservative opinion editor writer Bari Weiss, announced she had quit in a scathing letter that slammed the newspaper for fostering an ‘illiberal environment’ that allowed her to be bullied by coworkers.

Weiss, who joined the Times in 2017, said the paper of record was among the media institutions now betraying their standards and losing sight of their principles as she accused them of only publishing stories that ‘satisfy the narrowest of audiences’.   

In her lengthy resignation letter addressed to publisher A.G. Sulzberger, Weiss claimed that intellectual curiosity and risk-taking was now a ‘liability’ at the Times.

The controversial editor and writer said the opinions of those on Twitter had become the newspaper’s ‘ultimate editor’.

Weiss also accused the outlet of creating a ‘hostile work environment’ for employees that essentially had anything other than left-of-center views.  

She says this mentality resulted in her being constantly bullied by coworkers who have called her a ‘Nazi and a racist’ because of her ‘own forays into wrongthink’.

Staffers had previously called for Weiss to be fired after her tweets regarding the Tom Cotton scandal. 

September: Trump repeatedly criticized the New York Times 1619 Project claiming it seeks to ‘change our history’. 

Trump was asked about instructors using the project, named after the year the first ship with African slaves arrived in the U.S., to teach slavery in America and whether he wanted the subject to be taught. 

‘We grew up with a certain history and now they’re trying to change our history. Revisionist history,’ Trump claimed.  

Senator Cotton was also caught up in this incident, introducing legislation that would ban schools from teaching the curriculum through the Saving American History Act of 2020. 

Yet, the Times found that the podcast, launched in 2018, dropped far short of the paper’s standards following widespread failings, right up to senior management.

They branded Chaudhry a ‘fabulist’ who concocted stories as an escape from his more mundane life in a Toronto suburb or living with grandparents in Pakistan.

Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the paper, took personal responsibility for the errors in the editorial process, saying that the blame fell on him and other newsroom leaders.

During his interview with Barbaro, he said: ‘When the New York Times does deep, big, ambitious journalism in any format, we put it to a tremendous amount of scrutiny at the upper levels of the newsroom,’ he said in an interview with The Daily, another New York Times podcast.

‘We did not do that in this case,’ he continued.

‘And I think that I or somebody else should have provided that same kind of scrutiny … and I did not provide that kind of scrutiny, nor did my top deputies with deep experience in examining investigative reporting.

‘I think this guy, we now believe, was a con artist, who made up most if not all that he told us.’

The Times said the two-month review had concluded that the 12-part podcast featuring award-winning correspondent Callimachi, who has frequently reported on IS, ‘gave too much credence to the false or exaggerated accounts’ of Chaudhry.

The Times had ample reason to be suspicious of Chaudhry’s account, since an episode of ‘Caliphate’ was devoted to discrepancies in his story and its own fact-checking.

But the newspaper should it have worked harder to verify the claims before deciding to make Chaudhry a central character.

Chaudhry had claimed he traveled to Syria in 2016 to join the terrorist group ISIS and committed acts of terrorism, including two killings.

He went by the name Abu Huzayfah in the podcast and described in harrowing detail his role in executions.

His account, as told to Callimachi, was incredibly graphic, in particular as he describes killing a man in an ‘orange jumpsuit.’

The account caused an uproar in Canada’s parliament, with opposition Conservatives expressing outrage that Chaudhry was living freely in Ontario province after making the terror claims.

At the time, the Times claimed they had managed to secure a photo of Abu Huzayfah on the banks of the Euphrates River in Syria, an indication that he had indeed made the trip.

Investigators have now found that Chaudhry had passed along photos taken by others in Syria as his own.

There is also still some dispute over whether he even traveled to Syria. Canadian officials say he never did, nor did he ever join the Islamic State, although American intelligence officials still have some doubt, the newspaper said.

‘Caliphate’ marked a foray into narrative audio reporting for the Times, which is increasingly seen as a major revenue stream for the paper.

The show became a major hit, rising to the top of the Apple podcast charts in 2018.

However, red flags surrounding the series’ veracity were never far away.

The scandal has led to intense backlash for the paper of record, especially from other news organizations, which have accused it of allowing for fearmongering regarding the radicalization of Muslims.

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