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The Times’ ‘Caliphate’ Scandal Illustrates the Paper’s Steep Decline

A gutsy look at the flawed reporting behind the New York Times podcast sheds light on the marketing hysteria of establishment journalism.
[Screen shot/ The New York Times]

How’s this for fake news? Six years of the New York Times’ most publicized reporting on terrorism turns out to be based on hoax and other questionable sourcing. Credit the newspaper for publishing in-house media critic Ben Smith’s devastating account of the Times’ steep decline as a once reliable–if stodgy–paper of record into the swamp of internet sensationalism, a descent based often on anti-Muslim jingoism that began years ago with a Times reporter promoting the lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction as a justification for occupying Iraq, sustained more recently with lurid exaggerations of Muslim terrorism.

From The New York Times:

The crisis now surrounding the [New York Times’ Caliphate] podcast is as much about The Times as it is about Ms. [Rukmini] Callimachi. She is, in many ways, the new model of a New York Times reporter. She combines the old school bravado of the parachuting, big foot reporter of the past, with a more modern savvy for surfing Twitter’s narrative waves and spotting the sorts of stories that will explode on the internet. She embraced audio as it became a key new business for the paper, and linked her identity and her own story of fleeing Romania as a child to her work. And she told the story of ISIS through the eyes of its members.

Ms. Callimachi’s approach and her stories won her the support of some of the most powerful figures at The Times: early on, from Joe Kahn, who was foreign editor when Ms. Callimachi arrived and is now managing editor and viewed internally as the likely successor to the executive editor, Dean Baquet; and later, an assistant managing editor, Sam Dolnick, who oversees the paper’s successful audio team and is a member of the family that controls The Times.[…]

Ms. Callimachi’s approach to storytelling aligned with a more profound shift underway at The Times. The paper is in the midst of an evolution from the stodgy paper of record into a juicy collection of great narratives, on the web and streaming services. And Ms. Callimachi’s success has been due, in part, to her ability to turn distant conflicts in Africa and the Middle East into irresistibly accessible stories. She was hired in 2014 from The Associated Press after she obtained internal Al Qaeda documents in Mali and shaped them into a darkly funny account of a penny-pinching terrorist bureaucracy.

But the terror beat lends itself particularly well to the seductions of narrative journalism. Reporters looking for a terrifying yarn will find terrorist sources eager to help terrify. And journalists often find themselves relying on murderous and untrustworthy sources in situations where the facts are ambiguous. If you get something wrong, you probably won’t get a call from the ISIS press office seeking a correction.

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6 comments

  1. The switch to audio, I believe, is calculated to appeal to people with what the late David Graeber called “bullshit jobs.” Where you’re not doing much of anything, but you do want to maintain some semi-intellectual self-esteem, so you listen to “serious” podcasts at work. The NYT, NPR, etc. These things aren’t generally of any real use, but they can make you feel like you’re being cleverer than lesser-paid people who can’t listen to podcasts at work.

  2. True confessions by the NYT? It is without foundation to believe that this is some sort of turn for the NYT, now that they have seen the light they will no longer warmonger, right?

    Of course not, this article along with the countless others is nothing more than propaganda and will change nothing, it protects the oligarchy.

    Yes, we’re terrible, the US is terrible BUT democracy – that is the status quo and is the only solution, there are no alternatives.

    Democracy got us here to where we have displaced over 37 million people in the Western empire’s “War on Terror” who thinks that same democracy is going to put them back into their homes?

    See how easily they do it. Western liberal democracy in spite of what Chomsky claims it is or anyone thinks it is has never been anything but a handmaiden and carapace for Imperial slaughter.

    Not for one second did the French Elites loose a penny during or after the so called revolution, in fact France has imperial holdings today. That’s democracy Western style.

  3. like MSDNC, CNN, NYT=propaganda….they have their WMD’s hidden in Topeka
    After Geoffrey Gorer exminined the media in USSR and the curriculum in Soviet schools he described the censorship in US media and schools as “ludicrous”
    “censorship reflects a society that has no confidence in itself”. Potter Stewart
    “amerikan academia is far more effectively censored than was Soviet academia”. Georgi Derlugian

  4. The NY Times has been the CIA’s mouthpiece for far longer than six years. When ISIS, the CIA’s more brilliant step child, was fighting the Pentagon’s Kurds in Syria, it seemed DC, with bipartisan support, had developed the Perfect War, where the money went hand over fist to “the right people” (not sure where Hunter Biden was at the time!), and ignorant proxy armies clashed by night (with expensive American weapons).
    Remember it is not just lightweight simpletons like Callimachi who unwittingly(?) serve the Times/ CIA Narratives (now legal since abolition of Smith Mundt in 2013). Even Chris Hedges pushed the CIA lies that Saddam Hussein was training terrorists to fly into NYC buildings. As far as I know, he hasn’t returned his Pulitzer, so Hedges must be fine with such “journalism”.

  5. The N Y Times was never the progressive paper it was represented to be as its imperial “All the News that’s fit to Print” motto suggests. But it did go into a significant ethical decline when AM Rosenthal became executive editor in 1977 through the ’80s. Rosenthal was an avid Zionist and dictatorial in general. But he knew how to sell, and his editorship led to a surge in the Times’s popularity by adding tabloid-like features. The Times has never recovered.

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