- The Washington Times - Monday, December 28, 2020

New York Times podcast host Michael Barbaro reportedly pressured several journalists to tone down their criticism of the paper after it retracted the core of its award-winning podcast series “Caliphate” due to false reporting.

According to NPR’s David Folkenflik, Mr. Barbaro “repeatedly pressed at least four journalists Friday to temper their critiques of The Times and how they framed what happened. I know, because I was one of them.”

The New York Times came under fire on Dec. 18 after revealing “Caliphate,” the 2018 podcast about the Islamic State terrorist group that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and won a Peabody Award in 2019, did not meet the paper’s “standards for accuracy.”

Following a more than two-month internal investigation, The Times found that the 12-part audio documentary focused too heavily on the false or exaggerated accounts of Shehroze Chaudhry, a man who was charged by Canadian authorities in September with perpetrating a terrorist hoax.

The Times returned its Peabody award and its citation as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize over “Caliphate,” and Rukmini Callimachi, who hosted the series, was reassigned to a new beat, NPR reported. In an effort to restore trust in the paper, Mr. Barbaro, host of The Times’ news podcast The Daily, interviewed Executive Editor Dean Baquet to address what went wrong with the series.

But NPR reported that Mr. Barbaro was simultaneously “doing damage control” behind the scenes, including “admonishing” NPR host Lulu Garcia-Navarro “to demonstrate restraint” on criticizing The Times and warning her she was “hurting the feelings of people at the newspaper.”

Mr. Barbaro also repeatedly contacted Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple to criticize his use of the word “retract” on Twitter to describe what happened, Mr. Wemple told NPR. The Times’ position is that only parts of the series were retracted, specifically the parts about Mr. Chaudhry and his history.

“I happen to believe that in this instance that it is a sign of The New York Times’ integrity, that they took this step,” Mr. Wemple said. “They should embrace that they retracted it instead of … tiptoeing around this idea.”

Mr. Wemple also raised the issue of Mr. Barbaro being assigned to interview Mr. Baquet in the first place, given that he is engaged to marry Lisa Tobin, a Times audio producer who was the executive producer of “Caliphate,” NPR reported.

“I think it’s disqualifying, and it’s certainly blinding,” Mr. Wemple said. “I don’t think Michael should have been involved in, you know, in this particular aspect of it. But he is the voice of The New York Times.”

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