The Canadian man who made up his story about being an ISIS executioner leading to changes in the podcast team at the New York Times has admitted in court he fabricated his story. Under a plea deal with Canadian authorities, Shehroze Chaudhry, 26, admitted he made up the tale. In exchange, prosecutors dropped terrorism-hoax charges against him. They say he never presented a threat to the public.
Chaudhry’s claims were first floated on his social media accounts in 2016 and became the basis of the New York Times podcast Caliphate in 2018. The 12-episode series was based extensively on his story. Chaudhry, who called himself Abu Huzayfah in the podcast, said he traveled to Syria to take part in killings for Islamic State.
Last December the Times said it discovered “significant falsehoods and other discrepancies” with Chaudhry’s narrative that he was an ISIS executioner. The Times said it took several steps, including seeking confirmation of details from intelligence officials in the United States, to find independent evidence of the story. Despite some inconsistencies, the decision was made to proceed with the project, it explained in an editor’s note to readers, explaining that it included discussion in the series’ sixth episode about the discrepancies and the efforts the team took to fact-check elements of Chaudhry’s story. After an internal review, the paper now says that did not go far enough.
Without firmer evidence, the Times now says Caliphate should have been “substantially revised” to exclude the material related to Chaudhry. “The podcast as a whole should not have been produced with Mr. Chaudhry as a central narrative character,” it wrote in the note. The Times did not take down the episodes of Caliphate. But it added an audio correction in the form of an editor’s note from Executive Editor Dean Baquet posted to each episode webpage.
In a statement to the Times, spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha reiterated that Times journalists were “too credulous about the verification steps that were undertaken and dismissive of the lack of corroboration of essential aspects of Mr. Chaudhry’s account” and since the problems with Caliphate surfaced the paper as “introduced new practices to prevent similar lapses” in the future.
The fallout from the show included a decision by the Peabody judges to rescind the 2019 award it had given the show. Caliphate host Rukmini Callimachi was reassigned from foreign correspondent to a higher education beat reporter. And Audio Director of Development Andy Mills exited the paper earlier this year. He is reportedly working on a new podcast project.
Most significantly, the Times expanded its editorial oversight to its podcast unit. It hired Paula Szuchman as its first Director of Audio in July. She reports to Assistant Managing Editor Sam Dolnick with a trio of senior producers under Szuchman to oversee news and enterprise stories, the daily news series on The Daily, and Opinion Audio projects. In January, Baquet and Managing Editor Joe Kahn announced they had concluded more management of the audio team was needed as well as a “more fully integrated” audio department into the broader New York Times newsroom.
Meantime Chaudhry has since graduated from college, and his lawyer says he is now working fulltime.