The Public Radio Program Directors Association is slamming the New York Times for what they believe are ethical lapses of The Daily host Michael Barbaro, whose podcast airs on hundreds of radio stations nationwide. The dustup is part of the continued fallout of what amounted to a retraction by the newspaper to major portions of the Caliphate podcast.
The company last month retracted Caliphate, saying the series did not meet the newspaper’s standards for accuracy. The podcast was based extensively on the story of a Toronto man who created a false identify for himself, sharing stories of how he traveled to Syria to take part in killings for Islamic State. Canadian police have since charged Shehroze Chaudhry, who called himself Abu Huzayfah in the podcast, with perpetrating a terrorist hoax.
It isn’t that that the podcast needed to be retracted that has angered the Public Radio Program Directors Association. Instead, it is how the Times has handled it. In a letter to the Times Audio Division, the program directors are critical of what they say were attempts by Barbaro to influence coverage of the incident on the podcast while also failing to disclose his personal relationship with Caliphate Executive Producer Lisa Tobin, his fiancée, during an episode of The Daily which sought to set the record straight.
“Your decision to place Barbaro in the host chair for that conversation was flawed,” wrote Association President Abby Goldstein. “How are we to trust that difficult questions would be asked, answers would be demanded, and the truth sought? This was a moment for transparency, that moment is now lost and there should be accountability for this lapse in judgement.”
The Public Radio Program Directors Association also accuses Barbaro of reaching out to several journalists in an “attempt to influence their coverage” of the errors made in the production of Caliphate. “For decades, public radio news organizations have worked diligently to create a relationship with our communities that is based on the highest journalistic ethics. 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,” wrote Goldstein. “This is our ethnical compass. We feel Barbaro’s actions are in direct conflict with our ethical guidelines and they call his general credibility into question.”
The Association also criticized how the New York Times dealt with two of the team members behind the Caliphate series. While reporter and podcast host Rukmini Callimachi has been reassigned, observers say series co-creator Andy Mills has not faced any reprimand and has even been allowed to fill-in for Barbaro on the high-profile The Daily. Public radio programmers say the different treatment of male and female employees in a #MeToo era as tone deaf at best. “The optics of this decision may not have been carefully considered,” wrote Goldstein.
The Public Radio Program Directors Association represents public radio stations across the country, many of which pick up The Daily feed through the New York Times’ distribution deal with American Public Media. That radio airplay reportedly adds more than 11 million listeners to the podcast each week, in addition to the roughly four million downloads the podcast receives. Despite the hard feelings, it is unlikely public radio programmers will look to split with the show.
"We have thus far been pleased with The Daily; our audiences value the program, and it has good listenership," said Goldstein. "However, millions of Americans rely on our news organizations every day as one of their most trusted sources of information and we are accountable for all the programming that we provide to them... We respectfully request that the New York Times acknowledges and takes responsibility for these lapses in judgment and takes steps to remedy them now and in the future."
The 12-episode Caliphate suffered from “significant falsehoods and other discrepancies” made by Chaudhry according to an internal review conducted by the Times. In an editor’s note last month the newspaper said, “Elements of the original fact-checking process were not sufficiently rigorous” and 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.”
In April 2019 the judges from the Peabody awards said Caliphate had an “absorbing style” but after the retraction, the Overseas Press Club Board of Governors announced it had rescinded the Peabody award.