Long before The New York Times began its review of the reporting in her critically acclaimed podcast, the paper was aware of deep concerns about star correspondent Rukmini Callimachi’s work, including from the family of James Foley, the American journalist brutally killed by ISIS in 2014.
“She left our family with a lot of pain from her un-professionalism and lies,” James’ brother Michael Foley told The Daily Beast in an email.
Last Friday, Canadian law enforcement arrested Shehroze Chaudhry, a 25-year-old Canadian man who claimed for years that he had worked as an executioner in the Islamic State. Chaudhry became a source of public fascination after attracting media attention from major outlets including the Times, which told his story in the multi-part investigative podcast series Caliphate, hosted by Callimachi, a Pulitzer finalist and foreign correspondent for the paper.
Canadian authorities now claim that Chaudhry, better known by his alias Abu Huzayfah, fabricated his story, and have charged him with concocting a terrorist hoax. And while the story raised eyebrows among some of the rank-and-file staff at the paper of record, Friday’s arrest was not the first time the Times has been forced to take a closer look at Callimachi’s reporting.
Since at least 2015, the Times has heard—and, in several cases, dismissed—warnings that Callimachi got stories wrong, questions about the legitimacy of her sourcing, and concerns about her treatment of sensitive source material. Now, revelations that one of Callimachi’s biggest stories may have been based on a hoax has resurfaced old warnings and questions that colleagues, experts, and sources previously raised about her reporting.
“If she told me it was sunny outside, I’d double check,” one senior Times journalist told The Daily Beast.
A spokesperson for the Times defended Callimachi’s work on Wednesday evening, saying, “Rukmini is a brave and talented reporter whose body of work has shed new light on how ISIS functioned, attracted recruits, and stayed in power… As with all of our journalism, when we make a mistake we endeavor to correct it. We announced earlier that we are undertaking an examination of Abu Huzayfah’s history and the way we presented him in our podcast in light of new and important questions about him and his motivations.”
But potential problems with the Caliphate star’s journalism have been a subject for concern at the Times for years. Reporters and editors at the paper have questioned the credibility of the source at the center of Caliphate, the legitimacy of ISIS documents published in the paper last year, and the veracity of a Syrian journalist at the center of a 2014 profile who claimed to have seen Foley in prison.
“She’s too big to fail,” the senior Times journalist said of Callimachi.
Multiple journalists at the Times have reviewed her work after it was published. In 2018, for example, Deputy Managing Editor Matt Purdy reviewed some of Callamachi’s previous work and spoke with Times colleagues following general concerns that were flagged internally, according to two people spoken to as part of the process. It is unclear what conclusion the…
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