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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

The New York Times apologizes

"How could the much-touted paragon of journalistic excellence fall for such a fairy tale?"

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For years, the 169-year-old New York Times (NYT) has been known as the national newspaper of record in the United States. Lately, it was also billed as the first truly global newspaper in English as it joined two other publishing giants in reviving the International Herald Tribune (IHT) now billed as the NYT International edition..With its signature blurb “All The News That’s Fit to Print”, it has a long standing tradition of upholding the highest journalistic standards, factual and fair in its reportage and balanced in its views of the affairs of men and states. But somehow, even multi awarded publications have their faults. The New York Times is no exception.

Just before the holidays, independent fact checkers called out the NYT’s 2018 Pulitzer Prize-nominated podcast about the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS) as a fake, a monumental fantasy.

They noted that the 12-part series about the reported tales of a Pakistani man, Shebdroze Chaudry, living in Canada joining the ISIS and even participating in executions during the ISIS’ reign of terror in a large swath of the country never happened at all.

The critics went to town lambasting the newspaper for breaching all norms of journalistic standards. They were incredulous that the much-touted paragon of journalistic excellence would fall for such a fairy tale.

Jumping the gun on NYT’s colossal failure, the paper’s in-city competitor, New York Post, which it has been deploring time and again as the undisputed promoter of sensationalist, bordering on yellow, journalism, took to the streets exposing its main rival’s own failing. After printing an extensive apologia from NYT Executive Editor, Dean Baquet, who admitted that the 2018 “Caliphate” series blew its journalistic standards which he attributed to “institutional failure..that included shoddy reporting based on interviews with a con artist,” the Post went on to suggest that NYT’s internal processes simply fell off the tracks.

Baquet admitted as much when he noted that an editor with experience on the subject of terrorism was not assigned to keep a close eye on the series and that reporters “should have passed harder to verify Chaudry’s claims before deciding to place so much emphasis on one individual’s account.”

What Baquet did not sufficiently say was the fact that the series was the work of one of its star reporters, Rukmini Callimachi, which may have been the reason why the “fact-checking process were not sufficiently rigorous….and dismissive of the lack of corroboration of essential aspects of Chaudry’s account.”

Well, things happen and “sh*t hits the fan” as some colleagues would say. The whole fable could have simply been acclaimed as one ‘”journalistic scoop” and archived together with an award from some highly placed award-giving entity, had Chaudry not been arrested last October and charged with committing a terrorist hoax for claiming that he was a killer when he wasn’t at all.

But the NYT editors’ apologia including Baquet’s unprecedented “bowing-to-the-truth” did not deter one of the New York Post’s well read columnists, Michael Goodwin, from driving the knife even harder. Prefacing his December 19 column “What The New York Times Hasn’t Admitted,” Goodwin said: “The best stories in The New York Times often involve the Gray Lady’s self-flagellation over a doozy of a mistake, and Saturday was one of those days. The paper was crowded with confessions, explanations and apologies over a disgraced podcast called “Caliphate” that went off the rails and into the weeds of fiction.”

Goodwin then proceeded to recount how the NYT and its star reporter, Callimachi, “fought the critics” and insisted that the paper had gotten the truth out of the confessed ISIS member Chaudry.

They even went as far as suggesting that the critics were simply envious of the fact that the NYT had drawn first blood in the continuing “duel of scoops” on ISIS and, relatedly, other “significant events” at this time. The back and forth argument went on for some time until finally

NYT editors admitted to their colossal mistake describing Chaudry as a “Walter Mitty” fabulist. Callimachi apologized.

There are lessons to be learned here. The bizarre episode, Goodwin wrote, is important because it helps illustrate what has happened to the Times since it abandoned its standards of fairness and accuracy to pursue a far-left political and cultural agenda. Then, he pulls the gun saying that “while the ritualistic repentance in this case seems sincere, it is also designed to create the impression that everything else the paper publishes can be trusted.” To Goodwin, the NYT has been engaged in a kind of selective, not fair and factual, journalism promoting an agenda other than being a bastion of true, blue journalistic excellence.. He then cited a number of examples he billed as “far worse than the ‘Caliphate’ fables which it (NYT) never admitted or corrected.

The Times, Goodwin noted, was the “lead offender in the greatest error in modern journalism:

The false claims that President Trump colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election. The paper pushed the narrative and was rewarded with Pulitzers and other awards. The Times played Pied Piper to pack rats from other outlets who joined the feast of fabrication..”

Goodwin also cited NYT’s major role in the “unforgivable smearing of Brett Kavanaugh during the 2018 Supreme Court nomination battle. Times reporters reflexively gave credence to lurid allegations that had not a shred of evidence in a bid to block his confirmation. To this day, there have been no apologies or explanations.”

But the most damning malpractice, if we may call it such, which the NYT has done as far as Goodwin is concerned was its withholding of the Hunter Biden story until after the presidential elections. That story about Hunter’s questionable foreign business dealings which first saw print in the NY POST was dismissed by NYT and most major publications and even Big Tech as a “Russian disinformation story” has now been ascertained as true. In fact, experts say that had it been carried with the same zeal as the other “stories of our time,” it could have made a lot of difference in the elections. Again, lessons learned and selective initiatives lamented.

Goodwin’s final words about the demise of truth, accuracy and fairness in the NYT might as well have been spoken to the head honchos and key reporters of our major papers and broadcast stations. He noted that despite the different topics involved, the fundamental mistakes are similar. The Times runs afoul when it shapes stories to make the truth appear what reporters and editors want it to be. When facts don’t fit, they are ignored or massaged.

Then, the final nail on NYT’s descent to the pits: “Blind to flaws and drawbacks obvious to others, they race ahead convinced of their own righteousness. Putting the brakes on zealousness is why rigorous standards were created at the Times more than a century ago. Rules demanding fairness, accuracy and impartiality aimed to keep stories straight and win public trust. Not coincidentally, the number and scope of major screwups has also ballooned. That’s what happens when you stop being a newspaper and become an activist chasing social and political agendas.”

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