New York Times Opts To Return Its 2018 Peabody Award For ‘Caliphate’ Podcast

New York Times Building
Mark Lennihan/AP

The New York Times Co. will return the 2018 Peabody Award it received for the podcast Caliphate after an internal investigation found it did not adhere to the news organization’s standards for accuracy.

The Peabody organization confirmed the news Friday, hours after the Times released the results of its investigation of the enterprise report about the Islamic State’s activities in Syria. The paper said it has formally retracted the podcast, a rare admission of serious error.

A Canadian man’s account of Islamic State atrocities, a central part of the 12-part podcast, could not be verified and should not have been trusted, the probe found. The main reporter involved in the multimedia project, Rukmini Callimachi, will be reassigned to a new beat, the paper said. She had been covering terrorism.

The Times published a lengthy account of the findings of the two-month internal probe. Executive editor Dean Baquet blamed newsroom leaders, including himself. “When The New York Times does deep, big, ambitious journalism in any format, we put it to a tremendous amount of scrutiny at the upper levels of the newsroom,” he said in a Times podcast interview. “We did not do that in this case,” he added. “And I think that I or somebody else should have provided that same kind of scrutiny, because it was a big, ambitious piece of journalism. And I did not provide that kind of scrutiny, nor did my top deputies with deep experience in examining investigative reporting.”

Caliphate‘s fate was a black eye in numerous respects. During a time when podcasts and digital subscriptions are booming, the error is a conspicuous one. The Daily, the paper’s signature show, has been adapted into an FX series, The Weekly, and the company has aggressively pursued other adaptations of its audio work. The errors also interrupt a run of editorial distinction. The Times has published a series of scoops based on President Donald Trump’s long-sought tax returns and in recent years has played a key role in bringing down Harvey Weinstein and dozens of #MeToo malefactors.

“As the standard for quality media, the integrity of the Peabody Award is paramount, and we appreciate the professional manner in which the Times has handled this matter,” Dr. Jeffrey P. Jones, executive director of the Peabody organization, said in a press release. “We will receive the return of the award, recognizing the mutual respect both organizations have for each other’s longstanding record of journalistic integrity.”

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