Public Radio Execs Question Credibility of NYT’s Michael Barbaro After Caliphate Retraction

Michael Barbaro

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A group of more than 20 public radio stations nationwide have condemned the New York Times and the host of its hit podcast The Daily for their handling of the of the audio series Caliphate, NPR’s David Folkenflik reports.

The letter from members of the Public Radio Program Directors Association, sent late on Jan. 11, reportedly focused less on Caliphate’s mishandling of its main subject, and more on Daily host Michael Barbaro’s behind-the-scenes efforts to pressure journalists to limit criticism of the Caliphate retraction, which NPR first reported.

The New York Times retracted key parts of its hit Caliphate series on Dec. 18, amid credibility gaps of its main subject, a Canadian who claimed to have been an executioner for ISIS, but who was eventually arrested and charged with a terrorism hoax.

Also on Dec. 18, Barbaro interviewed Times executive editor Dean Baquet about the retraction, but the interview was added only to the Caliphate feed, not The Daily. During that interview, Barbaro did not disclose that Caliphate was created by many people who were also on the team who built The Daily. Barbaro also did not disclose that he is engaged to the executive producer of Caliphate, Lisa Tobin, who had also been an executive producer of The Daily.

“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,” the letter from the PRPD read, according to NPR. “This is our ethical compass. We feel Barbaro’s actions are in direct conflict with our ethical guidelines and they call his general credibility into question.”

Executives from public radio stations in major markets including Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Minneapolis, and Washington were among those who signed the letter. Erik Wemple of the Washington Post was first to report concerns expressed among staffers at WAMU, NPR’s station in Washington.

According to NPR, the Times’ associate managing editor Sam Dolnick responded with a letter saying that the purpose of Barbaro’s interview of Baquet wasn’t necessarily for journalistic accountability, but rather to serve as a type of editor’s note. Dolnick addressed Barbaro’s requests to journalists that they temper their criticism, noting that Barbaro “regrets” the interactions, and that editors “have discussed their expectations with him going forward.”

According to Folkenflik, Barbaro asked at least five journalists to limit their criticisms of the Times and its handling of Caliphate.

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