Harper’s magazine publishes letter by Manisha Ganguly about what went wrong in New York Times’ hit podcast Caliphate

5 July 2021
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Following the exposure of the New York Times podcast Caliphate as deeply flawed, CAMRI doctoral researcher, Manisha Ganguly, wrote to Harper’s magazine about the perils of open-source intelligence (OSINT). In her letter Ganguly drew upon her doctoral research to note the issues that can arise from internet-led investigations such as those featured in the Caliphate podcast.

Ganguly’s letter is reproduced in full below;

Harkin blames “internet-led reporting” for the downfall of the Caliphate podcast. This analysis is incomplete. Internet-led reporting, more precisely known as open-source intelligence (OSINT), is not just about the gathering and reporting of facts, but also involves ensuring that those facts stand up to scrutiny and can be verified by other sources.

Harkin himself notes early in the piece that “a simple Google search would have revealed that the method of execution Chaudhry described—stabbing a person through the heart—was extremely rare in Islamic State–occupied Syria and Iraq.” This is one of the fundamentals of open-source reporting: ensuring the facts are plausible and looking for supplementary sources—satellite imagery, online records, etc.—without which no OSINT investigation is complete. The advent of new ways of gathering information does not in any way mean that we can do away with fact-checking in our news-gathering practices.

Rukmini Callimachi’s tendency to play fast and loose with the facts preceded her foray into “internet-led reporting.” As Harkin writes, she seemed incapable of putting a basic timeline together in the case of Marcin Suder. Putting her in charge of a series such as this without adequate oversight was clearly an error at the level of management—this is the real issue at the heart of the Caliphate fiasco, not the internet.

Manisha Ganguly

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