Issue 288,  published January 12, 2021

Updates to L’affaire Caliphate [updated]

The tail of this story is still evolving. On Thursday, Radiolab published a note to listeners acknowledging the chatter surrounding Andy Mills, who had been a long-time staffer and who left the show five years ago.

“We can’t change the past, but we can promise you that we are all holding this show, and each other, accountable for making sure that no person has to experience anything like that again,” the note read.

Then, on Friday, the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple wrote a follow-up column on the renewed scrutiny around Mills, which put to print several allegations of improper behavior levied against the producer — spanning his time both at Radiolab and the Times — that were published on Twitter in recent weeks. The column also confirmed that other journalists at the Times have raised concerns about Mills.

Finally, last night, about twenty public radio stations that syndicate The Daily — including WBEZ, KCRW, KPCC, WAMU, Oregon Public Broadcasting, and New Hampshire Public Radio —  sent a letter to the New York Times expressing their “concerns over the recent behavior of members of The Daily production team and personnel decisions undertaken by the New York Times that impact The Daily.”

The letter, which was sent out under the Public Radio Program Directors Association banner, proceeded to list several specific aspects of their concerns, including the complaints made against Mills’ behavior, The Daily host Michael Barbaro’s previously-reported efforts to influence the way several journalists framed the Caliphate story, and the disparity in outcomes between Rukmini Callimachi and Mills in the wake of the Times’ internal review of Caliphate. You can view screenshots of the letter from this Wemple tweet.

For context, over two hundred public radio stations carry the broadcast version of The Daily, the distribution of which is handled by American Public Media. It’s my understanding is that discussions leading to this letter-writing effort originated in a PRPD call that took place early last week, and I’ve been told that the explicit intent of the letter is limited to making the signatories’ concerns known to the New York Times. The actual content of the letter itself does not make any specific demands.

“We have thus far been pleased with The Daily; our audiences value the program, and it has good listenership,” it reads. “However, millions of Americans rely on our news organizations every day as one of their most trusted sources of information and we are accountable for all the programming that we provide to them… We respectfully request that the New York Times acknowledges and takes responsibility for these lapses in judgment and takes steps to remedy them now and in the future.”

David Folkenflik wrote up a fuller version of the story on the NPR website.

Update: January 12, 2021 — Shortly after the newsletter went out, I received a copy of the response sent back to the PRPD group from the New York Times, which was issued earlier this morning.

“We believe we’ve handled what was a significant journalistic lapse with accountability,” the letter read. “We are deeply committed to continuing to pursue ambitious audio journalism and have already begun implementing changes that will make our audio report even stronger.”

It went on to contextualize the post-findings episode that went into the Caliphate feed as an audio version of an editor’s note, not an accountability interview, and asserted the contemporaneous interview with NPR’s David Folkenflik as part of the accountability process. It also acknowledged the chatter around Mills, noting “You also referenced allegations of Andy Mills’ misconduct, which we take very seriously. We thoroughly review all complaints received, and will take any appropriate corrective action.” The letter also pegs its acknowledgment of the Mills-Daily situation to the timing of the episode. It does not appear to commit to any other specific actions.

I tweeted the screenshots of full letter out, and you can find ’em here.

I run this thing.