Eight days after the story was printed, Mr. Shoumali wrote to Ms. Callimachi and different Times reporters, in an electronic mail alternate I obtained, saying that “Syrian contacts are raising more and more questions about the credibility of one of our sources” and that Mr. Abo Aljoud had modified particulars of the story in a dialog the 2 males had after the story was printed.
Ms. Callimachi emailed again that particulars of the jail scene had been “confirmed independently by European hostages held in the same location or else by the State Department” — a response that appears puzzling, on condition that the story offered Mr. Abo Aljoud’s observations as his eyewitness account.
The Times was apprehensive sufficient about that 2014 story to ship a unique reporter, Tim Arango, again to southern Turkey quickly after it was printed to re-interview Mr. Abo Aljoud, who gamely repeated his story to him and Mr. Shoumali. I attempted once more in early October. Like Ms. Callimachi, I don’t converse Arabic and employed one other Syrian journalist to ask Mr. Abo Aljoud my questions. In that interview, he advised a model of the story that appeared in The Times, however with parts that muddied the clear narrative. He mentioned he had solely seen one hostage, not the three The Times suggests. And he mentioned he didn’t understand till after his launch that he’d seen any of them — opposite to the impression left by The Times article.
Ms. Callimachi mentioned in an electronic mail that she wished that the story had been clearer concerning the “limitations” of reporting on terrorists. “Looking back, I wish I had added more attribution so that readers could know the steps I took to corroborate details of his account,” she mentioned.
Mr. Kahn, the International editor on the time, continues to face by the story.
“Questions that were raised about a source in a story Rukmini wrote about American hostages in Syria were thoroughly examined at the time by reporters and editors on the International desk and by The Times’s public editor, and the results of those reviews were published,” he mentioned in an electronic mail. “I am not aware of new information that casts doubt on the way it was handled.”
Those questions apart, the article arguably had an impression in Washington, pushing the United States authorities to rethink its ban on paying ransom. But the piece itself now rests underneath an uncomfortable cloud of doubt. It stays on The Times web site, with no acknowledgment of the questions surrounding the opening anecdote. The solely correction says that the story, when first printed, didn’t clarify that Mr. Abo Aljoud had used a pseudonym.
Last month, that very same cloud of doubt descended on Caliphate. And Ms. Callimachi now faces intense criticism from inside The Times and out — for her model of reporting, for the cinematic narratives in her writing and for The Times’s place in bigger arguments about portrayals of terrorism.
But whereas a few of the protection has portrayed her as a type of rogue actor at The Times, my reporting means that she was delivering what the senior-most leaders of the information group requested for, with their help.
Mousab Alhamadee contributed reporting.