NY Times taps Cliff Levy to oversee unit that returned Peabody

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Letters to the editor — Jan. 10, 2021

The New York Times promoted its metro editor in a move that puts him in charge of the audio unit that recently returned a Peabody Award after its Caliphate podcast series was discredited.

Cliff Levy, who was an associate managing editor, now becomes one of five deputy managing editors and appears on the Times masthead.

“Cliff will spend the coming weeks getting to know the rhythms of ‘The Daily’ and the broader audio team and will then help Sam [Dolnick], Lisa [Tobin] and the masthead more fully integrate the audio department’s day-to-day operation into the broader newsroom,” said the memo by executive editor Dean Baquet and managing editor Joe Kahn on Wednesday.

“Among his focuses will be developing new procedures to vet ambitious audio series,” the memo continued.

The 12-part “Caliphate” series on Middle East terrorism has been under attack since one of its main sources in the series for star reporter Rukmini Callimachi turned out to be a fraud.

The story began to unravel in September when a man, who called himself Abu Huzayfah in the series but whose real name is Shehroze Chaudhry, was arrested by Canadian authorities and charged with perpetrating a terrorist hoax. While he purported to have lived in Syria where he claims to have served as an executioner for Isis, it appears in reality, he never left Canada.

After an internal investigation Times executive editor Dean Baquet acknowledged an “institutional failing” in the production of Caliphate and found “no corroboration” for the claims of its main subject, Huzayfah/Chaudhry.

The series drew further fire when dozens of public radio stations posted a letter on the web site of the Public Radio Program Directors Association accusing the the Gray Lady of multiple “lapses in judgment” while trying to stem the controversy and for failing to disclose that Michael Barbaro, one of the hosts of The Daily podcast show was dating the series executive producer Lisa Tobin.

The Times affixed a 440 word correction to the series and returned a prestigious Peabody Award that it had won.

The expectation is that Levy will move onto a bigger assignment once he gets the house in order in the audio division. Despite the blowup of the Caliphate series, the Times said, its “The Daily” podcast has been a popular addition to the lineup drawing four million daily listeners.

During Levy’s three year stint heading metro, The Times won a Pulitzer for a series that exposed predatory loans and other struggles facing the city’s yellow cab industry and had a second Pulitzer from earlier in his career.

In their note, Baquet and Kahn said that a search for new metro editor is underway.

Levy becomes one of five deputy managing editors who are just below Baquet and Kahn on the masthead. The others include Carolyn Ryan, Rebecca Blumenstein, Steve Duenes and Matthew Purdy.

Baquet turns 65 in September which is normally the mandatory retirement age for the top editor. But the paper appears to be bending the rule and pushing the retirement age to 66 to allow him to stay an additional year and step down in the fall of 2022. There is building internal speculation on who will be the successor.

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