Eight days after the article was published, Mr. Shoumali wrote to Ms. Callimachi and other Times reporters, in an e-mail exchange I obtained, saying that “Syrian contacts are increasingly raising concerns. questions about the credibility of one of our sources ”and that Mr. Abo Aljoud changed the details of the story in a conversation the two men had after the story was published.
Ms Callimachi replied by email that details of the prison scene had been “independently confirmed by European hostages held at the same location or by the State Department” – a response that seems puzzling, given that the The story featured the observations of Mr. Abo Aljoud as his eyewitness Count.
The Times was worried enough about this 2014 story to fire another journalist, Tim Arango, to southern Turkey soon after it was published to re-interview Mr. Abo Aljoud, who repeated his story to him and Mr. Shoumali. I tried again in early October. Like Ms. Callimachi, I do not speak Arabic and I hired another Syrian journalist to ask my questions to Mr. Abo Aljoud. In this interview, he told a version of the story that appeared in The Times, but with elements that clouded the proper narrative. He said he saw only one hostage, not the three suggested by The Times. And he said he didn’t realize until after his release that he hadn’t seen any of them – contrary to the impression the Times article had left.
Ms Callimachi said in an email that she wanted the story to be clearer about the “limits” of reporting on terrorists. “Looking back, I wish I had added more attribution so readers could know the steps I took to corroborate her account details,” she said.
Mr. Kahn, the international editor at the time, continues to support the story.
“The questions raised about a source in an article Rukmini wrote on American hostages in Syria were thoroughly examined at the time by journalists and editors at the international bureau and by the editor of The Times. , and the results of those reviews have been published, ”he said in an email. “I am not aware of any new information which casts doubt on the way it was handled.”
Those questions aside, the article arguably had an impact in Washington, causing the United States government to reconsider its ban on paying ransom. But the room itself now rests under an uncomfortable cloud of doubt. He remains on the Times website, without acknowledgment of the questions surrounding the opening anecdote. The only correction says that the story, when it was first published, did not make it clear that Mr. Abo Aljoud had used a pseudonym.
Last month, that same cloud of doubt descended on the caliphate. And Ms Callimachi now faces intense criticism from inside and outside The Times – for her style of reporting, for the cinematic narratives in her writing, and for the Times’ place in larger arguments about portrayals. terrorism.
But while some of the coverage portrayed her as some sort of rogue actor at The Times, my reporting suggests that she was delivering what the top leaders of the news organization demanded, with their support.
Mousab Alhamadee contributed reporting.