Caliphate · Napolitano · eBay

Plus: Live PD's role in an evidence-tampering case

It’s every reporter’s nightmare to discover that a subject in a controversial story is full of shit. But according to a report from Global News that’s since been confirmed by the Washington Post, that’s what might have happened in the case of Caliphate, a podcast from the New York Times that “includes disturbing language and scenes of graphic violence” as it attempts to unravel crimes perpetrated by ISIS and other terrorist groups.

One of the folks on the podcast is Abu Huzayfah, who told the show he moved to Syria in 2016 to join ISIS, and subsequently killed a man, saying on the show that “The blood was just — it was warm, and it sprayed everywhere....I had to stab him multiple times. And then we put him up on a cross. And I had to leave the dagger in his heart.”

But Huzayfah is actually a 25-year-old Burlington, Ontario man named Shehroze Chaudhry, the sone of a shawarma and kabob shop owner who was seemingly caught in a series of lies once the podcast aired, prompting a fact-checking episode of the show. Now he’s been arrested on “a rarely-used terrorism hoax charge,” with police saying he made the whole thing up.

So yes, a mess, but that’s maybe not the worst of it: As part of their report, the Global News detailed Chaudhry’s high school career, including “an A in English in his first term, and an F in Islamic Studies, it said. In his final term in the winter of 2016, he received all Fs.” The fear that someone might dig up my high school transcripts and report on them is enough to keep me honest, I must admit…but I’ll tell you now, I flunked Chemistry and had to take Rocks for Jocks.

But perhaps more disconcerting than revisiting our high school grades is the fact that as of this writing, the Times’ response to Post questions on this latest development is…unsatisfying. A snip:

We asked the Times for comment on the charge against Abu Huzayfah for allegedly hoaxing his past as a terrorist. “Part of what the series explored was whether Abu Huzayfah’s account was true,” responded [Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades] Ha. “In Chapter 6 the podcast confirms that Huzayfah was lying to The Times about the dates of his travel to Syria, and the timeline of his radicalization. The episode tells listeners what our journalists knew for sure and what was still unknown. In the episode, our staff was able to place Huzayfah on the banks of the Euphrates river in Syria by geolocating his whereabouts in a photo.”

In response to further questions, Ha said in a statement, “The uncertainty about Abu Huzayfah’s story is central to every episode of Caliphate that featured him.” After news of the charge surfaced on Friday, [host Rukmini] Callimachi tweeted a similar sentiment in a thread on the developments: “Big news out of Canada: Abu Huzayfah has been arrested on a terrorist ‘hoax’ charge. The narrative tension of our podcast ‘Caliphate’ is the question of whether his account is true,” wrote Callimachi, in part.

We dissent. The first five episodes of the series, by and large, recount Abu Huzayfah’s story with minimal skepticism from the host … Snippet after snippet, Callimachi heaped credibility on Abu Huzayfah. Far from amping up “narrative tension,” she drained it.

The NYT won a Peabody for the podcast. In its 2019 announcement of the win, the newspaper makes no mention of the narrative tension over the truth, quoting executive editor Dean Baquet as saying, “Caliphate was one of the best works of journalism of the year, created by a team of fearless journalists who shed new light on something as complex as ISIS and terrorism.” — EB

TV judicial analyst Andrew Napolitano faces new allegations of sexual assault. According to a lawsuit filed by a then-waiter named James Kruzelnick, in 2015, the columnist and trial pundit “forced him to engage in a ‘bizarre sex act’ involving father-son role play,” the Daily Beast reports.

The former New Jersey Superior Court judge turned Fox & Friends regular “developed a strong attraction to” Kruzelnick, the suit claims, and “drugged him and tried to rape him in two other encounters,” in addition to various consensual interactions. The suit follows a claim filed last month by a South Carolina man named Charles Corbishley, who says that Napolitano raped him nearly 30 years ago.

“These accusations are completely false. Full stop. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes, at any time, to anyone, for any reason,” Napolitano said regarding the earlier suit. Speaking with the New York Post. an attorney for Napolitano says that the new case is “nothing more than a pile-on attempt to smear Judge Napolitano for their own financial gain.” — EB

A sheriff involved in a police shooting recorded by Live PD has been charged with evidence tampering. As you likely recall, though it has the slaying on tape, Dan Abrams’s cop-following show Live PD destroyed the footage it had of the police shooting of Javier Ambler II, a Texas man killed by Austin-area officers during a 2019 traffic stop.

After news of the evidence destruction was made public, a spokesperson with A&E (which aired the since-canceled show) told Entertainment Weekly that

Contrary to many incorrect reports, neither A&E nor the producers of Live PD were asked for the footage or an interview by investigators from law enforcement or the District Attorney’s office. As is the case with all footage taken by Live PD producers, we no longer retained the unaired footage after learning that the investigation had concluded. As with all calls we follow, we are not there to be an arm of the police or law enforcement but rather to chronicle what they do and air some of that footage and our policies were in place to avoid having footage used by law enforcement against private citizens.

Now, reports the Austin American Statesman, a Texas grand jury has indicted Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody on evidence tampering charges for the destruction of the footage, and a prosecutor says that more charges could be in the works. “Investigators told the Statesman this spring that they had been working for months to obtain the video and believed Williamson County sheriff’s officials and Live PD had stonewalled the investigation by refusing to release it, reporter Tony Plohetski writes.

Chody turned himself in Monday, after the grand jury’s deliberations concluded. Abrams, ordinarily a prolific tweeter, has been oddly quiet in recent days. A screenshot of his most recent (as of this writing) interaction can be found above. — EB

If, like me, you are absolutely obsessed with that bizarre eBay harassment case, I sure do have a treat for you. If New York Times reporter David Streitfeld says he wasn’t thinking about how this story was adapted, he’s lying — “Inside eBay’s Cockroach Cult: The Ghastly Story of a Stalking Scandal” is an incredibly cinematic, extremely deep dive into the improbable story of a group of eBay execs who allegedly decided to stalk and harass a couple that wrote a newsletter about the online auction company.

For the docuseries, get the McMillion$ folks (just not Marky Mark); for the dramatic adaptation, get Steven Soderbergh or get out of town. Until then, read the story and weep in disbelief. — EB

Wednesday on Best Evidence: Netflix takes us back to 1992.

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