K9 Investigation · QAnon · Caliphate
Plus: a true crime event we can all enjoy
|Best Evidence||Oct 13|| 4||2|
Hello friends! Some snafus with my schedule mean you’re getting Best Evidence pretty late today, for which apologize. Thanks so much for your patience, and for understanding that today’s is going to be a little briefer than usual — I am at the stage where I just want to get it out to you, you know? You guys are the best. — EB
The Caliphate investigation is rapidly becoming more engrossing than the podcast ever was. And I say this as a fan of the NYT’s award-winning show on terrorism, a podcast in which self-described members of ISIS cells told reporter Rukmini Callimachi about their many crimes.
That podcast’s narrative started to unravel last month, when one of its subjects was arrested by Canadian authorities for, basically, spreading a hoax — that is, lying to a national news org and saying he was a terrorist, when he in fact was not. At first, the Times responded with a defensive posture, saying that the show was structured as an exploration of what may or may not be the truth, but after slews of people called BS on that claim, it launched an investigation of its own.
Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple has been owning the story from the get-go, and his latest coverage is brutal, accusing Callimachi of the journalistic offense of “rooting for the story” and this is just…ouch
As the Times journalists rummage through “Caliphate,” they’ll notice the moments explicitly designed to elevate Callimachi. In Chapter 1, for example, she declares that she’s seeking all manner of clues about the Islamic State, just the way that a visitor to her home would “find books in Romanian, in English and in French, and you could deduce from that that I most likely speak three languages, or that members of my family are bilingual or trilingual.” In Chapter 8, she scours a building that had recently been abandoned by Islamic State officials. “I’m looking at a notebook here and wondering if I have the courage to pick it up,” she says. Also in that chapter, she comes across a document showing that the Islamic State had its own arms-production outfit. “I’m kissing this piece of paper!” exclaimed Callimachi.
Turning a talent like Callimachi into a multimedia star is a fine strategy, so long as the eye-catching discoveries pan out. If they do not, the entire enterprise will have more distance to fall.
Now here’s where the coverage of the, ahem, coverage gets even wilder: Presumably loath to continue to be scooped by Wemple, Ben Smith, the NYT’s media critic, is now reporting on the affair. But before you assume that this is a closing ranks thing, an effort at damage control, I should tell you that his piece is even more devastating, tackling not just Callimachi’s alleged failings, but “some of the most powerful figures at The Times,” all of whom supported Caliphate even when it started to show its seams.
It also feels, dare I say it, brave: Smith left a (from the outside, at least) great and powerful job for his role at the NYT, a place known for its office politics and long-lead vendettas. And when hitting up managing editor Joe Kahn and executive editor Dean Baquet for comment, Smith notes that “Mr. Baquet and Mr. Kahn, I should note here, are my boss’s boss’s boss and my boss’s boss, respectively, and my writing about The Times while on its payroll brings with it all sorts of potential conflicts of interest and is generally a bit of a nightmare.” Yeah, no shit — but he went for it anyway, indicting far more than just this single podcast as he does.
Sure, this is a fun inside media baseball yarn, but it’s also worth noting, as Smith does, that the podcast informed Canadian terrorism policy, among other real-world consequences. In other words, when true crime turned out not to be true, a whole house of cards can fall. — EB
Hey, what are you up to tomorrow afternoon? Our friends at Alta are speaking with Esther Ludlow, the host and producer of the Once Upon a Crime podcast, at a live event at 12:30 p.m. PT on October 14. The goal is to “examine our love of grisly subject matter, break down how a true-crime podcast gets made, and answer all of your cold case questions.” The event is free, register here. — EB
Alright, once you’ve unraveled all the threads in the Caliphate investigation, I have another one for you: and this one’s about QAnon. Bloomberg Businessweek turned its tech-y attentions on the hoax group, which is one of those nutty things like TikTok and Impossible burgers that many of us lack the time or temperament to really, truly understand.
But TikTok is actually kind of great (and you can dip in and out without feeling shitty, unlike, say, Twitter) and Impossible White Castle sliders are better than the real thing. And now reporters William Turton and Joshua Brustein not only explain what the heck this fake crime news-mongering conspiracy org is all about, but they trace one of its biggest proponents all the way to Citigroup, aka the people who oversee my American Airlines credit card (among other high finance pursuits).
“QAnon High Priest Was Just Trolling Away as a Citigroup Tech Executive” is the damning headline, painting a picture of a well-paid SVP farting around on message boards about a made-up “global cabal of sex traffickers” led by Hillary Clinton. And that’s kind of what was allegedly happening, writ large. Not only is the piece a great explainer on the “movement,” it’s a gripping look at how Wall Street-er Jason Gelinas was unmasked as one of its proponents — and serves as an excellent reminder that, as fun as it is to assume that the trolls all live in their parents’ basements, they actually walk among us. — EB
The Indianapolis Star dropped a great collaborative package on the use of police dogs today. It’s called “Mauled: When police dogs bite” and its a joint project between the Star, the Marshall Project, Advance Local’s award-winning Alabama Media Group, and Chicago’s non-profit journalism effort the Invisible Institute. Just thinking about wrangling those orgs to pull together a package makes me feel tired. Here are the highlights:
Star reporter Ryan Martin led the Indianapolis portion of the national investigation, and he drops a load of behind-the-scenes process stuff via the paper’s crime newsletter.
For folks who are less about what’s behind the curtain, here’s the TL;DR top takeaways item, which is still pretty long! But there’s a lot to know about how the cops use dogs, like how in some cities, “officers are sending police dogs to bite people suspected in some of the most common and lowest-level crimes found in any city.”
Here’s the investigation on how police dogs are used in Indianapolis, which takes you into how the dogs are trained, among other nationally-relevant details.
And here’s the national investigation, which is very very long, and traces the history of K9 units in the US before getting into how man’s best friend has been turned into a weapon that works for contemporary police forces.
Did I just ruin Turner and Hooch and/or K-9 for you? If so, sorry about that (but, really, these were not good movies so maybe it’s for the best). But after reading this — especially, if like Martin, you “probably love dogs more than people,” then you’ll read this investigation not only as a crime story (which it is) and a race story (which it is) and a law enforcement overreach story (which is is), but as an animal care and rights story. There’s a lot to unpack, so give yourself some time with this one. — EB
Wednesday on Best Evidence: The second stage in Sarah and my True Crime Forcenings begins!