by Ashley Rindsberg
Wednesday, 23
February 2022
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17:32

Another major slip-up at The New York Times

The Trojan Horse Affair podcast is littered with errors and distortions
by Ashley Rindsberg

When the New York Times bought the production company behind “Serial,” one of the most successful podcasts of all time, listeners were expecting great things. It might have taken another eight years before Serial published a follow-up season, but it seemed worth the wait: “The Trojan Horse Affair”, as the series was called, quickly became one of the most downloaded podcasts in the world. But now details are emerging that threaten to turn The Trojan Horse Affair series into a full-blown journalistic scandal for the Gray Lady.

The Trojan Horse Affair focuses on claims that a group of Muslim activists were attempting to “Islamise” British state schools. It tells the story of an alleged plot by hardline Islamists who tried to take over various state schools in Birmingham in 2014, which prompted a national inquiry. The podcast centres around a hoax letter regarding the supposed plot that was sent to Birmingham council at the time.

The Trojan Horse Affair is a topic certainly worth investigating. But the problem with the podcast is that its creators, Brian Reed and Hamza Syed, seem to have a very clear agenda from the outset. Syed, a first-time journalist, openly declares that his “mission” in the podcast is to focus the entire story on this one letter. “All you had to do was focus everyone on the question of who wrote the letter,” Syed says in episode two. If the journalists could do that, he says, “everything that comes after it doesn’t matter.” But while the podcast mostly focuses on the letter itself, it downplays a number of other issues ranging from child protection to homophobia.

This on its own should have raised alarm bells. Journalists often have a sense of what a story might be. But a mission — an attempt to achieve, in this case, an ideological goal — can lead to a distorted picture. Indeed, Syed and Reed appear to have been willing to go to pretty extreme lengths. In one case, they subjected two whistle-blowers to an “interview,” which, according to the whistle-blowers, turned into a seven-hour-long interrogation the pair described as “torture.”

The podcast similarly made gross errors and distortions relating to an interview with a representative from Humanists UK, whose words they seemed to have deliberately lifted out of context in order to misconstrue them as Islamophobic. In the words of the organisation:

As all investigations found and as we know ourselves, there were genuine and significant problems in the schools in Birmingham, corroborated by multiple whistleblowers and by documentary evidence. This remains true even if some of the other claims made in the official investigations turn out to be untrue or unsubstantiated. It cannot be swept under the carpet as Islamophobia.
- Humanists UK

Despite the podcast being replete with such inaccuracies and distortions, the Times has refused to fully correct or pull the podcast and instead quietly re-recorded one segment without issuing an editor’s note or correction.

Here, the NYT has form. When the paper published its now-notorious 1619 Project, the Times pushed claims so brazenly divorced from historical reality that even one of their own fact-checkers told them they could not publish them. They ran those claims anyway. Or, more recently, a NYT article about a heat wave in Britain incorrectly said that people flocked to swamps instead of parks, beaches and streams.

For the past five years, the New York Times’ core marketing campaign has centred around a single word: truth. In countless billboards and online ads, the paper proclaims that truth, like its moral descendant, justice, must be won at any cost. For that reason, no one is allowed to question the New York Times, which serves as the world’s greatest truth dispenser, even when it gets the story wrong.

Unfortunately, as we have seen with the Trojan Horse Affair podcast, when an agenda takes precedence over accurate reporting, truth is often the first casualty.

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Mike Michaels
Mike Michaels
9 months ago

Yep I got about 10 minutes into it before realising what it was trying to do. My fault for thinking the NYT would present anything other than agenda driven propaganda and lies.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
9 months ago
Reply to  Mike Michaels

Handle the NYT as you would a viper… as it is no different to one….

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
9 months ago

As one of the excellent commenters over here pointed out in another Unherd article – the objective of the NYT is not to be truthful, newsworthy or do good. It’s to present a narrow clique of people with views that agree with their own.

It’s fascinating though how much the “liberals” love Islam, the worst culprit at what they profess to hate most: “misogyny” (something which is non existent in West Europe or even South / East Asia but very much a given in this religion), homophobia, racism, slavery, etc.

Hersch Schneider
Hersch Schneider
9 months ago
Reply to  Samir Iker

Absolutely spot on with your point on ‘liberals’ and Islam. Something I’ve oft repeated over the years, it’s quite insane

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
9 months ago

NYT is an absolutely shameless gutter rag these days.

James Joyce
James Joyce
9 months ago

This article has lost the plot. By its terms it accepts that The New York Times is journalism. It is not, and hasn’t been for some time. Also, a bit strange that the article made no mention of Rukmini Callimachi, another fake Times progadandist who had a podcast that was eerily similar to this called CALIPHATE. Turnd out that it was completely false. Fake new, anyone?
The new New York Times is a propaganda organization whose mission is not to objectively (hah!) report the news, but to use its former prestige to shove propaganda down the throats of the woke and the non-woke alike, though fewer and fewer non-woke accept The Times as journalism.
The Times no longer prizes “accurate reporting,” hasn’t for some time. It had a single agenda for some years–Trump is bad–and has expanded a bit into all things woke. There are no standards, whatever it takes in support of advocacy.
Sickening!

Helen E
Helen E
9 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

The only reason to maintain an NYT sub is for instant access to its still-valuable & lengthy archive produced by its once sterling staff of journalists and editors.

James Joyce
James Joyce
9 months ago
Reply to  Helen E

You raise a good point, kindly permit me to expand.
The once sterling staff or [real] journalists and editors now live in fear of the younger, woke activists, who are not journalists at all. The inmates have taken over the asylum, as those under 40, under 50?….you pick a number–are completely cowed by possible consequences if they demand objective news reporting.
This is a completely new mission for The Times.

JP Martin
JP Martin
9 months ago

After the scandal with their Caliphate podcast, you would think they might be more careful.

James Joyce
James Joyce
9 months ago
Reply to  JP Martin

Just saw your post. I mentioned this in mine.

JP Martin
JP Martin
9 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

We had the same reaction, yes. One of the more concerning aspects of the Caliphate fiasco was their stubborn resistance to admitting fault and how they waited until the courts ruled that their star protagonist was a mythomaniac.

AC Harper
AC Harper
9 months ago

In Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four the goal of Newspeak is to impoverish language so that politically incorrect thoughts are no longer possible. Today’s Ministry of Truth is Facebook, Google, cable news and, increasingly, the Main Stream Media.
Trump was blamed for using Newspeak (although he spoke against it), but the Ministry of Truth marches on and the New York Times is one of its handmaidens.
Is it just my sense of irony that 1984 warns us of 1619?

Last edited 9 months ago by AC Harper
Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
9 months ago

I’m a bit slow, but bare with me. Is Ashley Rindsberg actually ‘Steerpike’ from The Spectator, or, to put it a slightly different way, is Steerpike actually Ashley Rindsberg, or indeed are they neither of the two mentioned above, but somebody else entirely ?
If I get the same, peddled around, articles as I find in other places should I, do I, cancel one subscription or the other and which ?

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
9 months ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

It’s bear with me….

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
9 months ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

That rather depends on whether I’m in the bath, or not, me thinks.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
9 months ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

Well, don’t drop your electronic device in the bath. That would be shocking

Smalltime J
Smalltime J
9 months ago

“It might have taken another eight years before Serial published a follow-up season” – the second season of Serial was released in 2015, the third in 2018. The Trojan Horse season is the fourth. A bit embarrassing to make an easily checkable error in an article about journalistic accuracy!
However, unfortunately although I really like Brian Reed’s style and think that there was a very interesting show to be made about the Trojan Horse Affair, I agree with the article.
I don’t have an issue with the show being agenda-driven per se (Islamophobia certainly did drive much of the contemporaneous coverage), but it seems that there just wasn’t a strong team of people with an understanding of the political (local and national) context helping produce and fact-check this show.
A lot of the bias and inaccuracy would have been fixed if the NYT had done this properly and hired a team of local producers/researchers. As it was you had a human interest reporter and a student journalist on their own in a complex political story. I don’t get why the NYT bothered buying the podcast when support on political journalism is exactly what they are were well placed to supply.
As a consequence of the reports’ inexperience, a lot of stuff is just a bit weird – like an interview with an MP (was it Liam Fox? can’t recall) where the interviewers are trying to goad him into naming the person they believe is responsible for the Trojan horse hoax (something that would plainly be irresponsible, defamatory and generally impossible for him to do, making the whole interview a bit pointless), making it seem as if teachers that had been struck off had been exonerated on appeal (in fact their strikings off were overturned for procedural reasons and the case was not brought against them again) and acting outraged that Tahir Amal was removed as a governor without any child witnesses being brought before the tribunal (can’t imagine that this would be the norm or necessary given the nature of the charges).
If reports that whistleblowers were promised anonymity and then not given it that is really reprehensible and again, smacks of journalists being out of their depth in a political story.

Last edited 9 months ago by Smalltime J
Helen E
Helen E
9 months ago

What a skeletal article. If you don’t know anything about the story to begin with, you’re lost. What letter? What hoax? What was the alleged plot? Why made whatever-it-was a Trojan horse? A Trojan horse for what? Yes, there are links, but a little substance in addition to the commentary would have been helpful.

Helen E
Helen E
9 months ago
Reply to  Helen E

PS. Totally agree that the NYT “has form” for secretly correcting its online text without an editor’s note, vis-à-vis its 1619 stuff.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
9 months ago

It’s engaged in a battle with The Guardian and one or two others in Europe…for the prize of being the wokey world’s (ie North London, bits of San Francisco, Manhattan, and Paris, and in summer the South of France and middle bit of Italy) organ of record.
There can be only winner and to the one that presses best the buttons of the self professed cleverest people in the room (as opposes to the thickos who voted for Brexit) will go the spoils.