The Washington Post was slammed on Sunday for changing the headline on its obituary for Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi — removing the word “terrorist” and instead calling him a “religious scholar.”
Earlier Sunday, President Donald Trump announced that the fugitive terrorist leader died in a raid by U.S. special forces in northwest Syria. Baghdadi killed himself and three children during the raid by igniting a suicide vest, Trump said in a televised address from the White House.
The Post’s original headline for its Baghdadi obituary was, “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Islamic State’s ‘terrorist-in-chief,’ dies at 48.”
The newspaper then changed the title to, “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State, dies at 48.”
The update provoked widespread condemnation.
Liberals, who have sometimes sought to draw a clear line between terrorism and Islam, protested that Baghdadi was by no means a religious scholar. The Intercept columnist Mehdi Hasan called the claim “a complete myth” and [s]o frustrating.”
So frustrating. Baghdadi was not a serious ‘religious scholar’ by any stretch; it’s a complete myth. The subject of his ‘Islamic studies’ PhD, from an obscure Saddam-era university, was an obscure random commentary on a medieval poem about how to recite the Quran. https://t.co/v1Qb0VshnT
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) October 27, 2019
Axios reporter Jonathan Swan said he initially mistook the Post’s headline for parody.
I thought this was a parody headline https://t.co/1UhqOF1yLk
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) October 27, 2019
The right responds to the Washington Post Baghdadi obituary
Meanwhile, conservatives criticized the Post for allegedly painting Baghdadi in a sympathetic light.
The Reagan Battalion Twitter account reminded the newspaper of some of ISIS’ atrocities.
— The Reagan Battalion (@ReaganBattalion) October 27, 2019
Fox News analyst Brit Hume said the Post had become “unembarrass-able.”
The Washington Post has become unembarrass-able. https://t.co/3mDUPA94cs
— Brit Hume (@brithume) October 27, 2019
The Daily Wire’s Ashe Schow was among those who suggested the Post was trying to downplay Baghdadi’s evil out of animus toward Trump, who has publicly feuded with the newspaper’s publisher and editor.
Schow noted that when then-al Qaeda leader Osama Ben Laden was killed in a raid under then-President Barack Obama, the Post managed to get the word “terrorist” into the headline of its obituary: “Osama bin Laden killed: Leader of terrorist group al-Qaeda was 54.”
By contrast, she alleged, the Post made it “seem like [Baghdadi] simply died of an illness rather than in response to a raid conducted by the U.S. military.”
Schow also criticized the text of the obituary, which describes Baghdadi as an “austere religious scholar with wire-frame classes” and says he “maintained a canny pragmatism.”
To be fair, it also notes that under Baghdadi’s leadership, ISIS committed “brutal massacres of minorities” and became a “byword for shocking brutality.”
The Post said in a statement sent to Pluralist: “Regarding our al-Baghdadi obituary, the headline should never have read that way and we changed it quickly.”
Later Sunday, the Post made a third edit to its headline on Baghdadi’s obituary. It now now reads: “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, extremist leader of Islamic State, dies at 48.”
According to a running tally kept by CNN, the Islamic State has conducted or inspired more than 140 terrorist attacks in nearly 30 countries, killing at least 2,043 people and injuring thousands more.
Baghdadi is said to have earned a doctorate in Islamic studies from a university in Baghdad. But, according to a biographer, he chose to study religion only because his grades weren’t good enough to get into the secular programs he preferred.
In contrast with the Post, Trump did not mince words when he confirmed reports of Baghdadi’s death.
“He was a sick and depraved man, and now he’s gone,” the president said. “Baghdadi was vicious and violent, and he died in a vicious and violent way, as a coward, running and crying.”
Trump added: “He died like a dog. He died like a coward. The world is now a much safer place.”