WaPo Glowingly Describes Dead ISIS Leader as 'Austere Religious Scholar' and Get Ripped to Shreds for It


It’s not an auspicious thing when a publication becomes part of a larger story, even more so when that story is the death of the leader of the Islamic State group.

In the case of The Washington Post, though, you have to give it to them. In the midst of a massive day for the news, they got their own hashtag: #WaPoDeathNotices.

The hashtag was borne out of their changing headline for the death notice of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose death after a U.S. raid in northern Syria on Saturday night was pretty much the only story on Sunday, unless you were really invested in seeing President Trump get booed at the World Series.

The Post’s original headline was par for the course: “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Islamic State’s ‘terrorist-in-chief,’ dies at 48.”

There was absolutely nothing wrong with that. If that had remained unchanged for posterity, there wasn’t a single thing to pick at.

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But at some point during the course of events, someone in The Washington Post newsroom decided that wasn’t quite good enough.

Maybe they wanted something memorable. Maybe they thought labeling a terrorist as a terrorist was somehow very un-P.C. Maybe they wanted something that sounded like a Babylon Bee headline.

Whatever the case, if they wanted attention, attention they got with an updated headline: “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State, dies at 48.”

Clearly his austerity and religious scholarship was what people knew Baghdadi for.

It had nothing to do with, say, his helming of a terror empire which murdered, enslaved and raped people across the Middle East, gleefully broadcasting its barbarity over social media.

It had nothing to do with exporting that terror to the West.

It had nothing to do with his aspirations to rule a caliphate where the Islamic State group’s perversions would be law.

Nope. Austerity and religious scholarship, that’s what most people remembered when they heard Baghdadi was killed.

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That headline was quickly updated to state that Baghdadi was the “extremist leader of Islamic State.”

Kristine Coratti Kelly of The Post jumped on Twitter to assure people that “the headline should never have read that way and we changed it quickly.”

Why it read that way in the first place remained unanswered.

However, it inspired a trending hashtag: #WaPoDeathNotices.

Here’s the basic premise: Take a villain somewhere throughout history, real or fictional. They have to have died. Now, write a death notice in the style of The Post’s tone-deaf, bias-soaked Baghdadi obituary headline.

The results were darkly hilarious:

I even managed to finagle a few likes with my own with, “Pablo Escobar, pharmaceutical visionary who clashed with U.S. regulatory authorities, dead at 44.”

The joke is that none of this would — or should — happen.

Do you think The Washington Post's headline was inappropriate?

At some point there was an extreme breakdown in editorial control here and we had the head of the Islamic State group being remembered as an “austere religious scholar” instead of being sent out to metaphorical sea with the tide as he should have been.

Eulogizing a dead terrorist like that, even if it might be the faintest of praise, is profoundly inappropriate.

Though it gave us a hashtag and some callbacks to John Wilkes Booth and Norman Bates, I think most of us would have traded that for The Post sticking with the original headline and sparing us this whole revealing mess.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture