Opinion

‘Washington Post’ calls dead ISIS leader al-Baghdadi an ‘austere religious scholar’

The newspaper quickly changed its headline following a backlash, acknowledging that it “should never have read that way.” But the real problem goes deeper than a headline.

"The Washington Post" obituary for Islamic State terrorist group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was killed last week in a U.S. raid in Syria. Source: Screenshot.
"The Washington Post" obituary for Islamic State terrorist group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was killed last week in a U.S. raid in Syria. Source: Screenshot.
Sean Durns
Sean Durns
Sean Durns is a senior research analyst for CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

On Oct. 27, 2019, U.S. President Donald Trump confirmed the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The terrorist leader reportedly detonated a suicide vest, killing himself and three of his children, when U.S. Special Forces raided his hideout in Idlib, Syria. The 48-year-old led a terrorist organization that was responsible for genocide in the Middle East and mass murder abroad.

But the headline for The Washington Post’s obituary initially described the terror chieftain as merely “an austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State.” The newspaper subsequently changed it to read “extremist leader of Islamic State.” Oddly, the first version of the Post’s Baghdadi obituary described him as the “Islamic State’s terrorist-in-chief,” according to a Washington Examiner report.

The Post’s absurd description of Baghdadi drew widespread condemnation and mockery on social media, with several Twitter users employing the hashtag “#WashingtonPostObits” to lampoon the newspaper.

A spokesperson for the newspaper, Kristine Coratti Kelly, admitted that the headline “should never have read that way and we changed it quickly.” However, the problem goes beyond the headline. The Post’s opening paragraph, for example, still whitewashes Baghdadi as “an austere religious scholar with wire-frame glasses” who had “no known aptitude for fighting and killing” when he first took charge of the terror group.

The newspaper does note that he “embraced a kind of extreme brutality” and led “one of the most notorious, vicious—and for a time, successful—terrorist groups of modern times,” but as The Washington Examiner’s Madison Dibble pointed out, the Post “focused much of its obituary on his academic career.” By contrast, The New York Times’s obit, “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS Leader Known for His Brutality, Is Dead at 48,” provided readers with a no-frills but deeply informative accounting of Baghdadi’s crimes.

Times reporters Rukmini Callimachi and Falih Hassan noted that Baghdadi was also a serial rapist, who personally tortured and toyed with his victims.

Al-Baghdadi is not the first terrorist whose crimes were minimized in his obituary in Western media. As CAMERA highlighted in a Nov. 22, 2017, Algemeiner op-ed, Amin al-Husseini’s 1974 New York Times obit referred to the Nazi collaborator as a “handsome and soft-spoken Moslem gentleman” with “keen and often smiling blue eyes.” Popularly known as “Hitler’s Mufti,” al-Husseini helped the Nazis during World War II and, like Baghdadi, sought the destruction of Middle Eastern minorities.

Sean Durns is a senior research analyst for CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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