Washington Post Changes Headline Calling ISIS Leader ‘Austere Religious Scholar’ After Backlash

October 28, 2019 Updated: October 28, 2019

The Washington Post changed the headline of its obituary for ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi after backlash.

The United States killed the terrorist in a raid on Oct. 26.

The obituary’s headline initially read: “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Islamic State’s ‘terrorist-in-chief’, dies at 48.”

It was soon updated to say: “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State, dies at 48.”

The reason for the change remains unclear, but the new headline prompted severe backlash from media commentators, lawmakers, and others.

“Who wrote the headline? Why does the Washington Post hire terrorist sympathizers to work for it?” wrote media critic Mike Cernovich on Twitter.

“.⁦@washingtonpost⁩ trying desperately to hold on to #ISIS on-line subscribers,” wrote Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) on Twitter.

“Calling him an ‘austere religious scholar’ instead of brutal rapist/murderer and evil suggests that the Washington Post has lost its collective mind – ask Jim Foley and Kayla Mueller’s parents what they think about this headline,” wrote Greta Van Susteren, formerly of Fox News, on Twitter.

“This is shocking, Washington Post. Terrorist, Murderer, Rapist who presided over genocide, mass killings, torture, conversion over years is an ‘austere religious scholar’ for you? People won’t forget this headline for years. Looks like WaPo lost a loved one,” added journalist Aditya Raj Kaul.

President Donald Trump’s family members also reacted to the headline.

“Enemy of the people???” wrote Donald Trump Jr. “With headlines like this and the fact that the @washingtonpost and others in the MSM have harsher criticism for The President of The United States than they do for the leader of ISIS, a known serial rapist and murderer, you really have to start to wonder!!!”

“They’re literally doing PR for a terrorist scumbag. Screw you Wa Po!” Donald Trump Jr. added on Twitter. Ivanka Trump added: “Unreal. al-Baghdadi described as ‘Austere religious scholar’ instead of ‘terrorist’ in Washpo Obituary headline.”

The paper later updated the headline again, to read: “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, extremist leader of Islamic State, dies at 48.”

“Regarding our al-Baghdadi obituary, the headline should never have read that way and we changed it quickly,” wrote Kristine Coratti Kelly, vice president of Washington Post Live, in a statement.

Neither she nor the paper has explained how the headline was chosen.

Kris Coratti, a spokeswoman for the outlet, later told CNN: “Post correspondents have spent years in Iraq and Syria documenting ISIS savagery, often at great personal risk. Unfortunately, a headline written in haste to portray the origins of al-Baghdadi and ISIS didn’t communicate that brutality. The headline was promptly changed.”

The obituary still includes the line: “When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took the reins of the Islamic State of Iraq in 2010, few had heard of the organization or its new leader, then an austere religious scholar with wire-frame glasses and no known aptitude for fighting and killing.”

Other media’s reporting on al-Baghdadi’s death was also under the microscope after his killing was announced by Trump.

Bloomberg Politics wrote that al-Baghdadi “transformed himself from a little-known teacher of Koranic recitation into the self-proclaimed ruler of an entity that covered swaths of Syria and Iraq.”

And New York Times reporter Rukmini Callimachi wrote: “We are familiar with the atrocities his group carried out & are used to thinking of Baghdadi as a criminal & a thug. But those who knew him as a teen & as a young man described him as having a spiritual gift.”

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
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