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WaPo Catches Flak for Baghdadi Headline

Describing terrorist as 'austere religious scholar' shouldn't have happened, says 'Washington Post' rep
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 28, 2019 9:25 AM CDT
The One Franklin Square building, home of the "Washington Post," in downtown Washington on Feb. 21, 2019.   (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

(Newser) – The weekend's news was dominated by the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but one headline garnered extra attention. In its obituary for the 48-year-old Islamic State leader, the Washington Post originally topped the story with a headline most Americans wouldn't argue with, per USA Today: "Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Islamic State's 'terrorist-in-chief,' dies at 48." However, that headline was soon changed to the following: "Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State, dies at 48." That headline picked up from the first paragraph of the story, which described Baghdadi as "an austere religious scholar with wire-frame glasses and no known aptitude for fighting and killing" when he first took over ISIS in 2010—and both that description in the text and the headline immediately generated backlash, and mockery.

Detractors from both sides of the aisle, including President Trump's kids, hit back, with conservatives especially railing against the paper, some even accusing it of giving Trump harsher treatment than terrorists. Meanwhile, the #WaPoDeathNotices hashtag emerged, offering rewritten headlines on the deaths of other nefarious figures, including Mao Zedong, Ted Bundy, Adolf Hitler, and Satan. Post rep Kristine Coratti Kelly says the headline has once more been changed—it now describes Baghdadi as an "extremist leader"—and that the second headline "should never have read that way." In a statement to CNN, she adds, "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." (Read more Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi stories.)

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