The Washington Post published an article entitled ‘Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State, dies at 48’ before changing it to ‘Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, extremist leader of Islamic State, dies at 48’ following a massive backlash from social media users.
The article was first published under a headline that referred to al-Baghdadi as the ‘Islamic State's ‘terrorist-in-chief.’’ It was unclear why or who decided to change the ‘terrorist’ label to "austere religious scholar." It then changed back to ‘extremist leader’ after the Washington Post received wide criticism for its headline.
The article followed confirmation of al-Baghdadi's death in a US military operation in Syria. It described al-Baghdadi’s rise as the terrorist group's leader as a "religious scholar with wireframe glasses."
Under Al-Baghdadi’s leadership, ISIS carried out thousands of killings, including the enslavement and rape of thousands of women from Iraq's Yazidi minority. Its members massacred captives and threw allegedly queer people from the rooftops of buildings.
In December 2014, Jordanian pilot Muath Al-Kaseasbeh was shot down and captured in Syria. He was taken hostage and months later seen on video being burned alive in a cage. The killings and savage treatment extended to citizens from other countries, including journalists from the US, Britain and Japan, who were also beheaded.
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham tweeted that she had ‘no words’ regarding The Post headline. Former Press Secretary Sean Spicer also responded, writing: “Stop, read this & think about it: last night a ruthless, brutal terrorist who threatened our country & is responsible for the death of American citizens was killed in a successful operation by US military & @washingtonpost described #Albagdadi as an 'austere religious scholar.’”
Yashar Ali, New York Magazine and HuffPost contributor tweeted “They had it right the first time,” alongside screenshots of the two headlines.
Social media users mocked the Washington Post by writing satirical obituaries for other historical figures who committed crimes and genocides.
President Trump announced the death of al-Baghdadi on Sunday, describing him as dying “in a vicious and violent way, as a coward, running and crying.” Al-Baghdadi had retreated to a dead-end tunnel, taking three children with him, and detonated a suicide vest. He along with the children were killed in the blast.