How do you talk about a guy like ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi? A man who devoted his life to killing innocent people, raping women, imagining new and inventive ways to torture Christians and apostate Muslims, and plotting the takeover of the world?
Well, if you’re a normal human being (or a responsible media outlet), you would probably describe this now-deceased man using terms like “bloodthirsty monster” or “Islamist psychopath.” But if you’re the Washington Post, you might refer to him as an “austere religious scholar.”
Yes, that’s how the Washington Post chose to identify the man responsible for thousands of deaths throughout the world. An austere religious scholar.
And boy, were they raked over the coals for it.
“He beheaded thousands of innocent people, raped and murdered little girls, and the @washingtonpost calls him an ‘austere religious scholar,’” marveled one Twitter user.
Josh Jordan tweeted this entertaining little play:
[Washington Post editorial meeting]
“We need to write an obit for al-Baghdadi. What’s our take?”
“He blew himself up along with three of his kids.”
“As the leader of ISIS he is responsible for uncountable deaths.”
“Super. Let’s go with the ‘austere religious scholar’ angle.”
Muslim reformer Mehdi Hassan wrote: “So frustrating. Baghdadi was not a serious ‘religious scholar’ by any stretch; it’s a complete myth. The subject of his ‘Islamic studies’ PhD, from an obscure Saddam-era university, was an obscure random commentary on a medieval poem about how to recite the Quran.”
“How do you make headlines less accurate and incorrect unless you are gripped by an all-consuming ideological worldview?” wondered Jim Geraghty.
Fox News’ Brit Hume said, “The Washington Post has become unembarrass-able.”
Before long, #WaPoDeathNotices was trending and social media users were having fun at the paper’s expense.
“Adolf Hitler, passionate community planner and dynamic public speaker, dies at 56.#WaPoDeathNotices,” read one.
“Ted Bundy, unconventional pickup artist, dies, shockingly, at 42 #WaPoDeathNotices,” read another.
“Frederick Krueger, known for his innovations in sleep-studies as well as his iconic, wearable cutlery has passed away. #WapoDeathNotices,” read a third.
After an hour or two of this onslaught, the paper realized that they’d made a terrible mistake. “Regarding our al-Baghdadi obituary, the headline should never have read that way and we changed it quickly,” tweeted Washington Post spokeswoman Kristine Coratti Kelly.
It now reads: “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, extremist leader of Islamic State, dies at 48.”