With news of the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Sunday came a flurry of headlines from media organizations seeming to praise the man who was wanted for rape and murder of American citizens, drawing widespread criticism on social media.
"It's genuinely fascinating watching Democrats in real time struggle to figure out what to say about this," said political commentator Glenn Greenwold in response to headlines from The Washington Post and Bloomberg Politics that presented al-Baghdadi as a scholar with a rags-to-riches story. "They want to be patriotic and anti-ISIS, but also need a way to malign Trump without contradicting their gushing Obama praise over (Osama Bin Laden): not an easy balancing act."
First came The Washington Post headline calling the ISIS leader an "austere religious scholar." Twitter users were quick to point out the faux pas.
They had it right the first time.
The Washington Post changed the headline on its Al-Baghdadi obituary from "Islamic State's terrorist-in-Chief" to "austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State." pic.twitter.com/cs243EVz7W
— Yashar Ali
Temple University Professor Marc Lamont Hill called the headline "wildly problematic" on Twitter.
"'Austere religious scholar' is only barely accurate — he was a barely accredited scholarly hack. More importantly, it obscures precisely who and what al-Baghdadi was. You could read this headline and think he was a statesman and not a monster," Hill tweeted.
This headline is wildly problematic. "Austere religious scholar" is only barely accurate —he was a barely accredited scholarly hack. More importantly, it obscures precisely who and what al-Baghdadi was. You could read this headline and think he was a statesman and not a monster. pic.twitter.com/1xija6LU47
— Marc Lamont Hill (@marclamonthill) October 27, 2019
The headline didn't stay up for long. The Post changed it within minutes to: "Abu Bakr al-Baghadadi, extremist leader of Islamic State, dies at 48."
The original headline however garnered reaction for hours.
"This is disgusting," said former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley in a tweet. "Who wrote the obituary headline and what explanation could the @washingtonpost possibly give? Unacceptable on every level."
Bloomberg Politics' angle was to showcase al-Bahgdadi's rise in the terror organization as an up-from-the-bootstraps story when tweeting out its obituary for the dead terrorist.
"Islamic State leader Abu Bakr 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," the news organization tweeted.
Islamic State leader Abu Bakr 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 https://t.co/CNI5XBsoai
— Bloomberg Politics (@bpolitics) October 27, 2019
News of al-Baghdadi's death came just a few hours after "Saturday Night Live" mocked President Trump's recent decision to pull back US troops from the Syrian border — a decision that many predicted would lead to a resurgence of ISIS.
"I was a prisoner in Syria until last week when you freed me, so I just wanted to say, thank you for bringing jobs back to ISIS," said Pete Davidson, playing the role of a freed ISIS prisoner before the successful operation was announced.