Fact Check

Did WaPo Headline Call IS Leader al-Baghdadi an 'Austere Religious Scholar'?

The Washington Post was criticized for an online obituary headline about al-Baghdadi.

Published Oct. 28, 2019

The building of the Washington Post newspaper headquarter is seen on K Street in Washington DC on May 16, 2019. - The Washington Post is a major American daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C., with a particular emphasis on national politics and the federal government. It has the largest circulation in the Washington metropolitan area. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP)        (Photo credit should read ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images) (ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images)
Image Via ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images
The Washington Post called Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi an "austere religious scholar" in an initial headline for his obituary.

On Oct. 27, 2019, U.S. President Trump announced the death of Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. As news outlets quickly fielded reports about the terrorist leader's death, the Washington Post published an obituary that labeled al-Baghdadi an "austere religious scholar."

Screenshots of this obituary headline were widely shared on social media along with criticism of the news outlet. Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, for instance, posted the following message on Twitter:

This is a genuine headline that briefly appeared on Washingtonpost.com. An archived version of the article can be found here.

The headline appeared on the Washington Post's website for about two hours. The story was published at 8:31 a.m. CDT, according to the article's timestamp. This headline was changed to "Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, extremist leader of Islamic State, dies at 48" at about 10:35 a.m., according to archived links from the Internet Wayback Machine.

Kristine Coratti Kelly, the vice president and communications general manager of Washington Post Live, posted a message on Twitter saying that the headline "should never have read that way."

The qualms over the Washington Post's headline likely served as the inspiration of a meme targeting another "mainstream media" outlet, CNN. Some social media users started to share an image that supposedly showed a screenshot from a CNN broadcast about al-Baghdadi's death featuring the chyron "Trump Kills Unarmed Father of Three":

For the record, while the Washington Post briefly published a headline for al-Baghdadi's obituary labeling him a religious scholar, the above-displayed chryon is a digital manipulation featuring a years-old image of Don Lemon that never aired on CNN.


Warrick, Joby.   "Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Extremist Leader of Islamic State, Dies at 48."     The Washington Post.   27 October 2019.

Warrick, Joby.   "Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, Extremist Leader of Islamic State, Dies at 48."     The Washington Post.   27 October 2019.

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.