The Washington Post sparked widespread backlash on Sunday for a headline change on its obituary for the leader of the so-called Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whom it first described as the group’s “terrorist-in-chief,” then, after an edit, as an “austere religious scholar.”
Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was one of numerous Republicans to speak out about the headline, emphasizing that Baghdadi was “a ruthless, brutal terrorist who threatened our country,” a stark juxtaposition to the Post’s oddly complimentary word choice. Echoing his message, Stephanie Grisham, who is the current press secretary, tweeted that the headline had left her speechless.
Though the headline was then changed a second time to refer to Baghdadi as an “extremist leader,” Trump’s 2020 campaign seized on the previous version, sharing a screenshot of the wording alongside an image of an apparent ISIS beheading.
The campaign’s national press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, and its director of communications, Tim Murtaugh, also raised criticism of the obituary, the latter taking issue with the text of the article as well, which describes Baghdadi as “an austere religious scholar.”
“The headline should never have read that way and we changed it quickly,” Kristine Coratti Kelly, The Washington Post’s vice president of communications, said in a statement to HuffPost.
On Sunday, Trump announced in a press conference that Baghdadi, who had been the target of a years-long international manhunt, died during a U.S. military raid the night before in northwestern Syria. According to the president, American military dogs ran after Baghdadi as he and three of his children dashed into a dead-end tunnel. All were killed when Baghdadi detonated a suicide vest.
The operation has dealt a blow to the terrorist organization. There is no indication as to who may replace him.
This story has been updated to include Kelly’s statement.