When the Washington Post amended its obituary over the weekend from describing ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the “Islamic State’s terrorist-in-chief” to “austere religious scholar at the helm of Islamic State,” Twitter was quick to clap back with satire.
Users parodied the glaring bias with comparable blunders: “Adolf Hitler, passionate community planner and dynamic public speaker, dies at 56,” one wrote. “Mao Zedong, who saved 20 – 45 million of his own people from having to suffer through the struggle of existence, dies at 82,” another tweeted. “Satan, unorthodox faith leader known for pushing back against famous wine-maker Jesus, dies at 14,” said another. And, “Genghis Khan, noted traveler, dies at 64.”
Though the Washington Post quickly changed its headline — again — to describe al-Baghdadi as the “extremist leader of the Islamic state,” the damage was already done.
The Post’s headline was only the most recent example of public relations operations which scramble to amend the facts to atone for a political sin.
In September, the New York Times came under fire for an essay written by two reporters who made an unsubstantiated claim of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
Everyone makes mistakes, but this is different. Many mainstream media outlets repeatedly fail to report the facts and the truth and instead choose their words with the goal of perpetuating the popular, politically-correct narrative.
As journalists, we must get the facts and interpret them wisely. We’ve lost sight of truth when we’re describing the leader of a terrorist organization as an “austere religious scholar.” Though the headline could have been factually correct, it’s misleading. If we have to run a correction, our goal should be the truth.
We’ve entered dangerous territory when we’re converting hard facts into fiction.