Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State, dies at 48
The Post has since rewritten that, though the description of an “austere religious scholar with wire-rimmed glasses” remains in the lead paragraph. Meanwhile, the headline on Foxnews.com:
Al-Baghdadi kill: how the daring military operation went down
The Post headline would fit a quiet academic who died in his sleep, not a genocidal jihadist leader. The Fox headline is less nuts, but still not quite right: al-Baghdadi wasn’t killed but reportedly committed suicide, while pursued by American “military dogs.”
Donald Trump was correct when he tweeted Saturday night that something “big” had happened, but from there, America received two almost completely different versions of the story of al-Baghdadi’s pursuit and suicide. It was a vivid demonstration of how dysfunctional the modern news landscape has become.
When important events take place now, commercial news outlets instantly slice up the facts and commoditize them for consumption by their respective political demographics. We always had this process, to some degree, but it no longer takes days to sift into the op-ed pages.
Now news is packaged for Republicans or Democrats on the first reporting pass. Moreover, it’s no longer true that Fox is more blatant about its slant than the Democrat-friendly press, which in the Trump years has become a bullhorn of caricatured bellyaching in the same way Fox was in the Clinton years.
The Trump version of the Baghdadi story was a predictable heroic cartoon. The Obama administration at least had the decency to seek out a decent director and wait a year or so before the heroic Zero Dark Thirty bin-Laden-killing epic was released. Trump decided the skip the Hollywood negotiations and deliver the boffo movie lines upfront.
“He died like a dog, he died like a coward,” Trump said, saying al-Baghdadi died “whimpering and crying.” Al-Baghdadi, Trump said, was the “biggest ever” terror villain, even bigger than bin Laden, because he “built a caliphate.” He even praised the “beautiful dog, talented dog” that chased al-Baghdadi into a tunnel. The White House released photos of Trump and advisers watching the assault, an experience Trump described as being like “you were watching a movie.”
Conservative media immediately emphasized the political benefit of the raid to Trump, as in the Fox headline, “Al-Baghdadi takedown catches Dems flat-footed, blunts criticism of Trump’s Syria pullback.” There was also mockery of liberal culture-war targets like Saturday Night Live, which ran an ill-timed gag this weekend. “SNL mocks Trump for ‘bringing jobs back to ISIS’ amid operation targeting Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Syria,” read the headline.
Meanwhile, in what increasingly feels like a monolithic bloc of anti-Trump media at the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, etc., the Baghdadi headlines were a remarkable collection of angst-ridden talking points. Even if you’re not the kind of person who can ever celebrate a violent helicopter assault that results in the deaths of children – I count myself in that number – the difference in how this story was covered compared to analogous stories about bin Laden or Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was striking. Apparently, the salient facts about the death of al-Baghdadi included: