Headlines matter

HEADLINES are tricky things. They require succinct, accurate and eye-catching diction in order to grab the reader’s attention and encourage him or her to dive into whatever article they are introducing. When headlines are succinct and accurate but not exciting, they risk being skimmed over. When they are attention grabbing but inaccurate, they risk highlighting their publication’s biases.

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On Oct. 27 The Washington Post reported the death of ISIS-affiliated Islamic terrorist Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi. According to USA Today reports, Baghdadi committed suicide by detonating an explosive vest he was wearing after being cornered by U.S. forces in northwest Syria.

The headline of the Post’s original story announcing Baghdadi’s death read as follows: “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Islamic State’s ‘terrorist-in-chief,’ dies at 48.”

It’s not a bad headline. It’s succinct while including crucial information and the subject matter, including the term “‘terrorist-in-chief,” begs further investigation on the part of the reader.

Not long after the story was published on the Post’s website, however, the newspaper updated the headline to, “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State, dies at 48.”

Backlash over the updated headline quickly ensued. Many took to Twitter, responding to the revised headline with sarcasm using the hashtag, “WaPoDeathNotices.”

“Mao Zedong, who saved 20-45 million of his own people from having to suffer through the struggle of existence, dies at 82. #WaPoDeathNotices” wrote journalist Jason Howerton.

“Genghis Khan, noted traveler, dies at 64. #WaPoDeathNotices,” tweeted writer Thor Benson.

I am of the opinion that humor is usually built on a strong foundation of truth. These tweets, and the countless others like them, are comical because they underscore the reality of the poor judgment of The Washington Post.

The Post’s decision replace an accurate headline announcing the death of a man that can only be described as morally depraved, with one attempting to paint him as nothing more than a grumpy religious zealot, highlights the Post’s left-leaning bias and their editorial priorities.

Good, honest journalism is paramount, the Post’s leadership would likely claim – that is, unless accurate reporting might offend someone or certain truths could be deemed not politically correct.

As America’s culture wars rage on, it seems nearly every article or blog post that is published polarizes our population into competing factions, each vying for a different future for our nation. The fairly universal outrage by people across the political spectrum to the Post’s ridiculous headline was a pleasant, albeit short-lived, reprieve from such partisan quarrels.

For Christians, the death of Baghdadi invokes simultaneous reactions. Baghdadi is made in the image of God and he matters to God. I use present tense because, as a Christian, I believe that al-Baghdadi’s journey is not over. God’s justice is real and all who die outside of Christ will feel His wrath.

All believers should mourn the death of any man or woman that dies without knowing the saving grace of Christ, diligently pray that the gospel would reach Baghdadi’s comrades and that they would repent and follow Jesus – the only hope for peace and eternal life.

That being said, in an attestation of the truth of God’s gracious general revelation and regardless of our varied political and religious views in this country, most of us know to call murderous terrorists what they are – murderous terrorists.

Caleb Yarbrough is associate editor of the Arkansas Baptist News.

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