Publisher’s Point: Wrongful Wordsmithery

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

My husband, Steve, has a saying for which I am truly thankful, even when it irritates me. That statement is, “Words mean things.” I have always endeavored to be a clear communicator, but having Coach Turner in my life for the last near-quarter century has meant over the years that I pay closer attention to detail when it comes to what I say. It also means resisting the temptation to defer to the “Cliff Notes of Communication,” and assume that people just know what I mean. My learning curve continues…

The Washington Post could have used a guy like Steve Turner to call them on one of the worst examples of wordsmithery I have ever seen. They might have been miffed, but they would not be winning the journalistic version of a Razzberry Award for their headline regarding the death of Abu Bakr-al Baghdadi, who was killed earlier this week in a stunningly executed raid. Here was their first pass at it:

“Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Islamic State’s ‘terrorist-in-chief,’ dead at 48.”

As far as most folks are concerned, that said it all. However, there was predictable push-back, so the Washington Post jumped in the other ditch with a result that was cringe-worthy:

“Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State, dies at 48.”

It’s times like these that I am so glad Steve and I actually own Athens Now, and don’t have to march to the drum of political correctness. We do, however, realize that we will be held accountable for every word that leaves our lips.

This sanitized opening line to an officious obit would be laughable if the guy had not been inarguably evil. Who says stuff like, “austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State”? Now, John Calvin could rightfully be described as an “austere religious scholar,” and the rules in Geneva, Switzerland under his leadership were mighty strict for everyone. But John Calvin was no rapist, as strong evidence indicates was the case when it came to al-Baghdadi.

As the leader of ISIS, Al-Baghdadi headed up the group responsible for horrific videos of executions, including one in 2014 that showed the beheading of an American journalist by the name of James Foley. Al-Baghdadi repeatedly raped and tortured Arizona aid worker Kayla Mueller after she was taken hostage in 2013. She died in 2015 under still unclear circumstances, but was a remarkable witness to the strength of God as attested by those around her. The great irony is that she was forced into a “marriage” with Al-Baghdadi, and pictures of her body showed her in a burqa and having bruises on her face. Why would an “austere religious scholar” marry an infidel? Because that is the true nature of jihad, and rape is justified by the hadiths.

So back to the woeful world of Washington Post wordsmithery. After significant pushback and outcry, WaPo revised their headline a third time by changing it to “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, extremist leader of Islamic State, dies at 48.” I suppose that’s a start. Now, if we could just get Wikipedia to quit using the term “years of service,” when it comes to Al-Baghdadi, I’d be a happier girl.