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The Washington Post’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

Washington Post

Considering the current state of our media class, cataloging a single newspaper’s patterns of journalistic malpractice is a seemingly pointless task. And yet, when a publication claims to be the purveyor of preventing our democracy from dying in darkness, the importance of cataloging its very dark week becomes imperative — you know, for democracy’s sake.

Here’s how the Washington Post’s banner week in bad journalism went down.


It started on Sunday with a bizarre obituary for the world’s most wanted terrorist, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Someone decided the original headline that labeled Baghdadi a “terrorist-in-chief” needed to be sugar-coated and changed to “austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State.”

Social media exploded with similar versions of satirical headlines announcing the deaths of infamous historical figures, including the vegetarian Adolf Hitler and noted traveler Genghis Khan. A spokesperson for the paper, Kristine Coratti Kelly, later tweeted, “Regarding our al-Baghdadi obituary, the headline should never have read that way and we changed it quickly.” The headline was amended again to “extremist leader.”

Nevertheless, the sympathetic portrayal of the ISIS founder remained in the first paragraph of the obituary.

When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took the reins of the Islamic State of Iraq in 2010, few had heard of the organization or its new leader, then an austere religious scholar with wire-frame glasses and no known aptitude for fighting and killing.

It’s still unclear what the Post is referring to when it says “scholar.” Baghdadi graduated from Saddam Hussein’s “Saddam University,” a propaganda program for radicalizing Islamists, but is not an author or scholar of any works other than ISIS recruitment videos.


On Monday, the judge who previously threw out Covington Catholic teen Nick Sandmann’s $250 million defamation lawsuit against the Washington Post reversed course and reinstated the case after reviewing an amended complaint.

The Post, which thought it was off the hook for its misreporting, will now enter the discovery phase, where it will likely be forced to hand over internal communications on its reporting of Sandmann and his classmates at the March for Life in January.

Senior Contributor at The Federalist Margot Cleveland explained how the presiding judge is reconsidering the Post’s decision to run with the unverified account of Native American elder Nathan Phillips and to portray Sandmann as a smirking, MAGA-hat-wearing racist.

Judge Bertelsman then noted that after giving “this matter careful review,” he had decided that Sandmann sufficiently alleged a claim for defamation against the Post based on the statements identified as “Statements 10, 11, and 33,” “to the extent that these three statements state that plaintiff ‘blocked’ Nathan Phillips and ‘would not allow him to retreat.’”


All three statements consisted of the Washington Post repeating Phillips’s fabled encounter with Sandmann. In what was identified as Statement 10, the Washington Post wrote: “It was getting ugly, and I was thinking: ‘I’ve got to find myself an exit out of this situation and finish my song at the Lincoln Memorial,’ Phillips recalled.”

Later that day, Washington Post opinion writer Max Boot churned out another offensive terrorist take, insinuating blowing up three children with a suicide vest proves ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was not a coward.

“Trump could not possibly have heard ‘whimpering and crying’ on the overhead imagery because there was no audio, and Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pointedly refused to confirm those details. The assertion that Baghdadi died as a coward was, in any case, contradicted by the fact that rather than be captured, he blew himself up,” Boot wrote.

The Washington Post was forced to issue a correction after backlash from people pointing out just how far Boot will go, evidently to the point of praising a terrorist, just to oppose any successes of President Trump.

“An earlier version of this column included a sentence questioning whether Trump was right to call Baghdadi a coward because he blew himself up,” the paper said. “The line was removed because it unintentionally conveyed the impression that I considered Baghdadi courageous.”


On Tuesday, Washington Post editors, who love to write about the importance of a free press and the First Amendment, green-lighted an op-ed calling for government censorship via hate speech laws.

Richard Stengel, a former editor of Time magazine who then went to work in the Obama administration, writes that the “underpinning of the First Amendment was engineered for a simpler era,” and warned against the “damaging” impact of hate speech.

And as if one bizarre op-ed wasn’t enough for Tuesday, the Post also published a piece by Democrat Lanny Davis and Republican Anthony Scaramucci arguing for the impeachment of Trump without a Senate trial.

If such public announcements of open-mindedness by at least 20 Republican jurors do not occur within a month or so after the House impeachment resolution, then we suggest a Senate trial would be a waste of time and unwise.

Forget evidence and due process, that’s just a waste of time!


On Wednesday, the Post’s “conservative” columnist Jennifer Rubin took a beatdown from CBS News journalist Jan Crawford on Twitter after Rubin tried to smart off with disparaging comments about Trump’s judicial nominees.

Rubin tweeted HuffPost links digging up something Judge Neomi Rao wrote in college.

Of course, Rubin proclaimed Justice Elena Kagan was an exception to the rule, but Crawford swiftly put an end to her ludicrous argument:


A top National Security Council official, Tim Morrison, who listened to President Donald Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky, testified in front of Congress on Thursday. But that morning, ahead of the testimony, senior political reporter Aaron Blake reported that Morrison would confirm acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor’s account that Trump appeared to seek a quid pro quo.

In fact, the opposite happened. Morrison noted the multiple false assertions made by Taylor, and testified that he never thought anything illegal was discussed on the phone call.

Another headline from the Post on Thursday read, “Trump judicial nominee cries over scathing letter from American Bar Association.” The story was about how a judicial nominee for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Lawrence VanDyke, got choked up in his hearing when senators asked him about a disparaging letter written by the chair of an ABA committee.

The story explained concerns with the letter from both Republican and Democratic senators about the origins of the ABA letter. The ABA’s evaluator, Montana Attorney Marcia Davenport, has a history of politically opposing VanDyke. Judicial Crisis Network’s Carrie Severino points out, “A search of Montana’s campaign electronic reporting system shows that in 2014 Davenport contributed $150 to Michael Wheat, VanDyke’s opponent when he ran for a seat on the Montana Supreme Court.”

The Post’s report did not name Davenport until the very last paragraph.

Lastly, the Post did not want to get left out of Thursday’s action in which the entire White House press corps committed to debunking the “doctored” photo Trump tweeted of the Special Forces dog that chased down terrorist al-Baghdadi.

Without this deep dive, the American people would have been led astray to believe Trump was draping a medal of honor around the German Shepherd’s neck.


Finally, to top its banner week off, the Post ran a glitzy profile of Congressman Adam Schiff in the “Style” section, fawning over how his dreams of becoming a screenplay writer have transitioned into becoming “the chief storyteller of this drama-filled political moment.”

He’s in charge of calling witnesses, taking depositions and subpoenaing documents. More than that, it’s his job to stitch it all together into a believable, easy-to-follow narrative. Imagine the pitch meeting: It’s like “The Manchurian Candidate,” except the president has heel spurs. It’s “The Godfather” meets “Borat.”

Of course Schiff is more than a storyteller. He’s a corrupt liar and has been spinning his stories of collusion on CNN for three years now, and more recently has even implicated himself in his own web of lies.

Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, told The Federalist, “Schiff is using his authority as a chairman presiding over an impeachment inquiry to prevent the investigation and discovery of facts about his own actions or the actions of his staff.”

Unfortunately, the facts are too convenient for reporter Ben Terris, who writes, “Political storytelling is often more like writing a movie script than laying out an exhaustive account of known knowns and known unknowns.”

Terris catalogs the hate aimed at Schiff from Republican members and conservative media outlets, but leaves out any reasons Schiff might be hated. He instead focuses on painting Schiff as a character from “The Big Lebowski” and interviewing Schiff’s mentors about his screenplays.

There was the Holocaust-era screenplay the congressman wrote, called “Remnant.” There was “Minotaur,” the courtroom drama with this mysterious plot: While a jury deliberates a gruesome murder, and with the suspect locked away, someone commits an identical crime. And when Schiff was getting deeper and deeper into the world of intelligence in Congress, he worked on a spy thriller.

It’s understandable why some journalists would want to misconstrue facts, make knowingly deceptive omissions, write columns defending terrorists, or start tweetstorms about topics they have little knowledge of but plenty of bias to project, but it’s unclear why Washington Post journalists would participate in such antics with the fate of democracy on the line. Here’s to trying again next week.

Update: This article originally stated that a story about judicial nominee Lawrence VanDyke left out information regarding an ABA letter that a political opponent of VanDyke contributed to. The story did include this information.