Former Secretary of State Colin Powell died from COVID-19 complications at age 84 on Monday, and the Associated Press quickly went negative in its obituary.
“Colin Powell dies, exemplary general stained by Iraq claims,” the AP headline stated.
By contrast, the publication wrote more neutral and even flattering obituary headlines for leftist dictators like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. Its headline about Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in an U.S. airstrike in January 2020, reads “Iran’s popular Gen. Soleimani became an icon by targeting US.” Soleimani was the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ elite Quds Force, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, and is believed to be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. troops in Iraq.
The pattern of writing neutral or sometimes flattering obituary headlines for dictators or terrorists but critical obituary headlines for conservative figures appears in other news outlets.
Following conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh’s death in February, the New York Times wrote, “Rush Limbaugh Dies at 70; Turned Talk Radio Into a Right-Wing Attack Machine.”
By contrast, the New York Times described Castro as a “Cuban revolutionary who defied U.S.” with flattering descriptions like “Castro’s defiance of American power made him a beacon of resistance in Latin America and elsewhere, and his bushy beard, long Cuban cigar and green fatigues became universal symbols of rebellion.”
The Washington Post more notably displayed this disparity with an obituary for ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In 2019, the original headline read “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, austere religious scholar at helm of Islamic State, dies at 48.”
Although the headline was changed to simply “extremist leader of Islamic State,” the Washington Post faced backlash for its original headline. Washington Post Vice President of Communications Kristine Coratti Kelly later told Fox News, “Regarding our al-Baghdadi obituary, the headline should never have read that way and we changed it quickly.”
The Washington Post made a similar blunder after describing Soleimani as the nation’s “most revered military leader” after reports of his death. The headline was also later changed to “Senior Iranian, Iraqi commanders killed in Bahgdad airstrike – Iraqi state TV” following backlash.
After the death of former President Trump’s brother Robert last year, the Washington Post published a more political headline.
“Robert Trump, younger brother of President Trump who filed lawsuit against niece, dies at 71,” The Washington Post wrote in 2020.
The Post, once again, changed its headline to something more neutral. The obituary currently reads, “Robert Trump, younger brother of the president, dies at 71.”