Jul 10 2010
The sacking earlier this week of Octavia Nasr, a senior editor at CNN, has continued to fuel a fiery debate among observers, with prominent commentators in academic and journalistic circles criticising CNN’s decision as “cowardly” and “gutless”.
Nasr, whose role at the cable news broadcaster involved analysis of Middle Eastern affairs, was removed from her position on Wednesday. CNN’s Parisa Khosravi stated that Nasr’s credibility had been “compromised going forward” as a result of a remark posted on her Twitter account expressing “respect” for a Lebanese Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah.
But the Harvard academic Stephen Walt wrote on NPR‘s website that he regarded the decision as “spineless”.
“Nasr subsequently clarified that she was referring to Fadlallah’s ‘pioneering’ positions on womens’ rights (among other things, he issued fatwas condemning honor killings and affirming the right of women to protect themselves from domestic abuse), and she expressed regret for trying to address a complex issue like this in a brief tweet.
“But in a gutless decision that brings it no credit, CNN has shown her the door.”
Walt, along with John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago, authored a controversial book entitled The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy in 2007 claiming that pro-Israeli interests had excessive influence in American policy-making, the media and society.
One of CNN’s founding executives, Reese Schonfeld – who served as CNN’s first president and chief executive – wrote in a blog entry on The Huffington Post that Nasr’s firing was consistent with a history of CNN bowing to pressure from external interest groups.
“It’s got to be tough being a reporter, a producer or a news writer working for a company that doesn’t have your back, a company that reacts to complaints from the [Department of Defense], Fox News, the Jerusalem Post or a host of bloggers by firing journalists accused of misstatements or flawed reporting without giving them a fair chance at defending themselves.”
A fine line
Nasr’s Twitter post highlights the tightrope created by Fadlallah’s death. The American scholar and commentator Juan Cole juxtaposed Nasr’s comments with those of the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and the alleged lack of reaction from the same observers who had condemned Nasr.
“The new Iraqi politics, which threw up and ensconced al-Maliki is fulsomely praised by the American right wing,” he said.
“But when Octavia Nasr of CNN tweets the same thing that al-Maliki said, she is fired.”
The British government also had its own problems in the wake of Fadlallah’s passing. Officials confirmed yesterday that a blog post by the country’s ambassador to Lebanon, Frances Guy, had been removed from the Foreign Office website. In the post, Guy stated that the world “needs more men like him willing to reach out across faiths”.
“My comments on the late Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah have now been removed because they were leading to confusion about British policy,” said Guy in a subsequent post on her blog page.
Her remarks had been denounced by Israel’s foreign ministry, which said that Fadlallah was “unworthy of any praise or eulogising”.