CNN Editor fired for Tweet

CNN has announced/reported that “CNN’s senior Middle East editor, Octavia Nasr, has left the network after a controversial posting on Twitter about a Shia cleric who had longtime ties to and voiced strong support for Hezbollah. Nasr, who joined CNN in 1990, posted a Tweet over the weekend that said, ‘Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.. One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot’.”

This CNN story continues: “The U.S. State Department classifies the Lebanon-based Hezbollah as a foreign terrorist organization”.

Parisa Khosravi, senior vice president of international newsgathering for CNN Worldwide, said in an email to staff: “As she [Octavia Nasr] has stated in her blog on, she fully accepts that she should not have made such a simplistic comment without any context whatsoever … However, at this point, we believe that her credibility in her position as senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs has been compromised going forward”

CNN noted that “In her position, Nasr provided on-air context for Middle East events and monitored the media from that region”. This story is published here.

The New York Times posted the story, saying that “Despite her senior editor title, Ms. Nasr did not run CNN’s Middle East coverage, a spokesman said. She reported and provided analysis about the region for CNN’s networks. Her explanation of the Twitter message was apparently not enough for her CNN bosses”. here.

A report on the Mashable Social Media blog reported that “in an internal memo SVP for CNN International Newsgathering Parisa Khosravi announced Nasr would be leaving the company as a result of her comments, citing that her credibility has been compromised”. here.

So now, we know: in order to give context, she should have called Fadlallah a “terrorist” in her original tweet.

[That seems to be what is meant by providing “context” — but wouldn’t calling him “terrorist” be a violation of the obligation to be “objective”?]


UPDATE: Now we learn, from AP via the Jerusalem Post, that the UK Ambassador to Lebanon Frances Guy “paid homage to Lebanon’s Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah who died Sunday, on her government internet blog.. This is published here.

UPDATE TWO: The Guardian reported on Friday 9 July that “Britain has moved to quash a row over its Middle East policy by taking down a controversial blog post by its ambassador in Beirut praising the late Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, a staunchly anti-American cleric who was a mentor for Lebanon’s Hezbollah … William Hague, the foreign secretary, ordered the ambassador’s offending item removed yesterday. The Guardian has learned that Britain also downgraded its diplomatic representation at Fadlallah’s funeral in Beirut on Tuesday, sending just a second secretary. France and Italy were represented by their ambassadors. Guy’s comments drew outrage in Israel, where a foreign ministry spokesman said Fadlallah had inspired suicide bombings. The British ambassador had to decide ‘whether promoting terror and giving it religious justification can be considered a heritage to be cherished’, Yigal Palmor was quoted as saying … … Palmor was quoted as saying: ‘Sheikh Fadlallah was behind hostage-taking, suicide bombings and other sorts of wanton violence, but Ambassador Guy said he was a man of peace, and Ambassador Guy is an honourable woman’ … In London, a Foreign Office spokesman said today that Guy’s post had been removed ‘after mature consideration’.”

Apparently, diplomats have blogs on behalf of their employers, just as media personality do — this has been a required step for fast-track career advancement. Ambassador Guy’s blog is maintained on the Foreign Office website. The Guardian also reported that “Diplomats’ personal blogs, which flourished under Hague’s digitally aware Labour predecessor, David Miliband, may be more closely vetted in future”.

There is no evidence that Fadlallah ordered or organized any suicide attacks or “wanton violence”. He did, apparently, praise some of the attacks, after the fact. This, it seems, is what Palmor means when he argues that Fadlallah encouraged more violence.

The Guardian noted that “Fadlallah was as a key figure in the founding of Hezbollah after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, but both he and the group denied he was its spiritual leader … Britain has a more nuanced view of Hezbollah than the US and Israel, though it has proscribed the military wing as a terrorist organisation … British diplomats, including Guy, have contacts with its MPs in the Lebanese parliament, and with local officials in south Lebanon. Guy’s obituary described Fadlallah as the politician in Lebanon she enjoyed meeting most”. This was reported on Friday 9 July here.

UPDATE THREE: Reuters reported that Ambassador Guy put a new post on her blog on the Foreign Office website, dated 9 July, in which she explained that “her earlier posting had been an attempt to ‘acknowledge the spiritual significance to many of Sheikh Fadlallah and the views that he held in the latter part of his life’. Guy said she had ‘no truck with terrorism wherever it is committed in whoever’s name’, and that it was possible for Hezbollah ‘to reject violence and play a constructive, democratic and peaceful role in Lebanese politics’.” This is posted here.


Juan Cole has written on his blog, Informed Comment: “So help me understand this. Nuri al-Maliki, still the Iraqi prime minister for the moment, expressed his appreciation for the accomplishments of the late Grand Ayatollah Hussein Fadlallah … But when Octavia Nasr of CNN tweets the same thing that al-Maliki said, she is fired … The firing of Nasr is just a latter-day privatized McCarthyism … This is posted here.

Juan Cole links to Glenn Greenwald’s views, here, who wrote: “What makes Nasr’s summary firing even more astonishing is that Nasr herself was an unremarkable journalist who rarely if ever provoked controversy, had no history of anti-Israel or pro-Terrorist sentiments, and blended perfectly into the American corporate media woodwork … This was a banal and very cautious establishment journalist who survived and advanced at Time Warner, Inc. for 20 years by adhering to all the prevailing codes … But no matter: as we’ve seen repeatedly, in American media and political culture, Middle East orthodoxies are the most sacred and inviolable. Thus, her 2o-year loyal service is brushed to the side because of a 140-character blip of blasphemy … hat’s what Nicholas Kristof meant when, writing today from Jerusalem, he observed that Israel ‘tolerates a far greater range of opinions than America’: it’s even more acceptable to utter blasphemy about Israel in Israel than it is in the U.S., as Octavia Nasr was but the latest to discover … With the Nasr firing, here we find yet again exposed the central lie of American establishment journalism: that opinion-free ‘objectivity’ is possible, required, and the governing rule. The exact opposite is true: very strong opinions are not only permitted but required. They just have to be the right opinions”…

Nasr’s first job was for LBC, Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, affiliated with a Christian national-political movement in Lebanon.

To explain her tweet, Nasr wrote in her CNN blog on 6 July that: “My tweet was short: ‘Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.. One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot. #Lebanon‘ — Reaction to my tweet was immediate, overwhelming and a provides a good lesson on why 140 characters should not be used to comment on controversial or sensitive issues, especially those dealing with the Middle East. It was an error of judgment for me to write such a simplistic comment and I’m sorry because it conveyed that I supported Fadlallah’s life’s work. That’s not the case at all”.

What is she thinking? If she felt she had to, she could have said she felt she made an error, without explaining her position [now, after she was criticized, and after her job was on the line] on Fadlallah’s life or work. This only makes things worse, and on top of everything it looks like revisionist history.

Was it a personal tweet, or a corporate one? (This was clearly a corporate tweet.)

And — [for objectivity?] – she should not, or course, have said she was “sad” — or that Fadlallah was a “giant”. Worst of all, was she — a journalist from Lebanon who followed developments in the region for her job — not also a bit imprecise in describing Fadlallah (a Shi’ite leader) as belonging to Hizballah?

There is a larger issue here, and that is how the corporate world is looking at how they might be able to use social media to increase their profits or market shares or whatever.

This is one of many examples of a news corporation, one of the major media organizations, pushing their media “stars” to reveal more about themselves, to take a more personal tone, and to tweet and blog — to promote their own careers at the same time as their employers’ commercial interests.

But, for going too far, for getting too personal, that CNN journalist is now punished.

The rest of Octavia Nasr’s blog explanation is embarassing. How she liked Fadlallah because he supported women’s rights etc., then stating that “Fadlallah himself was designated a terrorist by the U.S. Treasury Department … Sayyed Fadlallah. Revered across borders yet designated a terrorist. Not the kind of life to be commenting about in a brief tweet. It’s something I deeply regret”. Her explanation is posted here.

Also via Juan Cole, here is a very small part of what Stephen Walt wrote about Nasr’s firing on “Because the United States had labeled Fadlallah a ‘terrorist’, expressing any sort of positive comment about him was a firing offense. … Mind you, I’m not defending Fadlallah’s views on terrorism or Nasr’s ill-advised tweet. CNN’s spineless response to this incident strikes me as one more reason why mainstream journalism is increasingly seen as morally bankrupt and why the blogosphere is slowly taking over”. This is posted here.

2 thoughts on “CNN Editor fired for Tweet”

  1. Hurrah to corporate media who wants to be credible ONLY in the eyes of any pro-Israel viewer and also kow-tow to the govt as far as embedding with the army in Afghanistan and Iraq.
    And then they ask why people from non-democratic countries watch Al Jazeerah and BBC

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