For a couple of days over at Daybook we have reported on the firing of reporter/senior editor Octavia Nasr at CNN, after 20 years of service, following her fateful "tweet" about the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, one of the most revered Shi-ite clerics.
Her less-than-140-characters: "Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah . . . . One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot." Rapped by the right, Nasr hurriedly explained that she had plenty of misgivings about the cleric’s past but he had also done some good things (particularly for women) and was often a "moderating" influence, but to no avail.
Now various liberal commentators, and others in the media, have rushed to her defense. Jay Rosen, for example, tweeted: "So if CNN had decided to keep Nasr, what would have been actual consequences? Neocons shrieking about bias, and… what?" Andrew Sullivan declared she should get her job back pronto. Jack Shafer of Slate accused CNN of "cowardice."
The critics of the move include her former CNN colleague Daryn Kagan–once romantically linked to Rush Limbaugh. Nasr was hardly a firebrand in her years at CNN — as one wag put it, she got in trouble for the one bold statement she ever made in public — so the whole eruption seemed to come out of nowhere.
Here are some of the latest assessments:
Glenn Greenwald: "CNN quickly (and characteristically) capitulated to that pressure by firing her. The network — which has employed a former AIPAC official, Wolf Blitzer, as its primary news anchor for the last 15 years — justified its actions by claiming that Nasr’s ‘credibility’ had been ‘compromised.’ Within this episode lies several important lessons about media ‘objectivity’ and how the scope of permissible views is enforced."
Marc Cooper: "But now it has fired its long time Middle East Editor Octavia Nasr because she sent a private tweet lamenting the death of a Shiite religious leader who, while widely respected, is also affiliated with Hezbollah? I see. Perfect logic. By the way, the dead guy she lauded is also the spiritual leader of the Iraqi ruling party which we support in power and Our Man in Baghdad, Prime Minister Al-Malaki, flew off to the old man’s funeral apparently with no fear of getting canned by HIllary Clinton."
Juan Cole: "Fadlallah had severe flaws, including his condoning of suicide bombings against Israelis. But he condemned the 9/11 attacks and the Morocco suicide bombings as pure terrorism, and that has to be reported, too. (It mostly wasn’t). And, he authorized Muslim women to actively defend themselves against domestic violence, which was the thing Nasr had in mind. The firing of Nasr is just a latter-day privatized McCarthyism, a phenomenon increasingly corrosive of American civil liberties and which is not limited to (though it generally characterizes the tactics of) the more rightwing Israel lobbies."
Stephen Walt at Foreign Policy: "This incident is also distressing because CNN was essentially caving into a black/white, us vs. them, good vs. absolute evil view of the world. Because the United States had labeled Fadlallah a ‘terrorist,’ expressing any sort of positive comment about him was a firing offense. But the real world is more complicated than that: people who support some good things sometimes embrace bad things too, and we ought to be able to acknowledge and ‘respect’ them for their positive actions while recognizing and condemning their errors or flaws.
"Nasr is correct to have expressed regret for having tweeted on a subject that requires more nuance, but her firing will only reinforce the simplistic stereotypes that already prevail in mainstream political commentary."