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CNN Mideast Affairs editor loses post after tweeting her respect for militant cleric

Nasr_octavia Octavia Nasr, CNN’s senior editor of Mideast affairs, lost her post Wednesday amid mounting criticism of a message she posted on Twitter expressing sadness at the death of a Lebanese cleric who once was an influential spiritual leader of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.

Nasr, who had worked for the cable news network for two decades, had already apologized in a blog post on CNN.com for “an error in judgment” in writing that Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah was “one of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot" after his death Sunday.

At one time Fadlallah was considered a major spiritual leader of Hezbollah. In recent years, however, he had lost influence as he distanced himself from many elements of radical Islam and had condemned violence against women. Fadlallah continued to call for the elimination of Israel and was designated a terrorist by the U.S., Nasr noted in her blog post.

Nasr’s remarks were condemned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which called Fadlallah “an international ‘godfather’ of terrorism” and asked CNN to formally repudiate the comment.

The network issued a statement saying the tweet violated CNN’s editorial standards. Nasr herself said she was wrong to “to write such a simplistic comment.”

“I'm sorry because it conveyed that I supported Fadlallah's life's work,” she wrote in her blog post. “That's not the case at all.” Rather, Nasr said, she was referring to the fact that Fadlallah took “a contrarian and pioneering stand among Shia clerics on woman's rights” and had called for the abolition of honor killings. She noted that she lost family members in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut that Fadlallah was suspected of orchestrating.

But CNN executives concluded that her comment had irreparably damaged Nasr’s standing.

“We believe that her credibility in her position as senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs has been compromised going forward,” Parisa Khosravi, CNN International’s senior vice president for newsgathering, wrote in an e-mail to employees announcing her departure.

Nasr, who was based in Atlanta, served as a Middle Eastern expert for CNN, contributing to coverage about the region’s politics, as well as stories about global terrorism and militant Islam. Fluent in Arabic, as well as English and French, the Lebanese-born journalist got her start as a war correspondent for the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, covering that country’s civil war. She joined CNN in 1990 and played a major role in the network’s coverage of the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, as well as the Middle Eastern peace process, according to her official biography, which calls her “a leader in integrating social media with newsgathering and reporting.”

-- Matea Gold


Photo credit: CNN


Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah dies at 74; Lebanon's top cleric was once Hezbollah's mentor

Comments () | Archives (71)

Another sad day in America

"Freedom of speech has nothing to do here.

Her ability to do her job does.

By expressing sympathy for such an individual she put her impartiality at risk: Journalists have to at least maintain a pretense of impartiality, if they do not, then they are toast. On top of that, she was the editor which makes her loss of credibility even worse.


No one is throwing her in jail and no one is preventing her from getting a job in a position where her political viewpoints are welcome or irrelevant."

So it's bad to have a thoughtful editor with a nuanced view who appreciates the complexity of a situation? That prevents her from doing her job well? What, then, makes a good editor? Please enlighten us since you clearly have such a strong grasp on it.

Further, Nasr never expressed her political opinions. She expressed a personal one. The Constitutional right to freedom of speech exists because the founding fathers, and generations of Supreme Court justices, recognized the value of the "marketplace of ideas." If someone's idea or opinion is bad, it's debated and thrown out. That person is not punished for having the idea or opinion, though; otherwise there wouldn't be a free exchange of information because people would be afraid the repercussions. Hence intentionally lying is illegal (slander, libel), but making a mistake is not. And almost all opinions are protected speech.

So no, Nasr is not being thrown in jail, but she is being punished for having an idea and an opinion. Firing her goes against the spirit of the law, even if it doesn't technically violate the Constitution.

Please read the comments from CNN they cannot keep someone who violated their editorial standards. Many of the comments are so far off the actual facts of the topic it is absurd, its not a freedom of speech or an anti-Islamic position by CNN its a reporter who made a bad Tweet judgement call and lost her job.

This incident and many others like it corroborate that the so called freedom of the press comes with a fine print and that fine print makes the old TASS Soviet news agency as fair and balance as CNN. Just because the government believes that a good Muslim is a dead Muslim doesn't mean that corporate news has to follow that path. The media, as a representative of the fourth power, has to be immune against any reprisals for stating a personal opinion. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that our most wanted terrorist, Osam Bin Laden , has to be also the Muslims' perceived a terrorist. In the Muslim world, OBL is considered a prophet, not a terrorist. It's well known that OBL used his millions to build clinics, schools and housing for the poor and how can you honestly call him a terrorist? OBL is a terrorist for us, not for them. To them, he is a true Muslim, not a terrorist. CNN should have say, just like every other organization says when anybody comments about personal positions: Management is not responsible for the comments or actions of its employees. The bottom line is, here, trumping not only freedom of the press, but it confirms also that the fourth power has surrendered to special interests. R.I.P. freedom of the press!

She was a fool not to at least be sensitive to the controversial nature of what she was about to tweet. It's likely that if her post had focused on the women's rights thought she had in her mind that she would still have her job.

Meanwhile, this IS about freedom of speech. Some of you want to dismiss that idea. No, she's not in jail. But, that's not the point.

CNN is an organization that makes its living on the freedom to broadcast political speech no matter how controversial it is. They present themselves as the centrist, objective news corporation - tolerant of all speech and trusting in the viewers to interpret the wide ranging points of view. For them to fire a talented and experienced person over this tweet is an appalling example of hypocrisy.

There are probably jobs waiting for Nasr either in Obama's Administration or with Al Jazeera. Perhaps she can work the stonings and beheadings beat.

What did we just celebrate 4th of July for?


The guy is a raving terrorist and part of a cult of death.

Is it OK for a reporter to express support for Israel, despite their blockade of Gaza and the ensuing human suffering? Yet it is impossible for a CNN editor to show support for Hezbollah? The only terrorism that Hezbollah has committed is against Israel, the country that invaded South Lebanon in 1980. Should Mexico be considered a terrorist state because they stood up to the US Army in the War of 1849 when they got invaded?

But regardless of how you feel about Hezbollah, expressing sadness at the passing of a religious figure should not be cause for being fired.

And please note that the Twitter account she used is a personal account. There are comments there from family and friends! In Arabic!

CNN censored an employee based on one statement - after decades of her professional service.Think for yourself America! Compare the news services CNN and Al JAZEERA. You may be surprised.

Public information in the USA is getting continually more controlled and restricted. I support the victim of this “protect Israel” hysteria and condemn the corporate bully CNN.

Israel is becoming its own worst enemy! Paying "respect" to a man that has just passed on is a simple civility...as an earlier post commented on regarding Sen. Robert Byrd and his repugnant KKK past. There is too much of a tribal mentality in the world, and it is sad to see Israel intersts reduced down to such small mindedness and expressed by worldwide news groups.

I believe a persons freedom of choice cannot be infringed upon by the government. I don't think it applies to non-government entities. I think the boss can tell you to shut up. Maybe someone can clarify.

she might as well be working for al-jazeera..

Who is surprised that CNN editors are in bed with hezbollah? After knowing how close they were with Saddam Hussan...nothing surprises me. When they find Bin Laden we'll be wearing a CNN T-Shirt with Ted Turners picture on it.

Would critics of her firing be objecting if she voiced appreciation for an advocate of destruction of "The Great Satan"? This guy Fadlallah supported the destruction of the state of Israel, yet she was willing to praise him because of his support of women's rights while she was obviously aware of his stand against the existance of a Jewish state. Therefore, her expressed admiration casts a veil of suspicion over any claim of journalistic objectivity in regards to the state of Israel, and is thus reasonable grounds for her dismissal.
As for claims that this constitutes a violation of her right of free speech, that is ridiculous. She can write, tweet, blog, post, or say anything she wants. That doesn't mean CNN has to provide her a job.

The big news story is really this: Ms. Nasr, like many other people, doesn't know how to use Twitter.

Trying to force paragraphs of thinking on a complex character like Fadlallah into 140 characters is doomed to failure. What Ms. Nasr SHOULD have done was post a thoughtful and developed piece on Fadlallah on a blog site, and then put a link to that on Twitter.

Senator Robert Byrd -recently deceased- was a member of the KKK and all I see on CNN is love and affection for him. What's up with that?

Sure, CNN has the *right* to fire her, but it also has the ethical and moral imperative not to. CNN can not be trusted at all anymore.

freedom of speech....dont u think....praise for a person is twisted into criticism of Israel.....hypocracy

The loss in credibility is not with Nasr but with CNN.

CNN's rating have been in the toilet for sometime now. It doesn't take a genius to know that they are dying on the vine with the rest of the mainstream media. Nasr will not even be a blip on the screen in regards to public perception.

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