CNN journalist fired for controversial Twitter message

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Friday, July 9, 2010

Octavia Nasr in a publicity photo

Atlanta-based CNN journalist Octavia Nasr, 20-year veteran of the network and senior editor for Middle East affairs, was reprimanded for a Twitter comment published on Sunday in which she expressed sadness at the death of Iraqi-born Lebanese Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. In the post, the journalist stated that she was "Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.. One of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot..".

According to a New York Times blog, after Parisa Khosravi, the CNN senior vice president, "had a conversation" with Ms. Nasr she was formally asked to step down. She left the network on Wednesday.

Brian Stelter of the Times reports that the issue was originally brought to the public's attention by online supporters of Israel, who republished the comment widely. They criticised her for being a "Hezbollah sympathizer" for a man who was "committed to the destruction of Israel." Critics point to comments Fadlallah has made in the past about the Holocaust, in which he questions the veracity of the agreed-upon figures of Jewish deaths in concentration camps.

"Is this the sort of extremist figure that CNN's Senior Editor of Mideast Affairs should be professing her respect for?" asked HonestReporting, the media watchdog group which purports to defend Israel "against prejudice in the media."

Salon reporter Glenn Greenwald has responded to these allegations of "prejudice" by pointing to similar cases in which no controversy arose: "The Washington Post lavished editorial praise on the brutal, right-wing tyrant Augusto Pinochet, and that caused no controversy...Benjamin Netanyahu formally celebrates the Terrorist bombing of the King David Hotel that killed...78 civilians and nobody is stigmatized for supporting him. Erick Erickson sent around the most rancid and arguably racist tweets, only to thereafter be hired as a CNN contributor."

Lebanese author and academic Dr. As'ad Abu-Khalil has also argued that commentators have not properly placed Fadlallah in context, and pointed to the schools and orphanages he founded in Beirut and southern Lebanon. Amira Al Hussaini of Global Voices quotes Abu-Khalil's post, saying "His [Fadlallah's] relationship with Hizbullah is always misunderstood...he broke from Wilayat Al-Faqih...and developed a new liberal thinking especially on issues of personal status laws." He also "urged for a closer relationship between science and religion", which drew the ire of both Iran and Hizbullah.

Nasr herself clarified her comment the day before her dismissal on a post to her CNN blog, saying that she used the words "respect" and "sad" because "to me as a Middle Eastern woman, Fadlallah took a contrarian and pioneering stand among Shia clerics on woman's rights. He called for the abolition of the tribal system of 'honor killing.' He called the practice primitive and non-productive. He warned Muslim men that abuse of women was against Islam."

The cleric has been a controversial figure in the West and has been blacklisted by the United States as a terrorist for several years, along with Hizbullah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah. He is thought to have been the target of a 1985 car bombing in Beirut, which killed 80 people but not the Ayatollah himself. The BBC reports it may have been "the work of the CIA, possibly in conjunction with regional intelligence agencies friendly to the US", while David Kenner of Foreign Policy writes that the plot was all but confirmed by Bob Woodward through interviews with then-CIA Director William Casey.


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