CNN’s Gutless Firing

I’m really disturbed by CNN’s decision to fire Octavia Nasr, a senior editor for Middle East affairs at the network, for this tweet:

Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.. One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.. #Lebanon

I’ll admit to never having heard of Fadlallah until today. But as Glenn Greenwald points out, he isn’t universally viewed as a monster. His death drew effusive sympathies from Britain’s ambassador to Lebanon. Writing for Foreign Policy, David Kenner paints a picture of a “complex man” who had some differences with Hezbollah, the movement that the U.S. government lumped him in with.

Nasr subsequently explained in a blog post that her “respect,” which she expressed just as news of his death spread, was mostly for his relatively enlightened views on the role of women in Shia Islam, and did not extend to his full range of political views, which include downplaying the Holocaust and support for attacks on Israel. (She also noted that decades ago, while she worked for the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, he gave her a 45-minute on camera interview—something that I take was rather generous, given her youth, her Christianity, and her gender.)

Whatever his faults—and to be absolutely clear it seems he had some pretty grave ones—CNN could have simply said, as Nasr did in her explanatory blog post, that quickly tossed off 140 character missives aren’t good at capturing a full life and explaining that life’s place in Lebanon’s unusually complicated politics and history. (Obvious, no?)

And then they should have let Nasr go about her job of helping the network try to explain the Middle East, a region where the cast of characters are often not all good or all bad, especially when judged against powerful players who would be illiberal in the global context, but mainstream in their home countries.

Instead they chose to throw her overboard, saying in an internal memo that they felt the message meant that “her credibility in her position as senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs has been compromised going forward.”

Anyone who felt that that tweet, especially once it was followed up by a straightforward post explaining her full meaning and contextualizing Fadlallah’s life, indelibly compromised her ability to do her job isn’t the sort of person that will ever hold confidence in CNN’s reporting. It’s a shame that CNN’s leadership stands among them today.

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.