As many of you have heard by now: CNN Senior Middle East correspondent Octavia Nasr has been fired over one single tweet. The 140 (or less) word burst said the following:
“Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.. One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot. #Lebanon”.
The tweet resulted in a public outcry with some accusing her of being a sympathizer of an group viewed by many in the US as a “terrorist” organization. CNN acted swiftly to the controversy by firing Nasr.
What a sad way to end the career of a veteran journalist liker her! Nasr and I exchanged a few “tweets” over the past months, and I highly admired her. I saw her as a passionate, hard-working journalist. She represented the best of Arabs. Unfortunately, she made a mistake by voicing her own opinion while working as journalist and representing CNN. In fact, her twitter user name was “octavianasrcnn,” which made it clear that her views were linked to CNN.
As a trained journalist myself, I regard what she did as an error in judgment. She must have gotten so carried away with all the Twitter excitement (which includes crowdsourcing and direct, personal interaction) that she forgot to abide by the fairly rigid rules of mainstream media. Journalists are not supposed to air their personal opinions when they present themselves as part of a news organization. There is no question about that. You will never be viewed as a balanced reporter when you publicly express your opinion, especially about a hot political issue like that of Hezbulah.
Nasr recognized her mistake and issued an apology, which I thought was the right thing to do.
However, this was not enough for CNN and they simply let her go. It’s disappointing. If I was her boss and I had to make the decision, I would have given her a warning and asked her to issue a public apology. Sacking her seems a bit excessive, especially for someone who has been working for the organization for two decades and has given so much. Why not give her a second chance?
In addition to putting the word “Hezoballa” and “Respect” in one sentence, Nasr has also made another mistake: she forgot or chose to forget the sad reality of the world we are living in, where there are many watching and waiting for public figures to make mistakes. Those of Arab/Middle Eastern backgrounds are scrutinized more than others. At least that is how things look these days. Think Helen Thomas, who made a similar mistake. Thomas shouldn’t have said what she said. It was unacceptable. Thomas also forgot today’s sad reality. Scrutiny is the name of the game. Forgiveness is no longer an option.
As a writer and a trained reporter from an Arab background I’m completely aware of this scrutiny. I remember when I first moved to the US and was looking for a job; a number of potential employers questioned my ethics as a reporter and asked me bluntly if I would be able to report on issues, like the Palestinian-Israeli topic for example, in a fair and balanced manner. They immediately assumed that I would be biased.
This sense of scrutiny follows me most of the time, so much so that I will likely write at least two or three drafts of this simple blog post to make sure I don’t make a public blunder. It’s sad and frustrating, but there is nothing much I can do about it.
Twitter or not, never forget to stick with basic ethics and make sound judgments, because yes, forgiveness is no longer an option.