“Today we lost a merciful father and a wise guide,” said Hezbollah’s leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, referring to the death of 75 year old Lebanese Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, seen as one of the original spiritual guides of the terrorist organization.
But Fadlallah was being mourned by a far more surprising source – CNN’s Senior Editor of Mideast Affairs, Octavia Nasr, who Tweeted the following on her personal page:
HonestReporting has previously exposed a former CNN employee who let her personal politics influence her professional life. In that case, former CNN producer Nidal Rafa, a Palestinian, was videoed haranguing current Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon at a media event. Rafa crossed the line from media professional to agenda driven activist, breaching professional media standards and blatantly exposing her personal politics.
In this latest case involving CNN, Octavia Nasr’s Lebanese background should not, in itself, be an impediment to maintaining high journalistic standards. However, we have to question these standards when she expresses her respect for Fadlallah, whom she describes as one of “Hezbollah’s giants”.
Is Nasr a Hezbollah sympathizer? This is disturbing enough given that the group is designated a terrorist organization by the US and is committed to the destruction of Israel. And which of Fadlallah’s individual views does Nasr admire?
Is it Fadlallah’s praise for the massacre of eight Israeli students at Mercaz Ha-Rav Yeshiva in Jerusalem on March 6, 2008? Or perhaps it was the fatwa (religious opinion) to the suicide bomber who attacked the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983. Fadlallah supported the seizure and hostage-taking at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979, backed suicide bombing attacks in 2002, and praised Iran’s efforts to build long-range missiles as the “pride of the Islamic world” in 2008.
Fadlallah has even engaged in Holocaust denial. In an interview with Al-Manar TV on March 21, 2008, Fadlullah stated:
The Hebrew state is preparing to celebrate its 60th anniversary 60 years since it plundered Palestine – in a festival, which will be attended by the countries of the world, most of which still support the Zionist state and consider the resistance movement to be terrorism. This is what led German Chancellor Merkel to visit that plundering country, which extorted and continues to extort Germany, using as a pretext the German Hitlerist-Nazi past, and the placing of the Jews in a holocaust. Zionism has inflated the number of victims in this holocaust beyond imagination. They say there were six million Jews not six million, not three million, or anything like that… But the world accepted this [figure], and it does not allow anyone to discuss this.
Is this the sort of extremist figure that CNN’s Senior Editor of Mideast Affairs should be professing her respect for?
A “Relative Moderate”?
Many obituaries in the international press have described Fadlallah as something of a “relative moderate”. According to Reuters, however, at the hospital when a nurse asked the ailing cleric what he needed, he replied: “For the Zionist entity to cease to exist.”
UPDATE – 8 July
CNN is to be complimented for standing up for journalistic standards and firing Senior Editor of Mideast Affairs, Octavia Nasr, on Wednesday after HonestReporting publicized a post on her personal Twitter feed expressing respect for Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, a spiritual father of Hezbollah. HonestReporting’s report triggered a groundswell of anger at Nasr and CNN, leading to Nasr’s removal.
Our role in bringing this issue to a head was recognized by, among others, the New York Times Media Decoder blog, which wrote:
Some supporters of Israel seized on the Twitter posting almost immediately. A Web site called Honest Reporting that says it is dedicated to defending Israel against prejudice in the media asked, Is Nasr a Hezbollah sympathizer? This is disturbing enough given that the group is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and is committed to the destruction of Israel.
And which of Fadlallahs individual views does Nasr admire?
Our communique generated a storm of protest. Octavia Nasr publicly expressed her regret over her Fadlallah tweet:
Reaction to my tweet was immediate, overwhelming and a provides a good lesson on why 140 characters should not be used to comment on controversial or sensitive issues, especially those dealing with the Middle East.
It was an error of judgment for me to write such a simplistic comment and I’m sorry because it conveyed that I supported Fadlallah’s life’s work. That’s not the case at all . . . .
Revered across borders yet designated a terrorist. Not the kind of life to be commenting about in a brief tweet. It’s something I deeply regret.
Her apology and explanation were not enough for her bosses at CNN who took the appropriate action and fired Octavia Nasr on 7 July. An internal memo from CNN’s SVP International Newsgathering wrote:
I had a conversation with Octavia this morning and I want to share with you that we have decided that she will be leaving the company. As you know, her tweet over the weekend created a wide reaction. As she has stated in her blog on CNN.com, she fully accepts that she should not have made such a simplistic comment without any context whatsoever. However, at this point, we believe that her credibility in her position as senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs has been compromised going forward.
HR CEO Joe Hyams said:
CNN is to be commended for recognizing the problem of Nasr’s credibility. The network acted swiftly and in the best interests of professional journalism by severing ties with Nasr. We hope this will be an example of the standards other media outlets will follow if confronted with similar situations.
Nasr’s firing is the latest in a series of important results HonestReporting has achieved in recent months together with you, our subscribers. Other results include:
The removal of the anti-Semitic “Jew Producer” game from Comedy Central’s website.
Yahoo Weather’s reunification of Jerusalem.
The Daily Telegraph’s replacement of a recycled photo from the Gaza conflict.
This latest example from CNN is further proof that together, we can make a difference in combatting anti-Israel media bias.