By Ruth Conniff
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The media in the United States, which genuflects daily on the altar of freedom of speech, simply can’t abide employing anyone who doesn’t toe the line on Israel.
First, Helen Thomas had to go.
Now, Octavia Nasr.
The 20-year veteran of CNN, still hailed on its website as the award-winning senior editor of Middle Eastern affairs, was given the heave-ho after daring to tweet the following: “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah. One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”
When the Simon Wiesenthal Center and others pounced all over her for this, she issued a thorough explanation.
“I deeply regret” the tweet, she wrote. “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. Here's what I should have conveyed more fully: I 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.”
She went on to say: “This does not mean I respected him for what else he did or said. Far from it. It is no secret that Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah hated with a vengeance the United States government and Israel. He regularly praised the terror attacks that killed Israeli citizens. And as recently as 2008, he said the numbers of Jews killed in the Holocaust were wildly inflated.”
She acknowledged that Twitter isn’t the best place to communicate complex ideas, and her detailed, intelligent blog went a long way toward clarifying and contextualizing her remark.
But not far enough for CNN, which was in haste to throw her overboard at the first shot across the bow from Israel’s reflexive supporters in the United States.
“What a shame,” says Jennifer Loewenstein, associate director of the Middle East Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Nasr’s firing, she says, is “nothing new,” reflecting as it does the bias of the mainstream corporate media in favor of U.S. and Israeli policies.
“Having Octavia Nasr at CNN strengthened the slim credibility it has worldwide,” Loewenstein said. “Now that credibility will shrink even further.”
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his article “State Department Denies Visa to Leading Colombian Journalist and Nieman Fellow.”
Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter