Octavia Nasr (Arabic: اوكتافيا نصر) is a journalist who covers Middle East affairs. She served as CNN’s Senior Editor of Mideast affairs until her dismissal in July 2010 over her public statement of respect on Twitter for the Lebanese cleric Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, whom she considered "one of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot." She currently cohosts the MBC program Kalam Nawaem.
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Octavia Nasr has worked in the news business 25 years. Born and raised a Christian in war-torn Lebanon, she saw first-hand how conflict and diverse traditions affected the Middle East. That experience, and her own spirit of innovation and curiosity, led her to found Bridges Media Consulting, through which she writes, provides commentary and lectures on myriad issues dealing with political and cultural issues of the Middle East.
Nasr’s deft adaption to social media and new technology make her one of few journalists equally comfortable news using traditional news gathering and reporting techniques or social media. She showcased these talents in her prior role at CNN, leading the integration of social media and international news gathering.
For more than 20 years, Nasr covered every major story involving the Middle East, as an on-air and off-air expert across CNN’s global platforms. Her tenure at the network started just after Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. She coordinated network coverage of the Gulf War as part of CNN’s international assignment desk. In 2001, Nasr’s distinct experience and wide-ranging knowledge of Middle East cultures brought her broad recognition during CNN’s coverage of the September 11th attacks and their aftermath. She spent months traveling in the Middle East, coordinating on-air appearances and nurturing relationships with media partners that resulted in exclusive news gathering deals.
Fadlallah comments and CNN dismissal
Following the death of Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah on July 4, 2010, Nasr tweeted on the same day that she was "Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.. One of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot..."
Nasr was criticized for this perceived show of sympathy and support for Hezbollah amid claims that her stated position was incompatible with her role at CNN as editor of news on the Middle East.
Nasr concluded her statement by saying that Fadlallah was "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." A CNN spokesman responded saying that "CNN regrets any offense her Twitter message caused. It did not meet CNN’s editorial standards." The following day, on July 7, CNN fired Nasr. In an internal CNN memo announcing Nasr's departure, CNN International’s senior vice president for newsgathering, Parisa Khosravi, wrote, "We believe that her credibility in her position as senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs has been compromised going forward."
In response to reactions to her comment, Nasr wrote on July 6 an explanation of what she meant with her tweet.
Articles and commentaries following Nasr's sacking have been divided. Thomas Friedman was also among the many who were troubled by the decision, saying that the decision undermined the network's credibility and sent the wrong signal to young people entering journalism. He wrote "I find Nasr's firing troubling." He questioned CNN's reaction by asking, "To begin with, what has gotten into us? One misplaced verb now and within hours you can have a digital lynch mob chasing after you—and your bosses scrambling for cover". In response, Mediaite's Dan Abrams asked "Can you imagine what would happen to a U.S. journalist expressing admiration for an Al Qaeda leader who had other, better, attributes?" Glen Greenwald in Salon.com wrote, "That message spawned an intense fit of protest from Far Right outlets, Thought Crime enforcers, and other neocon precincts, and CNN quickly (and characteristically) capitulated to that pressure by firing her." Greenwald referred to Fadlallah as "one of the Shiite world's most beloved religious figures", highlighting how the world viewed him including many in the west as shown in the Time Magazine's choice of Man of the year 2010 Fond Farewell. Others expressed concern over what they viewed as similar incidents, most notably Hearst syndicated columnist Helen Thomas retiring under criticism one month earlier.
Those who agreed with CNN's decision stated that it had a right to enforce standards of objectivity in its reporting. Those who supported Nasr felt her firing constituted a new trend in the political climate for journalists and journalism covering politically sensitive issues in general, and the Middle East in particular.
Orthodox rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote "For people like...Nasr..., an imam like Fadlallah who wants to kill Americans and Israelis but who is unexpectedly nice to women has taken a giant leap forward from the Dark Ages, deserving respect and praise. This attitude is, of course, not only deeply amoral and patronizing nonsense but historically false."
Huffington Post article with title "CNN's Octavia Nasr: Another Victim of America's Thought Police" writes: "Since 9/11 America's redline has conflated terrorism and Israel's security, flattening all difference and particularity. As Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer pointed out, this has dangerous consequences for both the implementation of policy and the policing of public thought (they were called anti-Semites for this)." While The Guardian writes: "Nasr is one of the more high-profile victims of a phenomenon known as "twittercide", comparing the incident with another controversy surrounding death of Fadlallah, namely a tribute to him which came from the UK ambassador to Beriut.
Expressing a contrary opinion, Robert Fisk derided CNN and its credibility over the firing, saying "Poor old CNN goes on getting more cowardly by the hour. That's why no one cares about it any more."
- "CNN drops Middle East editor Octavia Nasr over Twitter comment on Hezbollah cleric". The Australian. 8 July 2010.
- "CNN senior editor fired for sharing her 'respect' for Hezbollah cleric". Los Angeles Times.[dead link]
- Yaakov Lappin (6 July 2010). "CNN editor sad over ayatollah's death". The Jerusalem Post.
- "Simon Wiesenthal Center Denounces CNN Editor for Mideast Affairs' Remarks". Simon Wiesenthal Center. 6 July 2010. Retrieved 7 July 2010.
- "Apology Demanded Over CNN Fadlallah Comments". American Jewish Committee. 6 July 2010. Retrieved 7 July 2010.
- Octavia Nasr (6 July 2010). "Nasr explains controversial tweet on Lebanese cleric". CNN.
- Brian Stelter (7 July 2010). "CNN Drops Editor After Hezbollah Comments". The New York Times.
- Matea Gold (7 July 2010). "CNN Mideast Affairs editor loses post after tweeting her respect for militant cleric". The Los Angeles Times.
- "Nasr explains controversial tweet on Lebanese cleric". CNN. 6 July 2010.
- Friedman, Thomas Can We Talk? The New York Times, 17 July 2010
- Bridge, Robert (July 8, 2010). "A Tweet too far: US editor latest victim of Internet Inquisition". Russia Today.
- "Hezbollah denounces sacking of CNN Mideast editor". AFP. July 8, 2010. Retrieved July 9, 2010.
- "Hezbollah condemns CNN's editor firing". Tehran, Iran: Press TV. July 9, 2010. Retrieved July 11, 2010.
- Steve Krakauer CNN Was Right; Octavia Nasr Had To Go NPR, 9 July 2010
- Martin Peretz The Firing of Octavia Nasr Is No Tragedy…And No Assault On The Freedom Of The Press Either The New Republic, 23 July 2010
- DePetris, Daniel R. (July 17, 2010). "The Dangerous Future of Journalism in America". Foreign Policy Journal. Retrieved July 18, 2010.
- Butterworth, Trevor (July 16, 2010). "When a Tweet becomes a thought crime". CTV News (Canada). Retrieved July 18, 2010.
- David, Ameera (July 16, 2010). "No Freedom of Speech on Middle East?". New America Media. Retrieved July 18, 2010.
- Friedman, Thomas L. (July 16, 2010). "Can We Talk?". New York Times. Retrieved July 18, 2010.
- Boteach, Shmuley Opinion: Why Are So Many Mourning a Terrorist? AolNews, 21 July 2010
- Barzegar, Abbas (9 July 2010). "CNN's Octavia Nasr: Another Victim of America's Thought Police". huffingtonpost.com (Huffington Post). Retrieved 19 May 2013.
- Walker, Peter (8 July 2010). "Octavia Nasr fired by CNN over tweet praising late ayatollah". Guardian (London: guardian.co.uk). Retrieved 20 May 2013.
- Fisk, Robert CNN was wrong about Ayatollah Fadlallah The Independent, 10 July 2010
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