United States: Octavia Nasr fired from CNN for expressing respect for Ayotallah Fadlallah


CNN—a pioneer in global broadcasting and at one time a major force in world journalism —fired twenty year veteran editor Octavia Nasr for a 140 character twitter tweet that expressed “respect” for a highly respected Shi’ite Muslim cleric, Ayotallah Fadlallah. 

I’ve lived in America most of fifty-eight years, and though I missed out on the McCarthy era as an infant, I find the firing almost unbelievable. For what Nasr did, simply, was to fail to express an emotion other than the mandated bigotry and contempt for a figure who was highly accomplished, respected and revered in much of the Islamic world. I had never before heard of Ayotallah Fadlallah—but he was significant enough within Islam for the Times to devote to him a major obituary. Octavia Nasr’s tweet was nearly anodyne—and obviously failed to convey much complexity about a figure who had justified some acts of terrorism, criticized others, (such as 9-11) and was viewed a religious modernizer with the Sh’ite world. But it was not enough to stop America’s thought police, or, more accurately, the thought police of a foreign power who operate at will in America. Led by Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, the war-mongering Weekly Standard, and former Israeli prison camp guard Jeffrey Goldberg, a campaign against Octavia Nasr was begun. It achieved its aims so quickly most observers hardly realized there was a controversy. Apparently mention, even in a tweet, that a figure associated with Hezbollah might be worthy of respect was the kind of thought crime that had to be snuffed out, decisively and immediately. Everyone instantly realized that.  

Of course there were some complications: as Think Progress’s Matt Duss pointed out in a brilliant post, Ayotallah Fadlallah was not only a revered figure in Lebanon, but in Shi’ite Iraq, where he wielded considerable influence over Nouri Al- Maliki’s ruling Da’wa party—to the extent that the American backed party is unwilling to transgress moral and political guidelines that he has a strong hand in setting. Says Duss:  

So here’s the neocon logic: When a reporter acknowledges the passing of a revered, if controversial figure in a way that doesn’t sufficiently convey what a completely evil terrorist neocons think that figure was — that’s unacceptable. But when the United States spends nearly a trillion dollars, loses over 4,000 of its own troops and over 100,000 Iraqis to establish a new government largely dominated by that same “terrorist’s” avowed acolytes — that’s victory.

There are all many levels of political subservience, but the kind which the Israel lobby demands would be particularly easy for CNN, and other Americans, to shrug off. They could quite simply say no. What would Jeffrey Goldberg do? As it is, one hopes that if there is any justice, CNN will pay a price for its submissiveness, and at the very least will be see its way to formally apologizing to Octavia Nasr for what will one day be seen go down as one of the most craven and shameful capitulations in the history of American broadcast journalism.

Editor's update: Here is David Ignatius in the Washington Post showing respect for Fadlallah in 2002 (h/t Sean Lee):