In Depth: Nasr – Over-reaction or Not?

I’m still digesting the very quick firing of CNN’s Octavia Nasr. As I said earlier “I don’t know. Maybe she had to go.” Being the position she was in at CNN one could make the argument that CNN was compromised, at the very least in the short term, as all the outrage erupted. But was the damage irreparable? Think about this for a moment. This wasn’t just a newbie who went off the reservation in a fit of pique. This was a 20 year veteran of the network with a deep background in Mideast affairs.

Let me be clear about one thing. Nasr’s original tweet was criminally tone deaf. A veteran of Mideast affairs should have known better than put out a glib tweet like that which was tailor made for wild interpretation. Admired how? In what way? The possibilities are endless. Of course, most people logically jumped to the most obvious conclusion regardless of any other possible interpretations.

Here’s where things get complicated. Nasr clarified her comments to refer to why Fadlalah was in certain respects a maverick in the Hezbollah movement, particularly where women are concerned and taking a stand against Hezbollah’s allegiance to Iran. This is the sort of dry intellectual technical point analysis that’s the stuff of the Mideast wonk, which Nasr was. But it doesn’t play well outside that arena with a public who are either not well informed on the subject matter to understand or don’t care because the underlying issue for them is terrorism and that’s all that matters. It’s akin to trying to humanize some communist leader who probably did one or two things right for his country but at a cost that far outweighed whatever positives he had. Nobody cares about the positives. All they care about is the tyranny.

But was Nasr truly compromised by making such an intellectual distinction about a terrorist? Having clarified what she meant, was it impossible to remain with CNN going forward? Or was CNN worried solely about blowback and bad PR, in which case the decision to sever ties with Nasr looks more like some sort of PC response? That’s the $64,000 question. I don’t have an answer. When you become radioactive as Nasr had sane reaction and analysis don’t apply anymore and it’s tough to second guess a decision.

Some have taken a dim view of the move particularly given CNN’s past. Steve Yelvington had a few things to say on Twitter about this…

When considering CNN’s firing of Octavia Nasr, keep in mind it’s the same network that didn’t fire Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs.

Yelvington may be making a bit of a stretch here comparing Beck and Dobbs’ CNN/HLN commentary to Nasr’s needlessly provocative tweet but he does have a point. Beck and Dobbs were ideological lightning rods for the network and they survived for years. Nasr wasn’t and she got cut loose in two days. Ponder that.

Jay Rosen also weighed in on Twitter…

On CNN’s firing Octavia Nasr, @yelvington, two thoughts: she could have had a link in her tweet to a post explaining, “I respect a lot.” By dumping a 20-year over veteran over that, CNN told its people that the View from Nowhere is more important than they are

From my vantage point nobody comes out looking good here. Not Nasr, who should have had the smarts to know what she was getting in to and handled this appropriately. Not CNN, which seemed too quick to distance itself from Nasr and it knew Nasr intimately for 20 years and knew what she really stood for far better than anyone out there lobbing in grenades at what happened. And not the chattering class who only care about the original tweet and what they think it means regardless of Nasr’s clarification. Nasr is just the latest journalistic victim, self-inflicted of course, of the new media age where intellectual arguments and social media intersects violently with ideology and single issue gotcha politics in a world where cable news networks are scared of their own shadows. She probably won’t be the last…

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34 Responses to “In Depth: Nasr – Over-reaction or Not?”

  1. cnnviewer Says:

    Let’s not forget about Richard Quest: http://www.mediabistro.com/tvnewser/cnn/details_emerge_in_quest_arrest_82808.asp

    If they’re so quick to fire Octavia over something not even as close to as bad as what Quest did…. shouldn’t they fear looking like hypocrites?

  2. stevemg Says:

    Nasr is just the latest journalistic victim, self-inflicted of course, of the new media age where intellectual arguments and social media intersects violently with ideology and single issue gotcha politics in a world where cable news networks are scared of their own shadows.

    The tweet was ugly and indefensible and her apology and explanation lacking.

    But to indict this women and her 20 year career over this one incident is, it seems to me, not fair. Not unfair; but not fair. One gotcha’ vs. 20 years?

    Other than this incident I doubt those demanding she be fired know anything about her as a journalist. What type of stories she did. How objective (or not) they were. How accurate and fair they were.

    So, her two decades of work get tossed aside with her and this one ugly incident is the deciding factor.

    As I said, that seems to me to be not fair.

  3. joeremi Says:

    The connection to Dobbs/Beck is more than a stretch. They do opinion, Nasr is a journalist. And she made a grievous error. CNN has plenty of troubles, but their reputation in international news is not one of them. There’s no way they could jeopardize that.

  4. You think that tweet really did that much damage to CNN’s world wide reputation which goes back decades? Really? It’s a blip on the radar screen by comparison, albeit a very violent turbulent blip.

  5. starbroker Says:

    What took them this long to FIRE HER is what I’d like to know.

    What is Spud thinking on this one? My goodness!

    Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.. One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot..”

    Sad to hear about the passing of the person who probably was responsible for planning the attack on the Marine baracks in Beirut in 1983.

    Hey Spud, this guy helped kill 241 AMERICAN TROOPS in that attack…Another simultaneous attack killed 58 French servicemen. Then add in all those injured.

    I guess if someone from CNN said at his passing,

    Sad to hear of the passing of Osama Bin Laden.. One of al-Qaedah’s giants I respect a lot..”

    Would you say, but look at her 20 year career then?!!!

  6. joeremi Says:

    You think that tweet really did that much damage to CNN’s world wide reputation..?

    Not right away, but the endless accusations of pro-Palistinian bias that Nasr’s continued involvement would generate would slowly eat away at the one thing CNN continues to hold miles above their competition: that international reputation. FNC – if it is considered at all – is considered a Rupert Murdoch tabloid outside of the US, and MSNBC…doesn’t exist.

  7. starbroker Says:

    But then we shouldn’t be surprised. I mean CNN kept a major terrorist sympathizer on staff for ages:
    Christiane Amanpour

    And what’s worse–the thing that should have gotten CNN pulled by every cable/satellite provider is when it came to light that CNN had made a deal with Saddam. That they would shill for him and not report different things so they could keep a Baghdad bureau. When that hit the NY Times, CNN should have been HISTORY in the U.S.

  8. laura l Says:

    I’m too nuanced on this one. I see everyone’s point. I guess what it comes down to is the stupidity of putting something like that in print. How detached from reality do you have to be? Who are you hanging-out with? There are certain people and groups that you just don’t compliment, in any context. ”You know, that Adolf kinda got a bad rap..”

  9. CNN was caught holding back stories in order to stay connected in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Takes a long time to overcome such a thing so perhaps their thinking was that the talk about this controversy need to be shut down fast.

  10. joeremi Says:

    Why do people paid to not have an opinion tweet? “Landed in Afghanistan. No thoughts on the war here.”

  11. laura l Says:

    ”Mmm, rocks.”

  12. I imagine The Flintstones was filmed on the outskirts of Rubble, Afghanistan.

  13. laura l Says:

    Twitter is the tool of the devil. Anytime you can express random thoughts and have more than one other person see them, it can’t end well. It’s too much like texting, and we see where that ends up.

  14. So that was the devil txting me those pics? Well, she was hot.

  15. Hey Spud, this guy helped kill 241 AMERICAN TROOPS in that attack…Another simultaneous attack killed 58 French servicemen. Then add in all those injured.

    As I said, “But it doesn’t play well outside that arena with a public who are either not well informed on the subject matter to understand or don’t care because the underlying issue for them is terrorism and that’s all that matters.” You clearly fit in that group. I’m not saying that’s right and I’m not saying that’s wrong. I’m saying that’s the way it is.

  16. joeremi Says:

    ^I’m saying you’re playing an odd “I don’t have an opinion” card, and using phrases that amount to “honorable people can disagree”. Why are you suddenly being “objective journalist” on a blog that voices opinions on matters related to cable news?

  17. You’re totally misreading this blog post Joe. This isn’t about taking a stand. It’s about analyzing what happened and why it happened. The only “stand” I take is that Nasr’s tweet as written was a bad idea. The rest of it is about explaining, as I see it, what happened and suggesting why it happened.

    But you raise an interesting point, one I suspect CNN is looking hard at right now: “What are CNN’s guidelines for Twitter?” “Does CNN have guidelines at all?” is a corollary question. CNN more than any other cable network has pushed Twitter as a medium to connect with viewers. But did it do so willy nilly without any rules on what’s acceptable tweeting and what isn’t?

  18. laura l Says:

    People will quite-often say stupid sh!t with a camera on or a mike open. Put them in an office with a Blackberry and these little bombs are gonna blow-up all over the place. So to speak.

  19. joeremi Says:

    So you don’t voice opinions about whether a network did “the right thing” or not? I know you’re a bit circumspect now and then, but I didn’t realize that was a hard-and-fast rule for you. Fair enough.

    Yes, Twitter is a rapidly exploding problem for news operations, even outside of the “opinion” area. I can’t remember his name, but a few months ago the weekend morning guy at CNN tweeted a comment about “getting Suzanne Malveaux tea” , or something like that. This was shortly after he complained about a reporter confusing him with Don Lemon. The “blurting something out” nature of Twitter is a recipe for disaster.

  20. Actually I like TJ Holmes tweets because they’re different.

    But back to the main subject. There is no hard and fast rule for me saying whether a network did the right thing or not. It depends on a lot of factors. It would be oh so easy to do come out and scream for Nasr’s scalp and praise CNN for “doing the right thing”. It sure as heck did do the expedient thing though and to make sure the controversy died with Nasr exiting the network. Though for some Nasr’s exit won’t end the discussion by any stretch of the imagination.

    It’s tougher to step back and look at the story from all angles, particularly when so many are screaming for blood.

  21. joeremi Says:

    Though for some Nasr’s exit won’t end the discussion by any stretch of the imagination.

    And that, my good man, is my one equivocation on the subject. I’ve already heard a comment today about Christianne Amanpour – a stupendously excellent journalist – which reminds me that many on the right already consider CNN “anti-Israel”, which is more than a little depressing. It doesn’t change my opinion that Nasr’s comment was way over the line, but I can’t help but wonder if her dismissal – although I believe “the right thing to do” – was in vain.

  22. “A veteran of Mideast affairs should have known better than put out a glib tweet like that which was tailor made for wild interpretation”

    Social media strikes again. Who is to say she wasn’t expressing the same sentiment on any other occasion? This time she “tweeted” her sentiments, once something is on the internet it’s always on the internet. I do wonder if CNN and other companies, shouldn’t have an Internet 101 review for their employees?

  23. Maybe there is a back story behind the scenes maybe she wasn’t getting it done for CNN anymore. Who is going to replace her?

  24. lynneinla Says:

    Let me offer a more cynical pov. For context, I’m a corporate (non-news) exec for news and media companies and the person usually stuck handling such situations. And – to preempt the feedback bound to come with my comment – I’m an observant Jewish American and lifelong supporter of Israel.

    Yes, Nasr screwed up by thinking 140 characters would sufficiently capture the key point and subtlety of her comment. Yes, as someone who covers the Mideast and knows such comments are like a match to a haystack, she was incredibly stupid. But I believe CNN’s subsequent actions (and their speed) were done to placate the right-wing pro-Israel groups (ADL, AJC, AIPAC, Camera, etc.) that beat up on them and most news organizations at every single mention of the Mideast.

    “Media bias against Israel” is the rallying cry for these groups: such opportunities – often, purposely twisting soundbites and meaning – to hold onto their memberships and, even more importantly, fundraise. They can quickly launch letter-writing/e-mail/call-in campaigns, they will send off op-eds, they’ll get allies in Congress to step in and ask for meetings. Coming off the media coverage of Israel’s recent bombing of the ships heading to Gaza, I’d guarantee that these groups were operating on all cylinders. Add to that the fact that all these groups, as non-profits, are facing massive revenue shortfalls and scrambling for donations, so such situations are golden.

    With all the ratings/programming/talent drama currently underway at CNN, Nasr was an easy sacrifice to quiet down at least one problem. And go check any of these groups’ website; I’d bet they’re all taking credit for bringing about her dismissal. And asking for donations to continue such work.

    Taking the time to investigate Nasr in light of these comments, addressing the situation and her in a more thoughtful manner and then making a more analytical decision would’ve been the right thing to do. But I believe CNN just wanted this one to go away. My concern is that CNN’s action doesn’t bode well for other media companies who are also in the cosntant range of fire of these groups. Do some media companies have anti-Israel staff covering the Mideast? Absolutely and it’s an issue within those organizations. Some of these problems are handled properly, some aren’t, for many reasons. But now that these pressure groups know that someone can get blown out instantly (at CNN, their biggest target), it makes staff at all other news org more vulnerable.

  25. I’m an observant Jewish American and lifelong supporter of Israel.

    Sure you are. And I’m LeBron James.

    For a supposedly right wing group, AIPAC sure kisses up to the likes of Pelosi an awful lot.

  26. Spud, what stood out most for us (in the BW household) is that in her apologia, Nasr never once said that he was a terrorist or even that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, only that they got “designated” as such. If anything, she dug herself deeper into that hole with her rationalization, exposing a rather nasty bias.

    A long time ago, Mr. BW wrote for a major publication and even though he never covered or opined on politics, he (as was every other employee of the publication, even those not in reporting/writing and editorial jobs) was forbidden from getting involved in any political campaigns, be it volunteering, donating, or whatever. That was well before the age of Twitter, blogs, and Facebook, but we can only assume that this company has strict guidelines about its employees (especially those in the writing and editing departments) sharing their thoughts online.

  27. joeremi Says:

    BW, your constant questioning of the “Jewishness” of any self-proclaimed Jew that dares say anything critical of Isreal or pro-Israeli groups is tiresome. Who’s LeBron James?

  28. joeremi Says:

    -Israel-

    Spellcheck please!

  29. Then feel free to skip past our posts. Observant Jews who support Israel don’t rail against “right-wing pro-Israel groups” who orchestrate campaigns against terrorist supporters.

  30. Correction: Observant Jews who support Israel don’t rail against “right-wing pro-Israel groups” who screech about those groups orchestrating campaigns against terrorist supporters.

  31. lynneinla Says:

    So these posts don’t go off on a tangent, let me clarify that the point of my comment was that there are a number of special interest groups with extremely passionate memberships and highly effective call-to-action machinery in place; they specifically target media for the visibility it can bring as well as the fundraising opportunities. Along with those I named, these groups include PETA…Newsbusters on the right and Media Matters on the left…quite a few others.

    If a news organization is fair, objective and honest (as most of my employers have been), they will have a process in place to evaluate external complaints and internal missteps -as Nasr’s clearly was – and make a decision: either the issue wasn’t a violation of standards, it was a violation and requires some level of correction or it compromised the organization’s journalism and credibility to an extent that severe action such as termination is required. This kind of process might take a little bit of time – a few days to pull a career of transcripts, review other social media, hear out the person in question and those connected to this situation. My point, which speaks to ICN’s initial statements, is that with all the problems surrounding CNN on every front and the pressure coming from several of the groups with the most aggressive tactics, CNN just took the easy way out. And in so doing, they’ve introduced a level of vulnerability to all such groups, whatever their focus.

  32. joeremi Says:

    BW, you’re nuts if you think ‘skip my posts’ is a relevant debate tactic. If you can’t tolerate being questioned, don’t post. And thanks for the utter silence when I was agreeing with your POV on the Nasr topic the last couple days.

  33. stevemg Says:

    My point, which speaks to ICN’s initial statements, is that with all the problems surrounding CNN on every front and the pressure coming from several of the groups with the most aggressive tactics, CNN just took the easy way out.

    Perhaps. But it’s also possible that CNN has had “problems” with Ms. Nasr’s reporting and work over the years and that she was given warnings about that, let’s say, lack of professionalism. This comment and her less than open apology along with that (again, speculating) prior poor journalism wasn’t sufficient to save her job.

    The firing does seem, on the surface, to be hasty. Twenty years of work, one very ugly tweet and then she is shown the door?

    I think there’s more here and CNN simply wished to keep that quiet (and the reasons for that may be even more interesting).

  34. joeremi Says:

    “One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”

    I think the worshipful tone of that comment is getting lost in the fray. She didn’t just compliment the guy; she sounds like a full-on follower. That’s kinda hard to ignore.

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