There’s a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking of CNN’s decision to fire Octavia Nasr, the senior correspondent who tweeted praise for a Hezbollah founder after he died last weekend.
Glenn Greenwald wonders whether people who say objectionable things about Muslims are treated similarly. Well, doesn’t even wonder: He concludes that they are not.
I can’t think of anyone being fired, but certainly, the media didn’t shy from perpetuating controversies engendered by the anti-Muslim rants of two Pentagon generals, William Boykin and James Mattis. A number of mainstream media outlets called for Boykin’s firing.
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, whom Greenwald sees as irrevocably tainted because of a stint with AIPAC in some Paleolithic era, raised Mattis’ 2005 statements yesterday on CNN, now that the general has been picked to run Central Command.
Juan Cole and Andrew Sullivan similarly see the hand of the "lobby" at work in Nasr’s firing and Stephen Walt all but says it outright. The New York Times’ David Carr wonders if its a manifestation of the dangers of Twitter, and I know that news organizations are circulating internal memos warning about the risks of condensing thoughts into 140 characters.
(Background: Nasr tweeted: "Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.. One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot." Fadlallah led Hezbollah in the 1980s, when the organization carried out a massive attack that killed more than 240 U.S. Marines; backed suicide attacks on Israel’s civilians, denied Israel’s right to existence, and denied the Holocaust. In a follow-up blog post regretting her tweet Nasr explained that the cleric also pressed for women’s rights in the Islamic world and distanced himself from Hezbollah as it became an Iranian proxy in Lebanon.)
I can’t make this call without understanding CNN’s internal political culture.
But certainly, the network is in not in great ratings shape, and is caught in a schizophrenic tug of war between its established brand as "the most trusted name in news" and the temptations posed by the rating boosts opinion journalism has delivered at MSNBC and FNC. That makes it vulnerable to pressure.
Additionally, I can’t think of any journalist fired because of a single phrase. Don Imus was fired from MSNBC and CBS Radio for a a few moments of banter, but it was not his first brush with notoriety. (I know, he’s not a journalist, but it’s telling.)
On the fourth hand, the HR blogger said he didn’t expect it to go beyond expressions of regret:
I really didn’t expect things to go further after yesterday’s explanation, and I’m impressed that CNN is demanding a higher standard from its staff.
UPDATE: Full props to commenter Trent Robinson, below. Ann Coulter was not only fired after an anti-Muslim rant she was fired by a conservative publication, National Review; and radio talk maven Michael Graham lost his job at an ABC affiliate in DC after Muslim American pressure.
I’m emailing this to Greenwald and Sullivan, considering they posed it as a question.