For the third time in the past few weeks, another media figure finds herself out of a job after comments about her personal perspectives on issues within her area of coverage got exposed. The case of Octavia Nasr may be the most disturbing and the most revealing yet. Unlike the scandals involving Helen Thomas or Dave Weigel, Nasr’s role as senior editor could seriously damage the credibility of a wide portion of a major media outlet’s coverage:
In the latest case of new media (or oversharing) gone wrong, CNN’s Senior Editor of Mideast Affairs Octavia Nasr is leaving the company following the controversy caused by her tweet in praise of Hezbollah leader Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah
Mediaite has the internal memo, which says “we believe that her credibility in her position as senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs has been compromised.”
Nasr tweeted this weekend: “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah… One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”
The memo from Parisa Khosravi, senior VP of their International unit, makes it clear that this was no resignation:
I had a conversation with Octavia this morning and I want to share with you that we have decided that she will be leaving the company. As you know, her tweet over the weekend created a wide reaction. As she has stated in her blog on CNN.com, she fully accepts that she should not have made such a simplistic comment without any context whatsoever. However, at this point, we believe that her credibility in her position as senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs has been compromised going forward.
Like Thomas, Nasr was not a new face in journalism. She had twenty years with CNN. Unlike Thomas, Nasr had a role that helped shape CNN’s overall news coverage of the Middle East. As a senior editor that apparently reported to a senior VP, Nasr presumably had a hand in story selection, assignment, and editing and shaping the final product from her reporters.
Neither Thomas nor Weigel had anywhere near that kind of influence over news reporting at their respective outlets, which makes the credibility issue much more serious than in the previous two scandals. After having outed herself as a Hezbollah sympathizer, which is certainly the rational conclusion of Nasr’s Twitter message and subsequent explanation, doesn’t CNN owe its viewers and readers a complete accounting of their coverage in the Middle East and a complete explanation of Nasr’s role in it?
Furthermore, the very fact that she offered that message in a public forum speaks to Nasr’s odd conception of how Hezbollah should be presented. It’s an Iranian proxy terrorist army, run and funded by the mullahs in Tehran. Nasr seems to believe that the consensus opinion of CNN’s audience is that they are a heroic band of freedom fighters with an unfortunate bent towards misogyny. If that was her worldview, shouldn’t CNN have known about that either before or after putting her in charge of the news reporting from the region? It’s certainly good that we’re finding out about it now.
I suspect that Mary Katharine Ham was correct in her assertion during my show today that a lot of bloggers are going to start reviewing their notes about CNN coverage of Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, and the entire region in the context which Nasr’s messages reveal.
Update: Fixed some subject-pronoun agreement issues in the first paragraph.
Despite her senior editor title, Ms. Nasr did not run CNN’s Middle East coverage, a spokesman said. She reported and provided analysis about the region for CNN’s networks.
So why didn’t they call her a “senior correspondent” or “senior analyst”? In journalism, the title “editor” means something specific — someone who provides management of the news.
Update III: On the other hand, Tapper tweeted that titles don’t necessarily connote responsibility in news orgs these days. However, after 20 years at CNN, one might think the title of senior editor might be reflective of more than just her seniority, but we’ll see.