CNN’s Shameless Move
CNN refers to itself as “the most trusted name in news,” and if you ask Americans on the street, there’s a good chance that they prefer CNN to the list of other news networks. I myself have a tendency to pick CNN every single time. Based on my own amateur opinion, their reporting usually follows a pretty moderate pattern…neither too liberal nor too conservative. The anchors are well versed most of the time, the beat reporters are some of the most highly respected in the press, and it seems like CNN covers international stories in a much more personalized and in-depth style. Compare this to Fox News, whose management is quick to invite Republicans on as guests on virtually every show.
Covering news is a hard business, but it’s even harder when so many things are going on at such a fast pace, like today. CNN has, by and large, done a decent job at keeping pace, and I give most of the credit to the actual journalists who do the reporting and risk their lives on the front lines when the assignment calls for it.
But a small part of me just lost a little bit of respect for CNN as an institution.
A woman named Octavia Nasr- a veteran in the news biz and a senior editor at CNN- lost her job yesterday after she wrote a tweet that many deemed offensive. The tweet went something like this: “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah … One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”
The Sayyed Fadlallah that she was referring too is widely labeled by the United States as a leading spiritual advisor of the anti-Israel Hezbollah militia in southern Lebanon, as well as a man who used to endorse terrorist attacks on western targets when U.S. troops were stationed in Lebanon in the early 1980’s. But he is also labeled by many in the Middle East as a powerful Shia cleric who was actually much more moderate than his enemies made him out to be. He was particularly pragmatic when it came to gender relations and the rights of women in Islam, which separated him from more rejectionist players like Iran. In fact, Fadlallah seemed to get wiser with age; in 2005, he criticized Hezbollah for being too aggressive politically and baiting Lebanese civilians for votes.
When following a purely simplistic form of conventional wisdom, Ms. Nasr’s firing would be understandable to the average viewer. But when taking the broader picture into account and getting at the root of Fadlallah’s unique history as a cleric, CNN’s decision to give Nasr the boot gets more and more shallow and problematic.
The bottom line is that the United States is caught up in a very sensitive and politicized culture. Every statement in front of a video camera or every comment in the newspaper that stretches beyond the mainstream gets bashed by people who are afraid to lose their jobs or afraid that money is going to be cut off from their network if they stay silent. And sadly, the journalists and politicians that makes these remarks are castrated in the press and lose a bulk of their credibility.
The sad part of the Nasr affair is that CNN fired one of their best analysts in the Middle East. Ms. Nasr has been covering stories in the region for twenty years, and she knows the in’s and out’s of Islamic culture and politics pretty well. In the end, CNN may only end up hurting themselves by kicking her out of the door.
It baffles the mind how a 140-character tweet or a 20 second comment on Israel (Helen Thomas) can ruin a person’s career and destroy a person’s reputation. What CNN and Hearst Newspapers (Helen Thomas’ former employer) are basically saying is that an isolated incident of controversy- even if it’s just for a few seconds- can outweigh a person’s entire portfolio.
I’m glad I’m not a communications major.
-Daniel R. DePetris
**Comments courtesy of Stephen Walt at FP.com**