CNN Mideast Affairs editor loses post after tweeting her respect for militant cleric
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Octavia Nasr, CNN’s senior editor of Mideast affairs, lost her post Wednesday amid mounting criticism of a message she posted on Twitter expressing sadness at the death of a Lebanese cleric who once was an influential spiritual leader of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah.
Nasr, who had worked for the cable news network for two decades, had already apologized in a blog post on CNN.com for “an error in judgment” in writing that Ayatollah Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah was “one of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot’ after his death Sunday.
At one time Fadlallah was considered a major spiritual leader of Hezbollah. In recent years, however, he had lost influence as he distanced himself from many elements of radical Islam and had condemned violence against women. Fadlallah continued to call for the elimination of Israel and was designated a terrorist by the U.S., Nasr noted in her blog post.
Nasr’s remarks were condemned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which called Fadlallah “an international ‘godfather’ of terrorism” and asked CNN to formally repudiate the comment.
The network issued a statement saying the tweet violated CNN’s editorial standards. Nasr herself said she was wrong to “to write such a simplistic comment.”
“I’m sorry because it conveyed that I supported Fadlallah’s life’s work,” she wrote in her blog post. “That’s not the case at all.” Rather, Nasr said, she was referring to the fact that Fadlallah took “a contrarian and pioneering stand among Shia clerics on woman’s rights” and had called for the abolition of honor killings. She noted that she lost family members in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut that Fadlallah was suspected of orchestrating.
But CNN executives concluded that her comment had irreparably damaged Nasr’s standing.
“We believe that her credibility in her position as senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs has been compromised going forward,” Parisa Khosravi, CNN International’s senior vice president for newsgathering, wrote in an e-mail to employees announcing her departure.
Nasr, who was based in Atlanta, served as a Middle Eastern expert for CNN, contributing to coverage about the region’s politics, as well as stories about global terrorism and militant Islam. Fluent in Arabic, as well as English and French, the Lebanese-born journalist got her start as a war correspondent for the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, covering that country’s civil war. She joined CNN in 1990 and played a major role in the network’s coverage of the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, as well as the Middle Eastern peace process, according to her official biography, which calls her “a leader in integrating social media with newsgathering and reporting.”
-- Matea Gold