"Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.. One of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot. #Lebanon"
That's the tweet that got Octavia Nasr fired from her job as CNN's Senior Editor of Middle East affairs.
Fadlallah was a Hezbollah leader who often praised suicide bombings (including one in 2008 that left 8 students dead at an Israeli yeshiva). He was anti-American and a terrorist by anyone's standard, and was so labeled by U.S. officials. Fadlallah was one bad dude.
But since when do we live in a country where individuals are told how to think, how to feel, and what they can -- and cannot -- say? It's particularly distressing when that censorship is coming from a news company.
Nasr tried to explain her controversial tweet in a blog post, saying, "It was an error of judgment for me to write such a simplistic comment and I'm sorry because it conveyed that I supported Fadlallah's life's work. That's not the case at all." She went on to say that she respected Fadlallah, who she interviewed in 1990, for his support of Muslim women's rights.
CNN didn't accept her apology.
In an internal memo, Parisa Khosravi, senior vice president of CNN International Newsgathering, told the staff:
"[Octavia] 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."
I'm sure the argument is that the tweet was on her CNN-affiliated public twitter and that it's crucial she be impartial in her role as an editor there. That's a cute argument, but name a journalist whose politics you don't know. Let's say Nasr, who had been with CNN for 20 years, tweeted this instead:
"Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah just died. May that American-hating terrorist rot in hell. #Lebanon"
My guess is, she'd still be employed.
So Octavia Nasr, I'm sorry you lost your job, but I hope you've learned an important lesson about the First Amendment. Let's just sum it up (and maybe you can keep it on your BlackBerry and take a peek before you tweet): In America, you have the right to free speech, unless and until you say something that the majority of Americans find offensive or disagree with. If you have something to say about a controversial person or a sensitive subject, don't say it. Period. Especially if you're a journalist.