July 7, 2010, 5:18 pm
By BRIAN STELTER (external - login to view)CNN on Wednesday removed its senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs, Octavia Nasr, from her job after she published a Twitter message saying that she respected the Shiite cleric the Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, who died on Sunday.
Ms. Nasr left her CNN office in Atlanta on Wednesday. Parisa Khosravi, the senior vice president for CNN International Newsgathering, said in an internal memorandum that she “had a conversation” with Ms. Nasr on Wednesday morning and that “we have decided that she will be leaving the company.”
Ms. Nasr, a 20-year veteran of CNN, wrote on Twitter after the cleric died on Sunday, “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah … One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”
Ayatollah Fadlallah routinely denounced Israel and the United States, and supported suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. Ayatollah Fadlallah’s writings and preachings inspired the Dawa Party of Iraq and a generation of militants, including the founders of Hezbollah, The New York Times reported on Sunday (external - login to view).
Some supporters of Israel seized on the Twitter posting almost immediately. A Web site called Honest Reporting (external - login to view) that says it is “dedicated to defending Israel against prejudice in the media” asked, “Is Nasr a Hezbollah sympathizer? This is disturbing enough given that the group is designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and is committed to the destruction of Israel.
“And which of Fadlallah’s individual views does Nasr admire?”
CNN officials became aware of Ms. Nasr’s message on Monday, and a spokesman said Tuesday that it was an “error of judgment” on her part. “CNN regrets any offense her Twitter message caused. It did not meet CNN’s editorial standards.
This is a serious matter and will be dealt with accordingly,” the spokesman said. Ms. Nasr apparently deleted the post at some point.
In a follow-up blog post (external - login to view) on Tuesday evening, Ms. Nasr said she was sorry about the message “because it conveyed that I supported Fadlallah’s life’s work. That’s not the case at all.”
She said she used the words “respect” and “sad” because “to me, as a Middle Eastern woman, Fadlallah took a contrarian and pioneering stand among Shia clerics on woman’s rights. He called for the abolition of the tribal system of ‘honor killing.’ He called the practice primitive and nonproductive. He warned Muslim men that abuse of women was against Islam.”
She continued, “This does not mean I respected him for what else he did or said. Far from it.”
Her explanation was apparently not sufficient for her CNN bosses. Ms. Khosravi wrote in the memorandum, “At this point, we believe that her credibility in her position as senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs has been compromised going forward.” Her exit was first reported by the Web site Mediaite. (external - login to view)
Despite her senior editor title, Ms. Nasr did not run CNN’s Middle East coverage, a network spokesman said. She reported and provided analysis about the region for CNN/U.S., CNN International and CNN.com.
She was also, as her CNN.com biography put it, a “leader in integrating social media with newsgathering and reporting.”