Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

CNN’s Mideast problem

CNN's firing last week of its Mideast editor because of a Twitter post in which she expressed sadness over the death of a Lebanese cleric has set off a firestorm of debate about CNN's fairness in reporting on the region.

Inter Press Service

CNN’s firing last week of Octavia Nasr, the editor responsible for the network’s Middle East coverage, over a Twitter post in which she expressed her sadness over the death of a Lebanese cleric has set off a firestorm of debate about what the decision says about CNN’s fairness in reporting on the region.

On Sunday, Nasr wrote, “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah… One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot,” on her Twitter account, which is followed by over 7,000 readers.

Fadlallah was an inspirational figure for Lebanese Shiites and an early supporter of Hezbollah.

Fadlallah, who initially supported the use of suicide bombings as a means of resistance against the occupation of Lebanon and Palestine, later criticised Hezbollah for its close ties to Iran, as well as Ayatollah Khomeini’s velayet- e faqih “rule of the clerics”, which Khomeini imposed in Iran in 1979.

Critics of Fadlallah have charged that he was staunchly anti-U.S., and had been linked to bombings that killed more than 260 U.S. citizens, but others have pointed to the cleric’s support for women’s rights and fatwas against female circumcision and honour killings as evidence of his comparatively progressive position.

After the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and a number of right-wing news outlets and blogs took issue with her expression of regret over Fadlallah’s death, on Tuesday, Nasr wrote another Twitter post in which she attempted to clarify her earlier comment and emphasised her admiration of Fadlallah’s defence of women’s rights.

“Fadlallah, designated by the U.S. Department of Treasury as a specially designated terrorist, disseminated numerous fatawa’ supporting terrorist operations and was a vocal supporter of terrorism against Israeli targets,” read a statement from the ADL on Tuesday.

“It is clearly an impropriety for a CNN journalist/editor to express such a partisan viewpoint as Ms. Nasr did in her tweet,” the statement continued.

“How did CNN senior editor of Middle East affairs Octavia Nasr celebrate July 4? By mourning the passing of Hezbollah’s Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah,” blogged Daniel Halper at the neoconservative Weekly Standard.

But other journalists and watchdog groups expressed concern over the speed with which CNN fired Nasr and the emergence of a double-standard when reporting on Middle Eastern affairs.

“The network – which has employed a former AIPAC official, Wolf Blitzer, as its primary news anchor for the last 15 years – justified its actions by claiming that Nasr’s ‘credibility’ had been ‘compromised,'” wrote Salon’s Glenn Greenwald in an article in which he went on to argue that Nasr was fired for offending the “neocon Right” by expressing regret over the death of a “profoundly complex figure, with some legitimate grievances, some entrenched hatreds and ugly viewpoints, and a substantial capacity for good.”

Peter Hart, activism director at Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a media watchdog group, told IPS that, “If there was some suggestion that she had been producing questionable journalism over all these years you’d think this would have been an issue before this, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. So it’s a decision which is disconnected from any sensible policy. The real problem is that she said something which offended very powerful people and that was her mistake.”

Nasr had worked for the Atlanta-based CNN for 20 years and rarely appeared on-air except for occasional appearances as an analyst in discussions on Middle East news. She had no history of an anti-Israel or pro-Palestinian bias and, according to Greenwald, “blended perfectly into the American corporate media woodwork”.

“Octavia Nasr got fired for the one smart thing she ever said,” quipped journalist Nir Rosen, a fellow at the New York University Center on Law and Security, in a Twitter post.

“[P]lenty of American journalists and politicians have shown ‘respect’ (and in some cases, fawning admiration) for various world figures with hands far bloodier than Ayatollah Fadlallah – including Mao Zedong, Ariel Sharon, the Shah of Iran, or even Kim il Sung – but it didn’t cost them their jobs,” wrote Stephen Walt, a professor of international relations at Harvard University.

Questions have been raised over why Nasr, known as an uncontroversial reporter of Middle East affairs, was fired so quickly for an off-the-cuff Twitter post.

According to some observers, her unwillingness to conform to the narrative depicted by a number of right-wing news outlets and U.S. Jewish groups that Fadlallah was a terrorist, anti-US and anti-Semitic resulted in CNN receiving pressure to fire her.

“Nasr’s comment was enough to spark fierce outrage from the various precincts of the neocon blog/twittersphere, who went after Nasr for her egregious failure to reduce Fadlallah to an anti-Israel, anti-American terrorist bogeyman,” blogged Matt Duss, a National Security Researcher at the liberal Center For American Progress.

While right-wing news outlets, such as the Weekly Standard and the conservative WorldNetDaily gleefully reported on Nasr’s departure from CNN, others expressed concern for the double standard which has emerged when discussing Middle East affairs in the US mainstream media.

“The standard here is based on nothing that Nasr reported for CNN. [Her Twitter post] was barely a one sentence expression of sympathy. Firing her was a decision that was completely disconnected from her work so it’s a decision that’s very troubling. Lou Dobbs’s thoughts about immigrants were on CNN every night and CNN stood by him as the criticism mounted and the factual inaccuracies piled up,” said Hart.

“In this case, a stray comment is enough to terminate someone’s role at CNN almost overnight,” he said. “The discrepancy is rather revealing and CNN would have a very hard time revealing precisely what their policy is on this. It’s hard to find precedent for this. She has a history of covering the region and that is not easily replaced.”

Eli Clifton writes for the Inter Press Service and is a contributor to IPS Right Web (http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org).

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is one of the Senate’s more vocal hawks, and one of the prime vacillators among Republicans between objecting to and supporting Donald Trump.


Ron Dermer is the Israeli ambassador to the United States and has deep connections to the Republican Party and the neoconservative movement.


The Washington-based American Enterprise Institute is a rightist think tank with a broad mandate covering a range of foreign and domestic policy issues that is known for its strong connections to neoconservatism and overseas debacles like the Iraq War.


Max Boot, neoconservative military historian at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Trump and Russia: “At every turn Trump is undercutting the ‘get tough on Russia’ message because he just can’t help himself, he just loves Putin too much.”


Since taking office Donald Trump has revealed an erratic and extremely hawkish approach to U.S. foreign affairs, which has been marked by controversial actions like dropping out of the Iran nuclear agreement that have raised tensions across much of the world and threatened relations with key allies.


Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas and an evangelical pastor, is a far-right pundit known for his hawkish policies and opposition to an Israeli peace deal with the Palestinians.


Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is known for her lock-step support for Israel and considered by some to be a future presidential candidate.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

The Trumpian new regional order in the Middle East is predicated on strongman rule, disregard for human rights, Sunni primacy over Iran and other Shia centers of power, continued military support for pro-American warring parties regardless of the unlawfulness of such wars, and Israeli hegemony.


A comparison of U.S. nuclear diplomacy with Iran and the current version with North Korea puts the former in a good light and makes the latter look disappointing. Those with an interest in curbing the dangers of proliferating nuclear weapons should hope that the North Korea picture will improve with time. But whether it does or not, the process has put into perspective how badly mistaken was the Trump administration’s trashing of the Iran nuclear agreement.


Numerous high profile Trump administration officials maintain close ties with anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists. In today’s America, disparaging Islam is acceptable in ways that disparaging other religions is not. Given the continuing well-funded campaigns by the Islamophobes and continuing support from their enablers in the Trump administration, starting with the president himself, it seems unlikely that this trend will be reversed any time soon.


The Trump administration’s nuclear proliferation policy is now in meltdown, one which no threat of “steely resolve”—in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s words—will easily contain. It is hemorrhaging in part because the administration has yet to forge a strategy that consistently and credibly signals a feasible bottom line that includes living with—rather than destroying—regimes it despises or fears. Political leaders on both sides of the aisle must call for a new model that has some reasonable hope of restraining America’s foes and bringing security to its Middle East allies.


Congressional midterm elections are just months away and another presidential election already looms. Who will be the political leader with the courage and presence of mind to declare: “Enough! Stop this madness!” Man or woman, straight or gay, black, brown, or white, that person will deserve the nation’s gratitude and the support of the electorate. Until that occurs, however, the American penchant for war will stretch on toward infinity.


To bolster the president’s arguments for cutting back immigration, the administration recently released a fear-mongering report about future terrorist threats. Among the potential threats: a Sudanese national who, in 2016, “pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to ISIS”; an Uzbek who “posted a threat on an Uzbek-language website to kill President Obama in an act of martyrdom on behalf of ISIS”; a Syrian who, in a plea agreement, “admitted that he knew a member of ISIS and that while in Syria he participated in a battle against the Syrian regime, including shooting at others, in coordination with Al Nusrah,” an al-Qaeda offshoot.


The recent appointment of purveyors of anti-Muslim rhetoric to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom exposes the cynical approach Republicans have taken in promoting religious freedom.


RightWeb
share