Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Shame on the American Media

And just like that, with one brief tweet, @OctaviaNasrCNN is no longer…That is, because of her tweet mourning the death of Lebanese religious leader Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, Nasr has now been pushed out (fired? It’s not yet clear) from CNN.  The tweet?

Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah… One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot #Lebanon

This is all too reminiscent of what happened to Helen Thomas in June.  A journalist expresses an unpopular opinion–albeit with poor wording–and is pushed out of their job, with help from the Twittersphere.

What exactly is it about the opinion Nasr expressed that makes it worth firing her over?  Well, Fadlallah was a “mentor to” Hezbollah, an organization that the United States considers a terrorist group.  Mind you, halfway around the world, that’s not remotely how Hezbollah is viewed; like it or not, in Lebanon, Hezbollah is a legitimate political party and organization.  And Fadlallah a respected figure, honored even in Western (and Israeli!) media.

Now, I get why Fadlallah’s views don’t sit well with Americans.  I’m not remotely a fan myself.  Nasr explained why she made the comment she did, stating that Fadlallah’s views on women, within the Shi’a context, were rather liberal and within that context, impactful.  But in the end, none of that mattered, and another good journalist with a long career was sacked for expressing an opinion.

Here’s what I don’t get: How come Mike Huckabee is allowed to state that Palestinians don’t exist?  Why are conservatives allowed to draw imaginary lines between Miss USA and Hezbollah with no reprisal?  Why aren’t journalists able to freely cover the BP oil spill?  And why oh why can Martin Kramer call for genocide and garner support from free speech advocates?

I get that this is not strictly a First Amendment issue…journalists working under contract for big media companies are paid to toe the company line (unfortunately) and while Nasr can say whatever she wants, she can’t do it while earning a CNN paycheck.  What frustrates me to no end, however, is how skewed such companies’ perspectives are on these issues.

The New York Times is an excellent example of what I mean: Their Middle East bureau is run by Ethan Bronner, an American Jew whose son is currently serving voluntarily in the Israeli military, a sure conflict of interest.  And yet, despite the Times ombudsman and the Columbia Journalism Review tackling the issue, nothing came of it; Bronner is still in his position, his son is still serving with the IDF, and still doesn’t really hire Arab journalists.  No, I don’t believe that a Middle East team without Arabs is fair and balanced.  And no, I don’t think the Times would treat the issue of a Palestinian journalist with a son involved with Hamas in the same manner whatsoever.  And that’s the Times.  If we can’t expect them to be fair, then there’s absolutely no hope for CNN.

13 Comments

  1. Very nice post!! Well put!

  2. Thanks, well thought out post!

  3. Why do you defend Jew haters and Islamic terrorists?

  4. This event really highlights that Israel and its supporters are insecure. They know that everything that Israel stands for is wrong and defenseless. They also know that there myth will be exposed one the world starts asking the tuff questions about Israel. So the best way is not to allow anyone in the western media to even come close to asking these questions. And if anybody like Octavia Nasr and Helen Thomas dared to raise ay question related to Israel’s injustice they are immediately pushed aside gagged and made example for everyone to see. Where is the freedom of speech?!

  5. Very well written and expressed Jillian, members of the press in this country are only allowed to express support or praise Israel and the Jews, even when they have killed innocent people…… flotilla does that ring a bell! Supporting a controversial or moderate Arab has always been a recipe for getting fired. There is no room for fairness or equality in the way the Arab sor their supporters are treated.

  6. Very well written.

    Got a nice perspective :)

  7. Jill,

    ICNN is a corporation and there was no dilemma when the decision was made to fire her. Octavia herself admitted making a mistake. Morally, it would have been worse to let the incident slide. At the end of the day, she did praise Fadlalah. And as relatively liberal his quranic interpretations on gender issues may be, he remains a dangerous man who advocated the death penalty for apostates, blasphemy laws, politically Islamic states, and other things Octavia, you and I would abhor. Please learn to put things into perspective. If you have any sympathy for people of Lebanon (and in any other Muslim-majority country), you should not criticize CNN’s decision to fire Ms. Nasr. Fadlalah preached that Israel should cease to exist and condoned suicide attacks against Israeli civilians. This is horrific and that’s that. You should not weight it against IDF actions in the Occupied Territories. America’s love affair with Israel is the result of both countries being founded by fleeing persecuted democrats at the expense of an indigenous population (Indians then and Palestinians now).

    Now, to my point: Octavia Nasr has freedom of speech. I don’t. And neither does the growing body of ex-Muslims or secular Muslims. I don’t want to trivialize the American media’s bias in favor of Israel, but the societal climate is still open to debate. You see, one can be highly critical of Israel in the USA without one’s fundamental human rights being quashed (a job at CNN does not enter this category). In the Arab world, one faces serious consequences for being sympathetic with Israel or critical of Islam*. And the risk is not inexistent in the West either. And I’m talking ostracism, threats, death threats, physical abuse, deprivation of liberty, etc. Placed in proper context, the fuss about the firing of this journalist seems rather petty. Talk about “skewed perspective”.

    You can call me an Islamophobe now. But I have actually studied this religion and I can promise you that it is a far greater danger to Humanity than you may have been led to believe. It is a highly politicized religion and quite insidious. It’s like a mafia on steroids.

    I got very much off-topic there. I hope you can forgive me that. It pains me to see you side with somebody who praises an enemy of reason.

    * The two go largely hand in hand because no Israel would mean yet another Islamic-ruled country.

    • Samira,

      ICNN is a corporation and there was no dilemma when the decision was made to fire her.

      Yup. I said I realize that this is not a First Amendment issue.

      At the end of the day, she did praise Fadlalah

      No, she did not. She said she “respected” him. That, to me, is a far cry from praise. I respect President Obama but I by no means praise his governance.

      So here’s the thing: I very much empathize with what you are saying. But right now I’m talking about the media climate in the United States. And in the United States, the causes of ex-Muslims (co-opted by right wing Americans for their own purposes) are all too often placed far higher than those of Muslims. In the U.S., it is very much an issue of media bias….you can criticize Muslims and Islam all you want here, but you cannot criticize Israel (or alternately, praise anything Islam) without fear of losing your job. Full stop.

      Until Mike Huckabee is shunned for stating that Palestinians are not a people, or Lou Dobbs is put out of a job for saying vile things about Mexicans, I don’t think your argument has a leg to stand on, at least in the context of the US.

      Now, were we having a discussion about your right to free speech in a Muslim-majority country, this would be a different conversation, and as I said, I empathize. Much of my life work is about promoting the right to free speech, for all, everywhere. But don’t conflate the two.

      -Jillian

  8. Thanks for the reply.

    No, she did not. She said she “respected” him. That, to me, is a far cry from praise

    “Far cry”? Really?

    The Guardian’s editor didn’t think so.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/jul/08/octavia-nasr-cnn-tweet-fired

    A case can be made about it being one of the last bastions of good journalism. I think so anyway. You can start blushing and feel proud of yourself….NOW!

    you can criticize Muslims and Islam all you want here, but you cannot criticize Israel (or alternately, praise anything Islam) without fear of losing your job. Full stop.

    Then you are defending people’s right to not get fired, not free speech.

    And surely, you must be able to see that criticism of an ideology (Islam) is more than fair game. It’s healthy even. Criticism of Israel happens in the US mainstream media. I tune in very often and it’s there. It may not often be to the extent of calling for Israelis to go back to Germany and Poland…

    Until Mike Huckabee is shunned for stating that Palestinians are not a people, or Lou Dobbs is put out of a job for saying vile things about Mexicans, I don’t think your argument has a leg to stand on, at least in the context of the US.

    I beg to differ. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

    There’s a blatant pro-israeli bias in the US. But you can’t possibly be asking generalist TV channels to apply the same (low) standards as FOX News. The way CNN or MSNBC are ran is very different from FOX’s. Memos in FOX are very harsh in case a journalist diverges from the set tone. And judging from market shares, the bias is here to stay. It would be economically suicidal of CNN to slide into an Israel-bashing political-Islam-propagating channel. If anything, CNN should become more conservative to have a chance at eating into FOX’s share. I believe that was Rupert Murdoch’s vision from the very beginning. Besides the positive feedback effect, 9/11 (and consequently, the war on Iraq) helped boost FOX’s share immensely. In societies predisposed to anti-antisemitism, conspiracies thrived.

    So ultimately, this has nothing to do with free speech. It’s just the consequence of the creation of FOX News and the War on Terror (euphemism for the War on Islam). You can condemn “the biased media” till you’re blue in the face, but commercial media will never put fairness above money (even PBS would go after getting viewers rather than fairness). Further, this is not even asking for fairness. You’re asking for biasing CNN’s decision. Octavia wrote that she respected a man who held view that Israel should cease to exist. I’m sorry but that’s not forgivable on grounds that Dobbs or O’Reilly still have their jobs. Keep in mind that FOX is very very often just sleazy infotainment.

    But let’s go back to Israel vs. Islam. I don’t know if you opposed the two consciously or not, but it’s the crux of the matter. So an oppressive ideology vs a young liberal democracy. If free speech is your main concern, then Islam (yes, the ideology!) is an obvious enemy of your pet issue. Muslims are everywhere and they threaten violence (and often follow up) every time somebody publishes a cartoon of some random bearded guy. It used to be that way with Christians rioting around when people made fun of Jesus. The way it was solved was through rubbing their nose in it until it became normal.

    You are concerned about the people of Palestine and Lebanon, I understand. But you’re conflating their nationalist cause with Islam. The latter is actually keeping them down and hindering peaceful coexistence I’m telling you this as someone who knows how it’s codified, and who had to go through serious psychological and physical trauma because I questioned things. It’s too easy to dismiss critiques of Islam when it’s coming from Jesus-lovin’ FOX nuts. But I promise you it’s a much more twisted and insidious system than you know. Mohammad was one of the greatest minds in history.

  9. Great post!

    One could argue every single statemtn of Samira, specially the silly firewalls she repeats over and over again “I KNOW this bc I have studied…..I know it bc I have dug into….” But that would be a total waste of calories on a racist, Yes, I said it – a blatant racist with nothing else to say but to gush out racism and claim justification for it. We’ve seen lots of them in this world and we’ve seen what they cause.

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