Tweet Ends 20-year CNN Career

Mistakes were tweeted.

Octavia Nasr is now the former Senior Editor of Mideast Affairs for CNN.  The 20-year veteran of CNN lost her job after controversy erupted over the following tweet:

“Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah…One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect alot.”

As you may or may not know Hezbollah is considered by many countries – including the United States – to be a terrorist organization.  They have been linked by the U.S. government to suicide attacks that have killed hundreds of people, including U.S. citizens and military.  Hezbollah is alleged behind the 1983 truck bombing attacks in Beirut that murdered 299 French and American soldiers.

Fadlallah was the spiritual leader and Grand Ayatollah of Hezbollah.  He also hated the U.S. and Israel and regularly spoke in favor of terrorism against both countries.

CNN immediately had Nasr remove the tweet, but not before it went viral on Twitter and in the blogosphere.  According to the Guardian newspaper: “The Simon Wiesenthal Center in the US released a statement demanding Nasr ‘apologise to all victims of Hezbollah terrorism whose loved ones don’t share her sadness over the passing of one of Hezbollah’s giants.'”

Nasr apologized for the tweet calling it “simplistic” and admitting that she had made a bad judgment call.

She said in a post on CNN’s blog that the limitations of Twitter’s 140-character platform placed her tweet outside the context of what she meant.  She said she admired Fadlallah’s stance for the rights of Muslim women and his advocacy for ending honor killings (a practice among some devout Muslims of murdering female family members for bringing dishonor to the family).

She also condemned Fadlallah’s support of terrorism.  And ended her statement with:

“Sayyed Fadlallah. Revered across borders yet designated a terrorist. Not the kind of life to be commenting about in a brief tweet. It’s something I deeply regret.”

Clearly, Nasr made a mistake.  But mistakes happen, especially in the world of daily TV journalism and in the real-time world of social networking.

I often caution my clients to expect mistakes when using social networks.  It isn’t “if” a mistake will happen, but “when.”  You are judged on how you deal with these mistakes more than on whether you make them.

Should Nasr have been fired after 20 years with CNN?  Was her offense that egregious, especially after her apology and explanation?

I don’t think so.  CNN should reinstate her and take a stand that reporters (even famous ones) are human beings and sometimes they make bad calls.  Be decisive and admit to mistakes when they happen.  But firing a loyal employee after two decades of services is harsh and punitive – and sends the wrong message.

What do you think?


Octavia Nasr’s Twitter account

Wikipedia entry on Hezbollah

Wikipedia entry on 1983 Beirut attack

Guardian story on Nasr’s firing

Wikipedia entry on honor killings

Nasr’s blog post at CNN explaining her tweet

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5 Responses to “Tweet Ends 20-year CNN Career”

  1. interesting issue. I would argue that:
    a. she is highly educated on this topic and knew how controversial her tweet would be
    b. she tipped her hand as to her opinions on cross-border issues surrounding Hezbollah – and it seems this is likely not inline with CNN

    maybe the bigger issue is how are journalists supposed to maintain an unbiased posture while also being expected to participate in social media?

  2. may be she want enjoy her life.. 🙂

  3. Hi Andrea:
    You bring up a compelling point. Can journalists actively participate in social media without being opinionated? Probably not.

    But does it make them poor journalists to have opinions? Of course not. Not revealing your biases doesn’t make you any less biased. I’d argue that transparency is always better and that stating an opinion – even an unpopular one – shouldn’t mean you get canned.

    I disagree that she knew her tweet would be controversial. That makes it seem like a calculated plan. If you use Twitter with any regularity (which I do), you know that you can often fire off a missive without thinking much about it. That’s one of the real dangers of the platform.

  4. The real problem is how you can tweet what you really mean in the limitation

  5. Hi Ranggaw0636:
    No doubt you can. But many people, myself included, would argue that it is easy to be misunderstood on Twitter.

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