So what happens to an Arab journalist who carefully toed the line for twenty years, but commits one small infraction? She gets fired. Twenty years of loyal service to the corporate-media and the political class it represents did not prevent CNN from sacking Octavia Nasr, the network’s token Arab, and Senior Editor of Middle East Affairs. Her career-ending tweet expressed her sadness over the passing of Lebanese Shia cleric Mohamed Hussein Fadlallah, who is wrongly described as the “spiritual adviser” of Hizballah, the Lebanese civilian militia the US government designated as a terrorist group. Fadlallah did support the right of the Lebanese people to resist Israeli occupation, and is among the most socially progressive religious leaders in the Arab world, certainly more progressive than the US-Supported Bin-Baz establishment in “Saudi” Arabia. Fadlallah lived until this week because the CIA failed to kill him in a car bombing in 1985 which did succeed in killing 80 innocent Lebanese civilians.
Those of us who followed Nasr’s career at CNN were a little surprised by her misbehavior. After twenty years honing her skills at the network she understood what was expected of her. She had a demonstrated ability of knowing what to say, and more importantly, what NOT to say. She clearly was not anticipating the backlash when she sat at her computer (or picked up her Blackberry) for that career-ending tweet. The speed with which CNN moved to fire her shows just how restrictive and uniform the corporate dominated “free press” has become. The unofficial propaganda arm of the US government has no tolerance for the mere suggestion of alternative sentiments or viewpoints. Even a short tweet expressing an unauthorized feeling of sadness over the death of a cleric in Lebanon by someone who spent two decades carefully following the script is enough to land that person a spot among the shunned miscreants. Nasr tried to backtrack but it was too late. The decision to fire her was taken before she sat down to explain her aberrant behavior.
Nasr deserves all the humiliation she must be feeling at this point. Her firing should be a lesson to all those Arabs and Muslims in this country who are busy garnering mainstream media acceptance. We know Arabs and Muslims are not judged on their journalistic skills or integrity. They are hired based on their willingness and ability to strictly follow rigid narratives on any given topic, especially on issues relating to the Middle East. In Nasr’s case she was the token Arab offering native expertise on Middle East events, and more importantly, native legitimacy for the official narrative. Not once did Nasr dare defend the legally and morally sanctioned Lebanese resistance to the recurring Israeli onslaughts on innocent civilians and occupation of her native Lebanon. She knew what was permissible, and expressing such views would have earned her a much earlier exit from CNN. Not once before her unfortunate (from her perspective) tweet did she deviate from the storyline on any topic or current event. In fairness to Nasr, this may not have been too hard to do. She began her career in Lebanon at the LBC network of the right-wing, Christian fascist groups like the Phalange and Lebanese Forces. This fringe element within Lebanon has always been sympathetic to Zionism and Western meddling in the region.
Nasr’s humiliating exit from CNN should be a lesson to all aspiring journalists pursuing careers in US corporate media outlets, especially those from suspect groups who carry around the extra burden of demonstrating they’re one of “the good ones.” Nasr adopted her views and chose her words carefully. Even her occasional mild criticism of US foreign policy was carefully couched within the finely delineated limits of permissible opposition. The basic assumptions were never to be challenged. Nasr knew that, I’m sure, but what she may not have known is that she was always only a single transgression away from being castigated and cast out. Twenty years of sacrificing journalistic credibility in the interest of personal advancement and promotion did not earn her the benefit of the doubt on a single tweet. Didn’t she just witness what happened to Helen Thomas? What was she thinking?