Octavia Nasr's Firing and What "the Liberal Media" Allows
CNN yesterday ended the 20-year career of Octavia Nasr, its Atlanta-based Senior Middle East News Editor, because of a now-deleted tweet she wrote on Sunday upon learning of the death of one of the Shiite world's most beloved religious figures: "Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah . . . . One of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot." That message spawned an intense fit of protest from Far Right outlets, Thought Crime enforcers, and other neocon precincts, and CNN quickly (and characteristically) capitulated to that pressure by firing her. 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." Within this episode lies several important lessons about media "objectivity" and how the scope of permissible views is enforced.
First, consider which viewpoints cause someone to be fired from The Liberal Media. Last month, Helen Thomas' 60-year career as a journalist ended when she expressed the exact view about Jews which numerous public figures have expressed (with no consequence or even controversy) about Palestinians. Just weeks ago, The Washington Post accepted the "resignation" of Dave Weigel because of scorn he heaped on right-wing figures such as Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh. CNN's Chief News Executive, Eason Jordan, was previously forced to resign after he provoked a right-wing fit of fury over comments he made about the numerous -- and obviously disturbing -- incidents where the U.S. military had injured or killed journalists in war zones. NBC fired Peter Arnett for criticizing the U.S. war plan on Iraqi television, which prompted accusations of Treason from the Right. MSNBC demoted and then fired its rising star Ashleigh Banfield after she criticized American media war coverage for adhering to the Fox model of glorifying U.S. wars; the same network fired its top-rated host, Phil Donahue, due to its fear of being perceived as anti-war; and its former reporter, Jessica Yellin, confessed that journalists were "under enormous pressure from corporate executives" to present the news in a pro-war and pro-Bush manner.
What each of these firing offenses have in common is that they angered and offended the neocon Right. Isn't that a strange dynamic for the supposedly Liberal Media: the only viewpoint-based firings of journalists are ones where the journalist breaches neoconservative orthodoxy? Have there ever been any viewpoint-based firings of establishment journalists by The Liberal Media because of comments which offended liberals? None that I can recall. I foolishly thought that when George Bush's own Press Secretary mocked the American media for being "too deferential" to the Bush administration, that would at least put a dent in that most fictitious American myth: The Liberal Media. But it didn't; nothing does, not even the endless spate of journalist firings for deviating from right-wing dogma.
Beyond journalism, speech codes concerning the Middle East are painfully biased and one-sided. Chas Freeman was barred from a government position -- despite a long and accomplished record of public service -- due to AIPAC-led anger over comments deemed insufficiently devoted to Israel. Juan Cole was denied a tenured position at Yale after a vicious neocon campaign based on his allegedly anti-Israel remarks, and Norman Finklestein suffered the same fate,
despite a unanimous committee recommendation for tenure, after an
Alan-Dershowitz-led demonization campaign based on his blasphemous
scholarship about Israel. Does anyone ever suffer
career-impeding injuries of this type -- the way Nasr and Thomas also
just have -- for expressing anti-Muslim or anti-Arab views? No. The
speech prohibitions and thought crimes on the Middle East all run in
one direction: to enforce "pro-Israel" orthodoxies. Does this long
list of examples leave room for doubt about that fact?
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