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Opinion - CNN solves one 'credibility' problem and creates another

Last week, CNN fired Senior Editor of Mideast Affairs Octavia Nasr, a 20-year veteran of the network, for committing the grave sin of knowing more about the Middle East than CNN's audience.

The proximate cause of Nasr's firing was a Twitter comment she posted July 4: "Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah...One of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot."

Fadlallah was Lebanon's most influential Shiite cleric, best known for urging the embattled Muslim minority to organize politically and militarily. Though Fadlallah was not actually a member of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah (in fact, he was critical of many of their activities), his teachings inspired them. Fadlallah also inspired Shiites outside Lebanon, among them U.S.-backed Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who attended Fadlallah's funeral in Beirut.

To U.S. and Israeli policymakers, however, Fadlallah was just a terrorist. The U.S. tried to kill him with a car bomb in 1985 (killing 80 bystanders instead). Israeli warplanes destroyed his house during the 2006 bombardment of Lebanon.

Nasr quickly apologized for her remark, saying she does not support anti-American or anti-Israeli militancy. "It was an error of judgment for me to write such a simplistic comment," she wrote. "I'm sorry because it conveyed that I supported Fadlallah's life's work. That's not the case at all."

As a Middle Eastern — and Christian — woman born and raised in Lebanon, Nasr admired Fadlallah, she wrote, for being a vocal advocate for women's rights in a corner of the world not known for its feminism.

Her explanation and obvious regret didn't matter, though. According to an internal CNN memo, Nasr's "credibility in her position ... has been compromised going forward."

How exactly? Because she made the mistake of letting the world know she's not a soul-less newsbot, but a human being who has (gasp!) an opinion on the subject to which she devoted her career?

Nasr's firing is further vexing because it reveals an upsetting double standard at CNN. If Nasr's credibility is compromised because she admired one aspect of a Shiite cleric's legacy, then why does Wolf "Situation Room" Blitzer have a job? He's a former employee of AIPAC, a lobbying group that backs Israel on controversial military and settlement policies.

I'm not saying CNN should fire Blitzer. But If some opinions are more credible than others, CNN should explain this to its viewers.



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