Sunday, July 11, 2010

Octavia Nasr, Social-Networking, And CNN

Hi everyone. I know I said I wasn't going to blog about Octavia Nasr's firing, but...well, apparently I lied. As I stated before, much has already been written on the subject. Glenn Greenwald tackled the bias of the media when it comes to Israel, Andrew Sullivan ruminated on the media's policing of discourse, former CNNer Miles O'Brien tweeted his support of Octavia, former CNNer Daryn Kagan blogged of the culture of fear at the network, former CNNer Jacki Schechner pondered as to whether the dismissal was sexist, former CNNer Chez Pazienza gave his take on CNN's problem with opinions, Slate weighed in as to why both Nasr and Dave Weigel shouldn't have been fired, Arab-Americans protested, and finally, James Poniewozik, similar to Chez, wrote about the MSM clinging to the "implausible fiction that their journalists are some sort of dispassionate alien scientists." This, obviously, is not a full list.

I actually read Octavia's tweet immediately after she tweeted it. I was logging off and it just happened to catch my eye. Honestly? My initial visceral reaction was to cringe. Hezbollah? Wasn't that a terrorist organization? Immediately I knew the tweet would not be well-received, but I also know that life is nuanced, and that Octavia knows a hell of a lot more about the middle east than I do. I trusted that there was context behind those seemingly harsh 140-odd characters. If I had given it further thought, I would have realized that none of that mattered--not when it comes to CNN. I've been well-aware for quite some time as to their hair-trigger tendencies when it comes to kicking employees to the curb (and have done some social-networking warning of both employees and prospective employees alike). But Octavia gave them almost 20 years of loyal service and in return they throw her under the bus? It's disgusting.

Making it even worse, is that the incident happened while she was going the extra mile for CNN: engaging in social-networking. The company pushes their employees to Twitter, yet doesn't stand behind them when an inevitable lapse in judgment happens (and so we're clear, it was a huge lapse in judgment). Twitter is instantaneous. There is no one standing over your shoulder, making sure you're only saying the "right" things. Does this mean journalists shouldn't Twitter? Of course not. We all know that much of the future of the industry is found on the Internet. Journalists need to learn to embrace these mediums and promote their work. (I have read and watched many pieces solely because they were promoted on Twitter.) Contrary to what the CNN suits seem to think, idiotically reading tweets on air does not show that you understand Twitter. The sad irony is that Octavia was one of the few people at the network that really did seem to get it.

The exact reason for Octavia's firing is unknown. Was it because she had an opinion or was it because she had the wrong opinion. Those arguing the latter will point to Wolf Blitzer's former work with AIPAC. Though this angle to the story is important, I want to focus on the first option. Newsflash to the MSM: journalists have opinions. They have feelings. They get defensive. They want to be liked just like everyone else. And yep, if you cut them, they'll bleed. These people are human beings. They are not grown in some back room at CNN. The public knows this. Yet for some reason the network has convinced itself that if they can just maintain the appearance of having no opinions, everyone will believe it to be true. This, of course, is bullshit. I was taught to believe that you can know a lot about a company by how it treats its employees. After Octavia's firing and almost five solid years of closely following the network, this is my take-away of CNN:
  • Loyalty means nothing to them.
  • They are cowards.
  • They do not trust their employees to be professionals.
  • They think their viewers are stupid.
There is a very distinct difference between having opinions (which everyone does) and inserting opinions into your work (which objective journalists should not do). Presumably Octavia felt this way about Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah for some time. CNN felt her credibility was compromised when the opinion was made public. A journalist should be judged by their work; not the appearance of their work. If I were to find out tomorrow that, say, Gary Tuchman is a staunch Republican, as a liberal would I be disappointed? Admittedly, a little. But would I suddenly have less respect for his work? Of course not. I've been watching him do solid journalism for almost five years (how long I've been watching) and trust that as a professional, he checks his opinions at the door. CNN (and much of the rest of the MSM) does not seem to understand this concept, and apparently, think those of us out here watching are too stupid to understand it as well. This is not to say that I think journalists should be offering up their opinions all the time, but when one does, their employer should have the courage to stand behind them. The most trusted name in news? Not even close.

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Anonymous Zéo Getty said...

Loved your article. It's a shame that CNN did not realize that by firing her, they would be losing someone who is and has been a valuable source of information. She was a beacon of hope for me. An Arab who comes from a dictatorship where journalists are sacked and sometimes imprisoned for speaking their minds. She too is Arab and of Lebanese origin. Although Lebanon is more of a democracy than other Middle Eastern companies, journalist must walk on egg shells as to not anger their governments.

She was an inspiration and I always looked up to her. CNN -back then- was a dream turned into a reality turned into a nightmare today. I don't know if they are trying to compete with FOX News in seeing who has less integrity than the other or what. But this is very low of CNN. They have lost Amanpour , Octavia and soon Larry King. This network is losing its appeal slowly but surely.

Freedom of speech ? ... only applies when people like Wolf Blitzer get to commend terrorists like Begin who was part of an org that organized the King David bombings.

CNN ? more like ZNN.

9:19 AM  
Blogger Marilyn Sue said...

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11:12 PM  

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