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MENA: CNN Journalist's Comment Sparks Controversy

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, North America, Canada, Lebanon, Digital Activism, Freedom of Speech, International Relations, Media & Journalism, Religion, War & Conflict

The passing of Lebanese religious leader Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah [1] was, for many, a major event, as Amira al Hussaini explains in this post [2].  And yet, a passing remark on Twitter by an American CNN journalist of Lebanese background is causing a stir in the Twittersphere, blogosphere, and beyond.

The (now-deleted) tweet, made by Octavia Nasr of CNN (@OctaviaNasrCNN [3]) read simply:

“Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.. One of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot. #Lebanon”

Nevertheless, the 117 character statement has carried weight with pundits and bloggers who take issue [4] with an American journalist praising a member of Hezbollah, deemed a terrorist group by the U.S. government, prompting Nasr to issue a statement [5] explaining her tweet.

Some were satisfied to be provided with more context, a sentiment Canadian BloggerSeif [6] expressed in this tweet [7]:

@octavianasrCNN [3] I think you did well in your apology, very true and straight from the heart.Inspiration for writers across Lebanese bless [7]

While others felt that no apology could fix the tweet, some bloggers across the region expressed frustration with the fact that Nasr had to apologize at all.  Mustapha of Beirut Spring defends [8] Nasr, saying:

The critics are using Ms. Nasr to kick CNN, but CNN would be making a terrible mistake if they fired her. Octavia not only knows Lebanon and the region very well, she is very popular with the Lebanese and Arabs on Twitter and the Blogosphere. She has painstakingly built personal relationships with the region’s online activists and she’s the go-to person whenever someone thinks they have a scoop. In fact, one can argue that her offending tweet is something all savvy networkers do all the time: Mirror her audience.

Whether the pro-Israelis in America like it or not, there is a general consensus in Lebanon of “respecting” Ayatollah Fadlallah, and Octavia Nasr, an excellent journalist, did what any professional would have done.

Lebanese blogger Independence '05 also expressed support [9] for Nasr, emphasizing her excellent relationships with bloggers in the region:

I am quite sure CNN will simply ignore them. But this doesn't mean I should let such a silly incident go by without saying those 4 points:

1- We met Octavia, she is such a down to earth lady, so smart, so charismatic, simply a beautiful soul
2- Octavia connects with us, the ordinary people, it's a give and take relationship, and she helps us like there's no tomorrow
3- She's smart, she understands the region and the politics of it very well, she's objective and she manifests her presence in such a strong and charismatic way
4- She's Lebanese, and not a terrorist or a terrorist supporter. You guys who are trying to get her because of what she said about Fadlallah, require at least a century of knowledge and history before you understand such a tweet. So please, go do something you understand, such as propaganda.. oh wait! This is what you're doing!

One more thing, showing respect is something, supporting is something else. Way to go American Democracy, you preach the world yet you can't digest a different point of view?

Octavia, you got our support… #justsayin

Twitter user Bashar Hamad [10] leaves us with a final, poignant thought [11]:

I wonder if all these people so quick to jump on @octavianasrCNN comment Re: Fadlallah's passing be so quick to jump on real hate speech [11]