Killed by a lack of context?

The New York Times reports today about a CNN senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs being fired for a Tweet about a Hezbollah leader whom she said she respected. The editor, Octavia Nasr, said: “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah … One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.” She later explained that she respected Fadlallah for his relatively progressive stands on women’s rights under Islam — not for his support of violence against Israel.

Many of the comments on the Media Decoder blog post are supportive of CNN’s decision to fire Nasr. Then there’s this one:

Is ANYONE allowed to misspeak anymore? In an era when reporters and editors are being required to tweet and blog and everything else without a net, folks are going to make mistakes. She was expressing herself in 140 characters or less, and she definitely messed up, but her explanation seems reasonable. One stray tweet and she loses her job?

This very week, I read heaps of posthumous praise for the late Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, a former supporter of the KKK. I today’s world, he never would have had the chance to turn things around.

It got me thinking. News organizations want journalists to raise their profiles via social media. But there is relatively little guidance about how to do so in an interesting and provocative way (or else why bother?) without getting into trouble for an opinion or random observation.

You’re the boss. Would you have fired Nasr for her tweet?

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6 Responses to Killed by a lack of context?

  1. emcneill says:

    I saw this story this morning on my RSS reader, and thought it was interesting given our discussion last week. It does seem to be a pretty narrow double-edged sword news organizations are asking journalists to navigate. Using these social media tools is now often part of the job, but journalists must triple-check each Tweet or email for bias or apparently risk losing their livelihood. While this isn’t a trend I had noticed before this class brought it to my attention, I wonder how prevalent it is becoming in the industry. It certainly makes more plausible the idea of news organizations providing journalists with specific guidelines of expectations when it comes to using social media as a tool to promote their profiles. However, that could be a slippery slope to start down, and there would be a lot of grey area to try to cover.

  2. This firing is incredibly unjust. Nasr attempted to show that Fadlallah was more complex than how anyone associated with Hezbollah is often portrayed in American media. Political figures are incredibly controversial. George W. Bush or Barack Obama, anyone?

    Depending on what you’re reading or listening to, George W. was either the greatest president ever (Fox News) or the worst president ever (Daily Kos). Obama polls similar — he’s either doing a great job or he’s sending us to hell in a handbasket. What’s the truth?

    In the case of Fadlallah, there is a lot of negative (association to Hezbollah being on par with association to al-Qaida in the American media, although I would argue that the two organizations are actually incredibly different and work toward much different goals — but that’s a blog for another day) that is overshadowing the positives because the negatives are so great.

    What Nasr probably should have said in that tweet was, instead of expressing admiration, phrase it more of like a “did you know.” For example: Sad to see Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah died. Despite Hezbollah ties, he was progressive about women’s rights (115 characters, for those scoring at home).

    There are things I respect George Bush for doing, and there are things I like about Barack Obama. There are also a whole lot of things I hated about the Bush presidency, and I’m growing more and more critical of the Obama presidency. Should I be fired for expressing mixed feelings in a blog comment? By CNN’s standards, that answer would probably be yes. But then again, when it comes to standing up to criticism, CNN has become gutless in recent years.

    Decisions like this, in an attempt to please everybody, end up pleasing nobody. It’s a big reason why CNN is currently a last-place network.

  3. Sara Cox says:

    I would definitely not have fired Nasr for her tweet. Social networking and media encourages our opinions. If CNN expects their employees to tweet, but not put forth their opinions, what exactly would they tweet about? Would their tweets have to be accuracy checked quotes, or have citations included? That just sounds funny, and also diminishes the entire concept of Twitter.

    Nasr had also given a reasonable explanation as to why she tweeted about Fadlallah. The blogger’s response made an excellent point about the insanity of Nasr losing her job over a quote that she had clarified the meaning of later. Is an apology not worth anything? In the days of computers, everything stays on record, and Miss Nasr will always have both incidents on hers – the tweet mistake and the fact that she was fired from CNN, “The Most Trusted Name in News”.

    It seems facts and opinions have become irrelevant in the media, while perception is everything. In this case, CNN looked bad for their editor to be tweeting good things about a bad guy. Whether or not who was good or bad in the issue does not matter to CNN, instead it was all about their own appearance. Most of the bloggers agreed with Nasr being fired, and CNN was just listening to their audience. Abraham Lincoln once said that public opinion in this country is everything, and apparently CNN agrees.

  4. Christina Stiehl says:

    While I understand large businesses and news outlets such as CNN feel the need to protect their reputation, I believe it is extremely unfair to fire a reporter based on one Tweet that was taken out of context. Journalism is such a fast-paced industry, which leaves plenty of room for mistakes. Journalists are not superhuman nor can they be considered robots who just regurgitate the news; reporters have opinions and personalities too, especailly through their social media networks. I definitely think that maybe someone higher up in the company could have spoken with her and possibly repremanded her, but firing was too extreme. I agree with this post; we are encouraged to keep up with social media and it’s extremely hard to do that without allowing our personalities to shine through our Tweets and updates (nor do I think we should censor our personalities). This is very unfortunate and I feel very sorry for her.

  5. Pingback: How personal, er, social should you be on social media? | About reporting

  6. It was unfair to have fired her, just one wrong tweet and goodbye! It should had been a lesser penalty than firing her, if I was her boss, I would just give her a suspension.

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