NYTimes columnist Thomas Friedman manages to tackle three of my favorite subjects all at once today – journalism, social media and the Middle East, which collided recently with the firing of CNN Middle Eastern editor Octavia Nasr after she tweeted about the death of Shiite cleric Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. Fadlallah was one of the founders of Hezbollah.
Here's Friedman on the journalism, transparency and social media angle:
One misplaced verb now and within hours you can have a digital lynch mob chasing after you — and your bosses scrambling for cover. A journalist should lose his or her job for misreporting, for misquoting, for fabricating, for plagiarizing, for systemic bias — but not for a message like this one.
What signal are we sending young people? Trim your sails, be politically correct, don’t say anything that will get you flamed by one constituency or another. And if you ever want a job in government, national journalism or as president of Harvard, play it safe and don’t take any intellectual chances that might offend someone.
But it's the loss of Nasr at CNN that seems to bother Friedman the most:
I’ve never met Octavia Nasr or Fadlallah. Fadlallah clearly hated Israel, supported attacks on Israelis and opposed the U.S. troops in Lebanon and Iraq. But he also opposed Hezbollah’s choking dogmatism and obedience to Iran; he wanted Lebanon’s Shiites to be independent and modern, and he built a regional following through his social commentaries...
...Of course, Fadlallah was not just a social worker. He had some dark side. People at CNN tell me Nasr knew both. But here’s what I know: The Middle East has to change in order to thrive, and that change has to come from within, from change agents who are seen as legitimate and rooted in their own cultures. They may not be America’s cup of tea. But we need to know about them, and understand where our interests converge — not just demonize them all.
That’s why I prefer to get my news from a CNN reporter who can actually explain why thousands of men and women are mourning an aged Shiite cleric — whom we consider nothing more than a terrorist — than a reporter who doesn’t know at all, or worse, doesn’t dare to say.