“I’m Sorry for Your Loss”
Thomas Friedman writes:
I find Nasr’s firing troubling. Yes, she made a mistake. Reporters covering a beat should not be issuing condolences for any of the actors they cover. It undermines their credibility. But we also gain a great deal by having an Arabic-speaking, Lebanese-Christian female journalist covering the Middle East for CNN, and if her only sin in 20 years is a 140-character message about a complex figure like Fadlallah, she deserved some slack. She should have been suspended for a month, but not fired. It’s wrong on several counts.
To begin with, what has gotten into us? 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. In the age of Google, when everything you say is forever searchable, the future belongs to those who leave no footprints.
Mr. Friedman and I agree that the CNN reporter shouldn’t have been fired.
Here I merely want to point out that even the standard he suggests is absurd. “Reporters covering a beat should not be issuing condolences for any of the actors they cover,” he writes. “It undermines their credibility.” Nonsense. Expressing condolences upon a death is the most natural thing in the world, and completely uncontroversial in the vast majority of cases. Had Tom Brokaw said, “My condolences to Nancy Reagan, who I had the pleasure of meeting on several occasions,” would anyone have lifted an eyebrow? On several occasions, I’ve interviewed the families of people who died — one car accident, one murder victim, and the family of a soldier killed in Iraq, off the top of my head — and I expressed my condolences in every instance.
Did that undermine my credibility?