Most of the best journalism I've seen committed took place before there was Twitter or Facebook or YouTube or, for that matter, an Internet. I guess the closest thing we had to Twitter was the after-edition banter in press clubs and "newspaper bars" like Bleeck's and Gough's in New York or the Anchor in Detroit. We were pretty much apolitical back then, but not without opinions -- fiercely-held opinions -- which flew loud and profane as the nectar flowed. Nobody to my knowledge was ever fired for anything they said on those occasions.
Not so today. A senior editor at CNN has just been fired for a Twitter. Honest.
This is the tweet that ended the 20-year CNN career of Octavia Nasr, the network's senior Middle East news editor:
"Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah . . . . One of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot."
This sent the usual right-wing crazies into a typical frenzy, because they regard all of Hezbollah, but especially prominent leaders like Fadlallah as demonically evil terrorists who hate America because its people have freedom. CNN responded in the usual way, by immediately dismissing Nasr because her "credibility" was "compromised."
Never mind that the Associated Press reported that Fadlallah was "one of Shiite Islam's highest and most revered religious authorities with a following that stretched beyond Lebanon's borders to Iraq, the Gulf and as far away as central Asia."
Never mind that Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a strong ally of the U.S., praised Fadlallah as "a voice of moderation and an advocate of unity,"
Nasr is not the first journalist to be fired for privately expressing views contrary to her corporate bosses' Groupthink Rules of Political Correctness, nor will she be the last. With each dismissal, a new cold chill runs down the spines of working journalists, making them more likely to toe the corporate line in everything they do, say or write.
The result is that most "journalism" today is stenography. The government said this, the corporation said that and the "analysts" -- ex-generals on the Pentagon payroll, ex-lobbyists on corporate payrolls, ex-pols like Karl Rove, ex-high school point guards like Sarah Palin -- say this is what it all means.
Until her ill-fated Tweet, Octavia Nasr played by the Groupthink Rules, tight-rope-walking across the corporate Niagara of spin, shout and spout without a misstep.
But in today's corporate America, as covered by today's corporate media, one misstep is all it takes.
A friend who covered environmental issues with great distinction for many years was fired because his private e-mails -- some of which were intercepted and sent to corporate honchos -- were "too pro-environment." Think about it. He should be more pro-pollution?
Opinions lacking the corporate imprimatur -- even if they're fundamentally true -- are not welcome. Truth is dangerous in the hands of a mob.