NEW YORK -- The State Department blasted CNN Saturday night for the network's handling of a personal journal belonging to late U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, which was removed from the site of the deadly Sept. 11 consulate attack.
State Dept. spokesman Philippe Reines said in a statement to The Huffington Post that "given the truth of how this was handled, CNN patting themselves on the back is disgusting."
The Huffington Post contacted CNN Friday afternoon after receiving a tip that it had removed Stevens' journal from the U.S. consulate in Benghazi following the attack that left Stevens and three others dead. CNN did not confirm that information, but later referred HuffPost to Anderson Cooper's on-air acknowledgment during his 8 p.m. Friday show that CNN found Stevens' journal and had used it in their reporting, a fact not previously disclosed.
Shortly after 1 a.m. Saturday, CNN.com posted an un-bylined story explaining that CNN had found the journal four days after the attack "on the floor of the largely unsecured consulate compound where [Stevens] was fatally wounded." The CNN.com story noted that the network notified Stevens' family "within hours after it was discovered," that the personal journal was only used for news "tips" later corroborated by other sources, and that it was then provided to a third party to return to his family. (The Wall Street Journal later revealed an Italian diplomat as the third party).
But the State Dept. has a much different view of what transpired, claiming the network "completely ignored the wishes of the family" in reporting on the contents of Stevens' journal before returning it to them. Reines wrote that CNN "ultimately broke their pledge made to them only hours after they witnessed the return to the United States of Chris's remains."
"Whose first instinct is to remove from a crime scene the diary of a man killed along with three other Americans serving our country, read it, transcribe it, email it around your newsroom for others to read, and only when their curiosity is fully satisfied thinks to call the family or notify the authorities?" Reines asked.
On Saturday night, CNN issued a second statement in its defense, arguing that the network "felt there were issues raised in the journal which required full reporting, which we did," and that "the public had a right to know what CNN had learned from multiple sources about the fears and warnings of a terror threat before the Benghazi attack which are now raising questions about why the State Department didn't do more to protect Ambassador Stevens and other US personnel."
"Perhaps the real question here is why is the State Department now attacking the messenger," read the CNN statement.
Reines, who considers CNN's handling of the journal to be "indefensible," wrote that it's "not a proud episode in CNN's history."
Reines' full statement is published below:
Given the truth of how this was handled, CNN patting themselves on the back is disgusting.
What they're not owning up to is reading and transcribing Chris's diary well before bothering to tell the family or anyone else that they took it from the site of the attack. Or that when they finally did tell them, they completely ignored the wishes of the family, and ultimately broke their pledge made to them only hours after they witnessed the return to the United States of Chris's remains.
Whose first instinct is to remove from a crime scene the diary of a man killed along with three other Americans serving our country, read it, transcribe it, email it around your newsroom for others to read, and only when their curiosity is fully satisfied thinks to call the family or notify the authorities?
When a junior person at CNN called, they didn't say, 'Hello, I know this is a terrible time, but I'm sure you want your son's diary, where do you want it sent?' They instead took the opportunity to ask the family if CNN could report on its contents. Contents known only to Chris Stevens, and those at CNN who had already invaded his privacy.
When the seniormost levels of CNN were finally reached, they needed to be convinced to do the right thing. But not before they took a second shot at convincing the family to let them report on the contents. A family member made it crystal clear directly to CNN that they wanted Chris's diary and would not make any other decisions until then. But that wasn't fast enough for CNN, so they helpfully offered to send the family the transcript they'd already made and passed around, to put a rush on it for their own purposes.
It was then made clear to them, for what must have been the fourth time in the same call, that they wanted to look at it privately, together as a family before making any decisions. Period. CNN finally heard their request enough times that they had to accept it, agreed to abide by the clear wishes of the Stevens family, and pledged not to use the diary or even allude to its existence until hearing back from the family.
But the Stevens family was never given that chance. I guess four days was as long as CNN could control themselves, so they just went ahead and used it. Entirely because they felt like it. Anderson Cooper didn't even bother to offer any other explanation as to why the network broke its promise to the family. And only did so after being contacted by a reporter asking about the diary and their convoluted sourcing.
How do they justify that? They have yet to even try to defend the indefensible. Not a proud episode in CNN's history. I'm sure there are many good people in the CNN newsroom equally appalled by this decision and wondering who above them authorized this course of action.