NEW YORK -- Anderson Cooper revealed Friday night that CNN had found U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens' personal journal following the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed him and acknowledged the network used the journal in its reporting without previously disclosing the source.
On Wednesday on his show, "Anderson Cooper 360," Cooper told Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that "a source familiar with Ambassador Stevens' thinking told us that in the months before his death he talked about being worried about the never-ending security threats that he was facing in Benghazi and specifically about the rise in Islamic extremism and growing al Qaeda presence." The source, Cooper continued, "also mentioned [Stevens] being on an al Qaeda hit list."
But what Cooper didn't reveal at the time was that CNN's sourcing was tied, at least partially, to Stevens' thinking as written in his personal journal.
The Huffington Post reached out to CNN Friday afternoon after receiving a tip that the network may have obtained Stevens' journal. CNN had no immediate comment, but referred to Cooper's comments after they aired.
On Friday's "Anderson Cooper 360," which airs at 8 p.m., Cooper acknowledged the network had obtained the journal and that it played a role in CNN's reporting.
On Wednesday of this week, we reported that a source familiar with Ambassador Stevens' thinking said in the months before his death, Ambassador Stevens talked about being worried about what he called the never-ending security threats in Benghazi.
We also reported that the ambassador specifically mentioned the rise in Islamic extremism, the growing Al Qaeda presence in Libya and said he was on an Al Qaeda hit list. The information for that report, like all of CNN's reporting, was carefully vetted. Some of that information was found in a personal journal of Ambassador Stevens in his handwriting.
We came upon the journal through our reporting and notified the family. At their request, we returned that journal to them. We reported what we found newsworthy in the ambassador's writings. A reporter followed up on what we found newsworthy, as I said, in the ambassador's writings.
Shortly after 1 a.m. Saturday, CNN published an un-bylined story online with more details about the journal, saying it was found Sept. 15 "on the floor of the largely unsecured consulate compound where [Stevens] was fatally wounded." From the CNN.com story:
CNN notified Stevens' family about the journal within hours after it was discovered and at the family's request provided it to them via a third party.
The journal consists of just seven pages of handwriting in a hard-bound book.
For CNN, the ambassador's writings served as tips about the situation in Libya, and in Benghazi in particular. CNN took the newsworthy tips and corroborated them with other sources.
A source familiar with Stevens' thinking told CNN earlier this week that, in the months leading up to his death, the late ambassador worried about what he called the security threats in Benghazi and a rise in Islamic extremism.
CNN has done extensive reporting in the 10 days following the consulate attack and had senior international correspondent Arwa Damon reporting on the ground in Benghazi shortly after the attack. And according to the un-bylined article, CNN only used the journal for "tips" and therefore the "source familiar with Ambassador Stevens' thinking" is not Stevens' own writing.
But it's still unclear to what extent the journal played into CNN's reporting, and most importantly, why the network did not reveal having seen it until Friday night on air. It's also unclear why CNN did not immediately return the journal to the authorities investigating the attack. (The State Department did not immediately offer comment Friday regarding the journal).
"We came upon the journal through our reporting and notified the family," a CNN spokeswoman told The Huffington Post late Friday night. "At their request, we returned it to them. We reported on what we found newsworthy in the Ambassador's writings."
UPDATE: 3:27 p.m. -- The Wall Street Journal reports that CNN aired its reports based on the contents of Stevens' journal against the wishes of his family.
The Wall Street Journal reports that "family members and State Department officials said CNN agreed during the Sept. 14 conference call to hold off on using the diary until the family had a chance to review its contents."
The CNN.com report published early Saturday morning stated the network obtained the journal, or diary, four days after the consulate attack, which would have been Sept. 15. But according to this new report, CNN had it on Sept. 14.
Also, the Wall Street Journal reveals more details about the exchange.
The State Department enlisted the aid of the Italian envoy because U.S. diplomats evacuated the city after the Sept. 11 attack. The State Department had arranged for the Italian diplomat to safeguard the diary until it could be handed over to American officials in Tripoli. It will then be brought to the U.S., where the family will be able to take possession of it.
But family members and U.S. officials were surprised when CNN anchor Anderson Cooper appeared to use the information from the journal by attributing it to a source familiar with Mr. Stevens's thinking.
UPDATE: 9:01 p.m. -- CNN issued a new statement Saturday night, giving a fuller explanation of its decision to reveal having had Stevens' journal and to respond to the State Department's criticism of the network's actions as "indefensible."
CNN did not initially report on the existence of a journal out of respect for the family, but we felt there were issues raised in the journal which required full reporting, which we did. We think 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.
As we said, we had multiple sources on Anderson Cooper's report Wednesday night.
The reason CNN ultimately reported Friday on the existence of the journal was because leaks to media organizations incorrectly suggested CNN had not quickly returned the journal, which we did. We reached out to the family of Ambassador Stevens within hours of retrieving the journal and returned it through a third party, within less than 24 hours from the time we found it. Out of respect to the family, we have not quoted from or shown the journal.
UPDATE: 10:42 p.m. -- The State Dept. issued a blistering response Saturday night, calling CNN's handling of Stevens' journal "disgusting." Full statement here.
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