State Department condemns CNN for reporting contents of dead ambassador’s diary

Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012.   (AFP Photo/Getty Images/Alex Wong)
Days after US Ambassador Christopher Stevens died in a Sept. 11 attack in Libya, CNN found his personal journal at the scene of the attack. After promising Stevens’ family not to report on the contents of the journal, the news channel has covered it.

State Department spokesperson, Philippe Reines, announced Saturday that the CNN had reported on the personal journal despite objections from Stevens’ family, calling the media outlet’s actions “indefensible.”

Reines said that in a phone call with the family of the slain ambassador, CNN “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 as the family had not yet made a decision regarding CNN’s use of the diary after four days, the channel appears to have grown impatient and used the information anyway.

Four days later “was as long as CNN could control themselves, so they just went ahead and used it,” Reines said. “Entirely because they felt like it.”

CNN’s Anderson Cooper first mentioned the diary Friday, after previous reports expressed Stevens’ fears that he was on an al-Qaeda hit list. While on-air, Cooper said some of the information relayed by the channel was based on the personal journal, which CNN had come across in its reporting in Benghazi. Cooper said he reported some of the information that he found newsworthy.

There were issues raised in the journal which required full reporting,” wrote on its website. But Reines did not believe newsworthiness a good enough excuse for breaching the promise made to the ambassador’s family.

“Anderson Cooper didn’t even bother to offer any other explanation as to why the network broke its promise to the family,” Reines said.

On Saturday, published an article defending its actions. The channel wrote that it took snippets from the ambassador’s diary and corroborated them with other sources, thereby not publishing information based solely on the journal. The late Ambassador Stevens had expressed worry about security threats in Benghazi, as well as a rise in Islamic extremism, the article wrote.

After the CNN reporter found the journal, the channel, at the request of the State Department, had it sent to the Stevens’ family within hours of discovering it. But the state department spokesman said CNN was in the wrong for sharing the deceased ambassador’s personal thoughts with the newsroom before notifying the family.

Whose first instinct is it 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 then call the family?” Reines asked.

The journal included seven handwritten pages, including passages expressing Stevens’ concern that he was on a “hit list.”

Stevens died in a US consulate attack in Benghazi following the release of the controversial YouTube video, “Innocence of Muslims,” which sparked outrage among those who felt offended by the negative depiction of Prophet Mohammed. While some blame the attack on the video, others have speculated that it was a pre-planned attack linked to terrorism. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called the Benghazi attack a “spontaneous” response to the film, but that claim was soon disputed by a senior counterterrorism official.

We are looking at indications that individuals involved in the attack may have had connections to al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda’s affiliates, in particular al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghred,” said Matt Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center, during a Senate hearing.

In its statement, CNN raised the question about why the State Department is “now attacking the messenger” for expressing the ambassador’s fears of a potential terror threat before the attack.

But Reines says the actions are “not a proud moment in CNN’s history.”