CNN failed to disclose they got tips for their reports on Ambassador Chris Stevens' thinking before this death from his personal diary they found in Libya, and now there's conflicting stories over whether or not they had permission, or the right, to use it.
Anderson Cooper revealed on his show Friday night that CNN found U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Steven's journal after his death, and that they used it as a source for stories they reported after his death:
Anderson Cooper reminds us of CNN's report from earlier this week, credited to "a source familiar with his thinking," that said Stevens thought he was on an al Qaeda hit list and that he was worried about a rising presence of extremists in the country.
"The information for that report, like all of CNN's reporting, was carefully vetted," he says, but "some of that information was found in a personal journal of Ambassador Stevens in his handwriting." This is where they have to tread carefully. What you should do after when you find the journal of a very recently dead Ambassador, or anyone for that matter, is one of those journalistic gray areas that makes you feel icky inside. "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," Anderson explains.
CNN revealed they found the journal only because The Huffington Post's Michael Calderone found out they had it. He requested a comment from the network on Friday afternoon and never heard back.
Now, the question lies on whether or not the should have reported on its contents. CNN claimed in an unbylined report that they found the journal in an unlocked room on the consulate site, and corroborated the information in the diary with other sources, just like any other tip. They claim to have notified the Ambassador's family "within hours," and to have returned it. The Wall Street Journal 's Adam Entous and Keach Hagey report the family asked for CNN to wait until they gave permission to report the journal's contents, and "were surprised" when they heard Cooper's report on Wednesday night.
State Dept. spokesman Philippe Reines told Calderone that, "given the truth of how this was handled, CNN patting themselves on the back is disgusting." Reines alleges in a lengthy note that CNN "completely ignored the wishes of the family," when they reported on the contents of the journal. "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.
CNN responded with another note justifying their report. "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," the network argues. "We think the public had a right to know what CNN had learned from multiple sources..."
They admit they weren't even going to reveal the existence of the journal until they learned one report was going to make them look bad. "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." Except the question here isn't whether or not they should have returned the diary. That's a pretty simple, "yes." It's whether or not they should have waited for the family's permission to report on its contents in the first place. And the State Department, at least, does not think so.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.