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Did Ratings or Duty to Public Pressure CNN to Cross Lines on Stevens Journal?

“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,” the representative said “Perhaps the real question here is why is the State Department now attacking the messenger.” – CNN representative [Family Protests CNN's Use of Slain Envoy's Journal]

IT BEGAN on Wednesday, when Anderson Cooper told Sen. John McCain, “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.” At the same time, Anderson Cooper also reported that Stevens had “also mentioned [Stevens] being on an al Qaeda hit list,” which I wrote about earlier last week, though couldn’t inform via a source, because CNN hadn’t revealed it yet. What no one reading or listening to the CNN reports knew is that the information being revealed had been secretly discovered from a journal undisclosed by CNN as the actual source of the information Cooper was unloading without attribution. It all began to be unpacked by Michael Calderon of Huffington Post on Saturday.

The video of Cooper above admitting part of the details comes amid CNN’s faltering reputation, ratings implosion and the demise of their clout in cable news. It’s a stunning sequence of events that continues to bring up questions of ethics and practices, as well as how far a news organization will go today to get news.

On the other side is the duty to reveal important information at a time when the Administration is not being clear about the events surrounding the Benghazi terrorist attack that killed Ambassador Stevens and 3 other Americans, as well as Libyans trying to help them, with questions swirling about the adequacy of security before the terrorist attack on 9/11.

Here’s the transcript of the Cooper video above:

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.

That was on Friday night, which led to a story with the byline CNN Wire staff, which came as a follow up after midnight on Saturday.

Four days after he was killed, CNN found a journal belonging to late U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. The journal was found on the floor of the largely unsecured consulate compound where he was fatally wounded. [...] 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 finds, returns journal belonging to late U.S. ambassador

The unraveling started when Huffington Post had received a tip that CNN “may have obtained” Stevens’ journal, so they began reaching out to the cable network to verify what they’d learned, with Calderone doing the reporting.

Now the Wall Street Journal is reporting the family of Stevens had spoken with CNN and there was an agreement for nothing to be disclosed.

Family members said they knew Mr. Stevens kept a diary but didn’t know what was in the journal obtained by CNN. The news organization initially provided the family with a transcript it prepared from the journal.

State Department officials said they then made arrangements for CNN to hand over the diary to an Italian diplomat in Benghazi. CNN says it handed over the journal to a third party acting on behalf of the family within a day of finding it.

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 said it had arranged for the Italian diplomat to safeguard the diary until it could be handed over to American officials in Tripoli, and that it would then be brought to the U.S., where the family would be able to take possession of it.

Family members and U.S. officials said they were surprised when CNN anchor Anderson Cooper appeared to use the information from the journal, attributing it to a source familiar with Mr. Stevens’s thinking.

On Saturday, State Dept. spokesman Philippe Reines gave a blistering statement to Huffington Post about the use of Ambassador Chris Stevens’ journal in the CNN reports. It is reprinted below in full.

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 Unites 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.

CNN is getting creamed for reporting on Ambassadors Stevens journal, though the real issue is not revealing the sourcing initially. The secrecy of sourcing and how Anderson Cooper revealed the information is clearly suspect, especially the use of the word “found” in conjunction with the diary.

It’s understandable that the Stevens family would not want the information disclosed, nor would the State Department.

Again the issue goes back to how the information was released on CNN. Because the fact remains this is valuable news that’s important to the Benghazi terrorist attack, which sheds light on how Stevens was feeling prior to his assassination, as well as the clear security threats under which he was living. Were they relayed to the State Department and the Libyan government? Questions abound and none of them are comfortable to ask or answer for the Administration.

The information from the Stevens diary also isn’t anything that the Administration would want shared with the public before they and investigators could go through it.

Impeding an F.B.I. investigation is a serious event for a news organization, which certainly swirls around CNN’s reporting.

The question has to be asked, however, if CNN hadn’t disclosed what they’d found, though they did it in an unethical manner, would the State Department or the Administration shared the information with the public, which included that Stevens thought he was on an Al Qaeda hit list, as well as dangers to the consulate prior to the 9/11 attack?

CNN’s lack of judgment in sharing the information without disclosing the source, which could have come with the statement under the video above as to the duty they felt to share the with the public the information, would have at least kept CNN from setting themselves and Anderson Cooper up to become the story and distract from facts surrounding the terrorist attack that are critically important.

Taking the heat from the Stevens family, the State Department, as well as the Administration is one thing. Keeping an oath to viewers and to the craft of journalism is another. Then there is the legality of having the personal journal in the first place and possibly betraying the trust of the family while taking the stance you’re doing a public service and keeping faith with the job of reporting the news.

A lot of elements to this tale, all of which are part of a terrorist attack that occurred on 9/11, with the latest elements heightening the mystery and unease of what actually led up to what occurred on a day of spectacular symbolism for America, but also our enemies.

Nothing is more important than truth and reporting it, not politics, nor a families feelings. Why CNN felt they weren’t on high ground here and didn’t act transparently leads me to believe there are other things we still don’t know. Because if this is all there is and CNN management couldn’t figure out how to report what had happened openly, honestly and through basic journalistic standards the network has got a lot bigger problems than ratings, though it would explain why they can’t get their act together.

It takes leadership to know the right course in difficult moments and act on your purpose in journalism, regardless of what others might say, because you know what you’re reporting is the truth, is news and also of real importance to the public you are supposed to serve.

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24 Responses to Did Ratings or Duty to Public Pressure CNN to Cross Lines on Stevens Journal?

  1. Cujo359 September 23, 2012 at 2:28 am #

    I agree that the story surrounding how CNN obtained the journal is an important one. What was said to the family by whom is interesting from an ethical perspective, but I think that there was important information in it that Americans ought to be aware of. That should trump any promises made to the family. It doesn’t sound like any of the information CNN released from the journal would be personally embarrassing to the family.

  2. guyski September 23, 2012 at 6:37 am #

    Ethics what a quaint word. The family concerns about that journal is one thing, but everyone elses? For the media, the questions are probably more to do with how to ‘massage’, manipulate or suppress what is in the journal then anything else. CNN got it, other media outlets didn’t. That’s all there is to it.

    Journalism is also a quaint word.

  3. secularhumanizinevoluter September 23, 2012 at 7:45 am #

    Frankly I would be far more interested in what the Ambassador reported to the US regarding the situation and threats then what he had written in his diary. CNN has ROYALLY screwed the pooch on this. Who do they have as ethics advisers…Rupert?!!!!!

  4. AliceP September 23, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    CNN steals the journal from the embassy while the smoke is still in the air. The journal of the Ambassador – then skims from it what they think will give them a ratings spike —

    This doesn’t pass the smell test. I hope the FBI nails them.

  5. fangio September 23, 2012 at 12:52 pm #

    ” Four days after he was killed, the journal was found on the floor of the largely unsecured consulate. ” That says it all; it was in plain sight in an unsecured building. They had every right to take it and they had no obligation whatsoever to even tell the family that they had it. The focus here should be on the State Department and their total incompetence; not only do they have their Ambassador in an unsecured building in the middle of a country with armed militias running around just about everywhere, but even after he’s dead they leave a crime scene so unprotected as to let any news organization go trampling through it. It’s lucky that Romney is so incompetent; otherwise, Obama and his first class Secretary of State would have a lot more to worry about.

    • angels81 September 23, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

      You are just dead ass wrong about this. I think your dislike of everything Obama has clouded your view. If this was a terrorist attack, then what CNN did was possibly remove evidence from a crime scene. I ask you when did the press have the right to take a private journal? This wasn’t a government document, it was the man’s private property, it belonged to his family to do whatever they liked, it did not belong to CNN.

      • jjamele September 24, 2012 at 8:19 am #

        I’d like to know how you know it was a private journal. I’d also like to see some documentation on whose property the journal of an ambassador in an embassy overseas actually is- I wouldn’t assume it was the property of the ambassador’s family.

        • angels81 September 24, 2012 at 8:47 am #

          Did you even read the post that Taylor put up? There is no question that this was the mans personal diary. The state department has confirmed it was his personal diary. I know of no law that say’s a ambassador give up his right to privacy. The diary should have been turned over to his family or stayed were it was untouched if it was part of a crime scene. What CNN did was theft, and should be held accountable for that theft.

          • jjamele September 24, 2012 at 10:05 am #

            All I know is what the State Department said. That may be Gospel in your book, but it sure isn’t in mine. I am not going to condemn CNN until I know all the facts. Unlike you, I don’t assume that that the pronouncements of Government officials are automatically facts.

            BTW, even if it was the ambassador’s personal diary, that doesn’t mean that it automatically becomes the property of his family because he died. You would certainly agree (I hope) that the state department is obligated to screen it for potentially delicate information, don’t you?

            This is another knee-jerk reaction- “what CNN did was theft, this was private property.” I’m willing to admit that we simply DO NOT KNOW ENOUGH right now to make a blanket statement either way. But I get that this is not a popular take in the age of instant analysis, instant judgement.

          • angels81 September 24, 2012 at 10:18 am #

            It wasn’t just the state department that said it was his personal diary, CNN has admitted as much. I don’t think just because it was the press that, that gives them the right to remove anything from a crime scene, or remove a private diary from a man who was just killed by terrorists.

    • jjamele September 23, 2012 at 9:19 pm #

      You sound like the innumerable bags of rocks with microphones who make up the right wing chattering class, all of whom are red-faced and screaming that the United States should have a thousand marines armed with automatic assault rifles ready to tear anyone who looks at an American embassy wrong to ribbons. Tom Sullivan the other day said “I dont want apologies, I don’t want whining and begging, I want marines chopping down anyone who steps into our embassy.” So let me ask you- do you want other nations to put little armies into their embassies, including the ones in the United States, too? Or is this just another example of American Exceptionailsm (as in, “America is the exception to the rule?”)

      • cjoblak@hotmail.com September 24, 2012 at 10:09 am #

        I agree Jjamele, we should get all the facts before blaming this terrorist attack on a 14 minute video like, uh, what did you call it, the left wing chattering class, made up of Susan Rice and others like her?

        • angels81 September 24, 2012 at 10:25 am #

          You spend to much time listening to the likes of faux news. Nobody has blamed the video as the reason for the terrorist attack. What the state department has said is, that the terrorist took advantage of people who were in the streets protesting the video to mount their attack on the embassy.

          • PWT September 24, 2012 at 10:37 am #

            From Wikipedia:

            “Five days after the attack, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice appeared on five different Sunday political talk shows: ABC’s This Week,[50] CBS’s Face the Nation,[51] Fox News Channel’s Fox News Sunday,[52] CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley,[53] and NBC’s Meet the Press.[3] She stated that the attacks were a “spontaneous reaction” to “a hateful and offensive video that was widely disseminated throughout the Arab and Muslim world.”

            Rice is not in the State Department, but she was dispatched to speak on it’s behalf.

          • PWT September 24, 2012 at 10:41 am #

            She was dispatched to speak on the Administration’s behalf regardless of her position.

  6. secularhumanizinevoluter September 23, 2012 at 6:35 pm #

    ” If this was a terrorist attack, then what CNN did was possibly remove evidence from a crime scene.”

    Possibly? POSSIBLY?!!!! They straight up STOLE evidence from a crime scene.

    • PWT September 24, 2012 at 10:30 am #

      Finders keepers.

      • angels81 September 24, 2012 at 10:37 am #

        So, the ends justify the means? If a reporter had walked into a murder scene in this country and took as much as a cigarette butt they would be sitting in jail.

  7. newdealdem1 September 23, 2012 at 10:11 pm #

    “Frankly I would be far more interested in what the Ambassador reported to the US regarding the situation and threats then what he had written in his diary.” = Secular

    Thank you, Sec. Finally, someone said what should have been said here. If Stevens felt “he was on an Al Qaeda hit list” he most certainly would have relayed that to someone back home. I want to know if Stevens was indeed feeling he was a target to whom did he express his fear? And, why that person or persons did not respond as he/she should have responded. Also, I want to know the extent to which the inadequate State Department budget (which SOS Clinton has been fighting tooth and nail for) had to do with being unable to provide adequate security for the consulate. There are too many questions left unanswered to make any logical conclusion about what happened.

    Until we know all of the details, all we’re doing is making comments that can only be categorized as rank speculation but that’s nothing new from some commenters on this blog.

    Frankly, if I was on trial even for a misdemeanor, there are few people who post here of whom I would have any confidence in treating me innocent before being proved guilty. And, I say this regardless of where some of these commenters fall on the conservative -> liberal scale.

    I’m kind of fed up with the lies posted here from some posters who lazily bring over Faux noise or Newsmax or Drudge Report. Or those who are so cynical that everyone is guilty before any substantial evidence proves otherwise.

    How about we wait for the all of the investigations to be completed before we come to a conclusion about what happened. That’s what’s called “the right thing to do” or if you will “the true American thing to do”.

  8. PhilaFootSoldier September 23, 2012 at 10:26 pm #

    Can anyone point out the differences between the Wikileaks people and the CNN journalists?

    Did anyone here support the theft of thousands of emails and make heroes of the Wikileaks folks?

    Has CNN done something different than the Wikileaks folks?

    • jjamele September 24, 2012 at 7:27 am #

      “Did anyone here support the theft of thousands of emails and make heroes of the Wikileaks folks?”

      Raises hand.

      When the MSM is the handmaiden of politicians and governments, what Assange and his group did becomes necessary. Forty years after Watergate, you’d think we’d realize that journalism involves breaking the rules set and enforced by Government when the people’s right to know is being violated.

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