“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.