Foreign Affairs

The journal of Chris Stevens

The journal of Chris Stevens

The State Department is outraged that CNN discovered the personal journal of slain Ambassador Christopher Stevens and reported on some of its contents, before returning it to his family.  The diary was reportedly discovered on the floor of the consulate compound three days after Stevens’ death – raising questions about why the compound was not secured, and why either American or Libyan security forces didn’t discover and secure the diary first.

Philippe Reines, senior advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is hopping mad, accusing CNN of “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.”

The Wall Street Journal confirms that CNN was specifically asked not to report on the journal or its contents by Stevens’ family, which worked with the State Department to set up a conference call with network management shortly after they were notified about the discovery of the book.  According to the WSJ report, “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.”

But during his Friday evening show, CNN’s Anderson Cooper said his network had decided to report “what we found newsworthy in the ambassador’s writing.”  CNN management added, in a statement published online that “the ambassador’s writings served as tips about the situation in Libya, and Benghazi in particular.  CNN took the newsworthy tips and corroborated them with other sources.”

Reines said that it took a good deal of “convincing” to get CNN to return the journal, and that “given the truth of how this was handled, CNN patting themselves on the back is disgusting.” It should be noted that CNN appears to have used material from the journal in its reporting before Cooper admitted on Friday night that Stevens’ personal diary was being used as a news source.

It also seems a little odd that the journal is not being treated as an important national security document, or at least evidence from the “crime scene” that the Administration insists the Benghazi consulate should be treated as.  Actually, the precise nature of Stevens’ writings is not clear from the news reports released thus far.  Was it a personal diary, or a handwritten official log book of some sort?  That would have some bearing on how ethical reporters treat information harvested from the small number of surviving pages.  Reportedly only seven legible pages were recovered, so it obviously didn’t take long for the people who found it to skim through Stevens’ notes – it’s not as if they had a team of analysts poring through hundreds of pages for days on end.

CNN’s journalistic ethics can certainly be questioned, but one cannot help suspecting that some of the State Department’s umbrage stems from how bad Stevens’ diary makes them look.  According to Cooper, the journal corroborates reports from sources “familiar with Ambassador Stevens’ thinking” about “what he called the never-ending security threats, specifically in Benghazi.”

The CNN report also said Stevens “specifically mentioned the rise in Islamic extremism, the growing al-Qaeda presence in Libya, and said that he was on an al-Qaeda hit list,” although the network has not clearly indicated which of these topics were specifically discussed in the journal, versus conversations Stevens had with CNN sources before his death.  CNN continues to insist that it only used the knowledge gleaned from reading the journal to corroborate what other sources had already told it.

The State Department’s handling of the Benghazi attack is still outrageous.  They’ve been refusing to answer questions because the scene of the attack that killed Stevens and three other Americans is under investigation by the FBI, but CBS News reports that the FBI isn’t even in Benghazi yet:

After a week of muttering about “protests” over a YouTube video (which President Obama described as “natural” and understandable) spiraling out of control, most of the Administration is finally willing to admit that Ambassador Stevens was killed in an attack.  They didn’t want to make that admission, especially during the white-hot news cycle immediately following the events of September 11, because it would naturally raise serious questions about why the Ambassador’s protection was so astoundingly inadequate.  Indeed, the Administration is still trying to quibble over just how “pre-planned” an attack involving hundreds of gunmen and heavy weapons must have been.

The growing evidence that Stevens was concerned about his own safety makes those questions even more serious.  The merits of CNN’s handling of the Stevens journal are open to debate, but the Administration is unseemly in its eagerness to change the subject away from its handling of consulate security on 9/11.

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