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Ambassador journal should have been cited by CNN

Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012

Updated: Thursday, September 27, 2012 00:09

CNN revealed Friday it had used U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens’ journal, which a reporter found at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi three days after deadly attacks killed him and three other Americans on Sept. 11, as a source.

Though CNN returned the notebook to family members, it said in a news release “the ambassador’s writings served as tips about the situation in Libya, and in Benghazi in particular. CNN took the newsworthy tips and corroborated them with other sources.”

Because of the personal nature of Stevens’ journal and national security issues related to its potential contents, CNN should have taken more precautions when reporting on those “tips” by openly disclosing its source.

The apex came last Wednesday, when news anchor Anderson Cooper used material from Stevens’ journal to narrate images of Benghazi.

“A source familiar with Ambassador Stevens’ thinking said the months before his death, he talked about being worried about what he called the never-ending security threads, specifically in Benghazi,” he said. “The source (is) telling us that the ambassador specifically mentioned the rise in Islamic extremism, the
growing al-Qaida presence in Libya and said that he was on an al-Qaida hit list.”

According to a State Department release from spokesman Phillipe Reines, “CNN finally heard (the family’s) 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.”

Yet CNN defended its right to use the information, saying, “we thought the public had a right to know.”

“We thought we had an obligation to pursue the specific … concerns that Stevens had about his safety and about terror threats,” Mark Whitaker, CNN Worldwide managing editor and executive vice president, said to NPR on Tuesday.

CNN had to choose between the need to inform the public or to protect the privacy of the late ambassador. But the main issue was the news network’s failure to disclose the source of information being used.

If journalists can’t be transparent about their own actions they cannot expect to hold others to the same
standards.

Lazy, irresponsible journalism dictated the CNN decision. The source should have been attributed — after all, the public had the right to know.

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