CNN and the Ambassador’s Journal: Unethical or Ick?

Answer: Ick

Ambassador Chris Stevens, murdered in Libya in what is now finally being described as a planned terrorist attack (and not spontaneous film criticism, as the Obama Administration successfully persuaded the media to claim for more than a week), left a brief hand-written journal behind that somehow was retrieved by CNN instead of the U.S. government. When Anderson Cooper revealed that the journal had been reviewed by reporters and used to cover the story of the Benghazi attack, both the slain diplomat’s family and the State Department criticized the network, which said,

“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.Perhaps the real question here is why is the State Department now attacking the messenger.”

Well, there are interesting theories about that, since what the late Ambassador had written suggests that there was fear of a terrorist attack in the vicinity of the 9/11 anniversary, yet both Secretary Clinton and President Obama went to great lengths to characterize the Benghazi violence as prompted by spontaneous and legitimate rage over an American’s exercise of his right of free speech. There is a rebuttable presumption that the State Department was prepared to bury the implications of what Stevens wrote, since everything else it has done in relation to his murder has been misleading or pusillanimous. In the latter category is using Stevens’ family as its excuse for bashing CNN for delivering on its duty to provide what the public “has a right to know.”

I have scoured various journalism ethics codes for any provision suggesting that when a private or official document providing important information that clarifies an ongoing news story falls into the hands of a news organization, reporters should not thoroughly examine its contents before returning it. I can find none. Yes, the thought of reporters reading through the private thoughts of a murdered man before his family  is distasteful, but that just triggers “the Ick factor,” our  reflex tendency to misidentify what is ugly or strange as unethical. CNN was ethical. And thanks to them, we may ultimately know a lot more about what really happened in Benghazi and why than we would otherwise.


Facts: Wall Street Journal

Source: Fox News

Graphic: CNN

Ethics Alarms attempts to give proper attribution and credit to all sources of facts, analysis and other assistance that go into its blog posts. If you are aware of one I missed, or believe your own work was used in any way without proper attribution, please contact me, Jack Marshall, at

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