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I can't honestly say I blame him for the sentiment, but it was probably not smart for Hillary Clinton's personal spokesman Phillipe Reines to dash off an email telling Buzzfeed reporter Michael Hastings to "have a good day. And by good day, I mean f*ck off."
It was, at the very least, undiplomatic in a situation where such a lack of discretion might not cause anyone to blow up a city, but could still blow up a news cycle or two at a crucial moment in the Obama campaign. So yes, it was undiplomatic and should have been handled with more finesse.
With that said, I totally understand why he did, and view this particular exchange as an interesting window into our fourth estate and their "unbiased" reporting.
Here were the questions originally sent to Reines by Hastings:
A few quick questions for you. Why didn't the State Department search the consulate and find AMB Steven's diary first? What other potential valuable intelligence was left behind that could have been picked up by apparently anyone searching the grounds? Was any classified or top secret material also left? Do you still feel that there was adequate security at the compound, considering it was not only overrun but sensitive personal effects and possibly other intelligence remained out for anyone passing through to pick up? Your statement on CNN sounded pretty defensive--do you think it's the media's responsibility to help secure State Department assets overseas after they've been attacked?
followed were asked in relation to *this article by Hastings, where he seemed to be defending CNN against some very real pushback from the Department of State over their report on Ambassador Stevens' personal diary, which was found after the attack.
Reines correctly pointed out that all US government personnel had been removed from the area and were therefore unavailable to recover personal items from the embassy. As I explained at the time, consulates have a different security scheme than embassies do, and in any event, security personnel would first be responsible for removing and securing classified information, not a personal diary.
This is essentially what Reines told Hastings in his first response to the questions, which he viewed as "needlessly antagonistic." In addition, Reines expanded on why he, and by extension, the State Department, was angry with CNN's reporting on the diary.
More than anything else, I believe that CNN - since they had already read every word of the diary before calling the family on Friday the 14th, the day Chris's remains were returned home - had all the information they needed at that point to make an editorial decision on whether the contents of the diary compelled them to report on it. I believe the time to invoke their standards to justify using the diary came six days late. I believe that CNN, if they felt strongly that they had an obligation to use the diary should never have presented the family with a choice in the first place that they'd later disregard.
I don't believe that CNN should get credit for issuing a flimsy confession only when caught with their hands in the cookie jar. I believe the statement CNN issued late last night, 24 hours after Anderson Cooper's ill-conceived statement on air, basically says they agreed not to use it until they didn't feel like it anymore, and only admitted to it when they were about to be caught. I don't believe that's much of a profile in courage.
Lastly, I believe that you of all people, after famously being accused of violating agreed upon ground rules and questionable sourcing, would agree that it's important for a news organization to maintain its own integrity if it is to be trusted. That begins with keeping its word. If you can't manage that, then don't give it.
CNN reported on September 20th that "sources" revealed Stevens' concerns about the security in Benghazi.
In fact, reporter Arwa Damon found Stevens' journal on the 14th, and their reports were based upon what was written in the journal, with outside corroboration. CNN contacted the family to see if they wanted it back, which they did.
It was a personal journal. It had personal writing in it. CNN VP and Managing Editor Mark Whitaker discussed how CNN used it in their reporting while not disclosing it as the source for their reports Monday on Soledad O'Brien's show:
State Department officials got involved in the middle of all of this. But when we talked directly to the family, their main concern was they wanted the physical journal back and they didn't want personal details from the journal revealed. We felt we had to respect that, and as a result we didn't immediately report on the existence of the journal or any of those details.
However, we thought there was a legitimate national interest in pursuing this question of the possible terror threat. And, therefore, we continued to report over the following days and got extra sources about the ambassador's thinking and other evidence of a security threat. And then last Wednesday, we did a report on "Anderson Cooper 360" in which we laid out all the evidence we had purely on the national security issue, which we thought was the only thing that we were interested in pursuing. And we did not at that point divulge that some of this came directly from the journal out of respect for the family.
Here's the video:
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Here's a news flash for the news hounds: Not a day goes by in these countries that diplomats aren't dealing with the very real possibility they will be targeted by hostile groups in these countries. Whether it's Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan or Israel, they live with that danger daily. Here's another news flash for him: There's no way that even if a consulate had a full contingent of Marines it would necessarily have stood up against the mob that came at the embassy that night. Lest we forget, it was fire that killed Stevens.
CNN seems to be trying to manufacture some kind of equivalent to the Iran hostage-taking in 1979, and of course, that would fit nicely into the right-wing comparison of Carter and Obama, too. It seems to me nothing more than an effort to take President Obama's foreign policy strength and make it a weakness while ignoring the reality of what life is like for diplomats stationed all over the world. There are no "safe" posts abroad. It could be Indonesia, or Iraq. It could be Israel, or Berlin. Security is fleeting, only as real as getting from point A to point B without endangering one's own life or someone else's.
If I were Hillary Clinton's spokesman, I'd take that personally, too, particularly since Hastings concern-trolled about Hillary's "legacy"
before sending those questions on to Reines in the final article.*
So yes, Reines shouldn't have ended his email the way he did. But then, Hastings shouldn't have replied to that dismissal with this:
Hah--I now understand what women say about you, too! Any new complaints against you lately?
How does this resemble "objective" journalism even a little bit? And why toss in the jab at the end about women and complaints?
This seems like some kind of a personal grudge being played out in an email exchange purporting to be about reporting the "truth" of the Libya attack. I'm not sure how anyone gets to the truth of something this way. To me, it makes all of them look stupid and petty. It certainly doesn't clarify or in any way help to shed light on questions of national security or how our diplomats are protected in foreign countries with hostile elements.
Fewer agendas, fewer grudges, and an honest search for the truth would seem to be the antidote to email exchanges like this. Oh, and respect. On both sides.
*corrected to reflect timing of questions in relation to article on Hillary's 'legacy'.