CNN often exemplifies the gimmicky, glitzy nature of mainstream news media by “reporting” on non-news like “Full House: Where Are They Now?” and “Pasta-Loving Gaga Puts On 25 Pounds” in between on-air Tweeting.
So when the network decided to look up from their phones for the first time in four years to make an ethically questionable – yet journalistically sound – decision, it’s only natural that everyone (well, mostly the government) kind of freaked out a little.
In the wake of Chris Stevens’ assassination in Libya last week, CNN used the late ambassador’s personal diary – despite earlier promises to Stevens’ family to withhold reporting until their approval – to craft a report which raised significant questions about the State Department’s official stance and response to the crisis. The report underscored Stevens’ unease over the brashness of Islamist militias in the weeks preceding his death, and believed himself to be on an Al Qaeda hit-list, further deepening distrust in the Obama administration’s shaky insistence that the attack was neither pre-meditated nor preventable.
The State Department retaliated immediately by denouncing CNN’s decision to report on the diary, which was discovered by a reporter at the scene of the attack, as “indefensible” and “disgusting.” State Department Representative Phillipe Reines has been particularly vitriolic in his tirade against the network. A heated email exchange published over the weekend between himself and BuzzFeed reporter Michael Hastings ended with a stately “fuck you” from the spokesman, further demonstrating that the Department is resorting to bullying for the lack of a more credible response to the issues at hand.
Several reporters and news agencies came to CNN’s defense, and CNN itself accused the government of “attacking the messenger.” Hastings’ tussle with Reines was followed by an especially acute response. “The scandal here is that the State Department had such inadequate security procedures in place that four Americans were killed” the reporter wrote. “That CNN used portions of the material in the diary they found at the scene – material that appears to contradict the official version of events that State/WH has been putting out – is completely in line with practices of good journalism.”
Though it’s exceedingly simple to call the network out on their frivolous emphasis on social media and often facile reporting, and though their decision to report on a slain diplomat’s personal journal despite objections from his family is superbly morally awkward, their willingness to shed light on the government’s ineptitude and cover-ups is nonetheless admirable.