BuzzFeed correspondent Michael Hastings on Sunday got into a major war of (curse) words with Hillary Clinton's longtime aide and personal spokesman Philippe Reines over the State Department's handling of the total disaster known as the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
The foul-mouthed email exchange starts with Hastings challenging Reines for attacking CNN after the news agency reported that it had obtained murdered Libyan Ambassador Chris Stevens' journal (which the State Department now admits it didn't even know existed).
Here is the full email exchange [via BuzzFeed, WARNING: Coarse language]:
From: Michael Hastings Sent: Sunday, September 23, 2012 10:32 AM To: Reines, Philippe I Subject: Request for comment
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?
Let me know if you have a second.Michael
______________________________________On Sun, Sep 23, 2012 at 11:28 AM, Reines, Philippe I wrote:
Good morning Michael
I'm adding my colleague Toria Nuland who I believe you know. She has addressed much of your questions below during her daily press briefings, so I'll let her weigh in to remind you of what's already been thoroughly answered. As far as the tone of my email, I think you're misreading mine as much as I'm misreading yours as being needlessly antagonistic.
But on your questions pertaining to CNN's handling of the diary:
• You know that all USG personnel were evacuated from Benghazi after the attack. So I'm not sure why you're asking why State didn't find the diary first.
• On material, I'll let Toria reiterate, but the answer is no. Though you might want to ask CNN if they took anything else from the crime scene that they haven't yet told anyone about.
• In terms of the media's responsibility, I'll start with the outlandish statement that I believe the media does have responsibilities. Your question seems to imply they have none and any expectation of responsible behavior is too much to ask. To be specific:I believe CNN had the responsibility to act as human beings and be sensitive to their loss when they first approached the family.
I believe CNN had a responsibility to not make promises to the family it would not keep.
If that's too much to ask, I believe CNN had at the very least a responsibility to make their intentions on the use of Chris's diary clear to the family from the outset.
I believe CNN had a responsibility to not deceive its own viewers for more than 48 hours on the source of their reporting, using convoluted attribution they themselves had to clarify, before admitting it was the diary they were relying on.
I believe that when they finally did admit to using Chris's diary, they had a responsibility to their viewers and to the family to explain why they broke their pledge.
I believe that many within CNN agree with everything I'm saying.
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.
I realize that the way this works is that you only you get to ask me questions, but I have one for you: if you were in Benghazi, went to the scene of the attack, found the ambassador's diary, read every word of it, would you have called them and asked their permission to use it, then when you weren't granted that permission agree that you wouldn't use it in any way, and then a few days later just change your mind?
If the answer is yes, then you obviously agree that CNN handled this perfectly fine.
If the answer is no, if you would have decided its contents demanded reporting immediately, how would you have handled this differently then CNN?
And you should feel free to use every word above, in its entirety. Though I suspect you won't.
______________________________________From: Michael Hastings Sent: Sunday, September 23, 2012 12:04 PM To: Reines, Philippe I Cc: Nuland, Victoria J Subject: Re: Request for comment
Thanks for getting back to me. No, you read my email correctly--I found your statement to CNN offensive.
From my perspective, the scandal here is that the State Department had such inadequate security procedures in place that four Americans were killed. And then the Ambassador's diary--and who knows what else--was left behind for anyone to pick up. Thankfully, it was CNN--and not Al Qaeda or some other militia--that found it and was able to return it to the family. 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.
I don't know how involved Arwa Damon has been in this. But for what it's worth, Arwa is one of the best war correspondents working today. She's consistently risked her life to get these stories, and to find out what actually happens in these conflict zones.I do agree that the media has lots of responsibilities, and CNN fulfilled its responsibility by returning the diary while still managing to inform the American public of newsworthy information. So it's unfortunate that you are trying to make a scapegoat out of CNN. That State was forced to flee Benghazi--again, because of such inadequate security, leaving behind all sorts of sensitive information--tells us more about DoS than CNN.
The misinformation here seems largely to be coming from State and the administration. The defense that the administration has offered that there was no intelligence warning of an attack is weak. If there was no intel, then clearly the CIA and other intel agents stationed in Benghazi weren't doing their jobs well. If there was intel, then we have some kind of cover-up--whether out of incompetence or ass covering before the election or just the trauma of losing four good men, it's hard for me to say at this point.
All the best,
______________________________________On Sun, Sep 23, 2012 at 12:45 PM, Reines, Philippe I wrote:
Why do you bother to ask questions you've already decided you know the answers to?
______________________________________From: Michael HastingsSent: Sunday, September 23, 2012 12:50 PM To: Reines, Philippe I Cc: Nuland, Victoria J Subject: Re: Request for comment
Why don't you give answers that aren't bullshit for a change?
______________________________________On Sun, Sep 23, 2012 at 1:38 PM, Reines, Philippe I wrote: I now understand why the official investigation by the Department of the Defense as reported by The Army Times The Washington Post concluded beyond a doubt that you're an unmitigated asshole.
How's that for a non-bullshit response?
Now that we've gotten that out of our systems, have a good day.
And by good day, I mean Fuck Off
______________________________________From: Michael HastingsSent: Sunday, September 23, 2012 01:40 PM To: Reines, Philippe I Cc: Nuland, Victoria J Subject: Re: Request for comment
Hah--I now understand what women say about you, too!
Any new complaints against you lately?
______________________________________On Sun, Sep 23, 2012 at 1:48 PM, Reines, Philippe I wrote:
Talk about bullshit - answer me this: Do you only traffic in lies, or are you on the ground floor of creating them?
And since Fuck Off wasn't clear enough, I'm done with you. Inside of 5 minutes when I can log into my desktop, you'll be designated as Junk Mail.
Have a good life Michael.
______________________________________From: Michael Hastings Date: Sun, Sep 23, 2012 at 1:50 PM Subject: Re: Request for comment To: "Reines, Philippe I" Cc: "Nuland, Victoria J"
I'll take that as a non-denial denial.
All the best,
As BuzzFeed's own Ben Smith would say: whoa.
Exit Question: How does that old saying go? "Don’t get into fights with people who buy ink by the barrel?"
We're pretty sure the same applies for extraordinarily proactive and prolific online news organizations who have practically unlimited space on this thing called the Internet.
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Front page photo source courtesy the AP. This story has been updated.