State Dept. Tells Reporter to "F*ck Off" Over Follow-Up

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 24 2012 2:54 PM

The State Dept. Really Doesn't Want To Keep Talking About the Ambassador's Diary CNN Found

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Then-Sen. Hillary Clinton refuses to take questions while waiting for an elevator with her press secretary Philippe Reines at the U.S. Capitol in 2009

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

In case we needed any more proof of the rising tensions between the State Department and the press over this month's attack at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, BuzzFeed gave it to us this afternoon when they published a combative email exchange between one of its reporters and a State Department spokesman that included these gems: "Why don't you give answers that aren't bullshit for a change?" (reporter to spokesman) and "by good day, I mean Fuck Off" (from spokesman to reporter).

The State Department official in question is Philippe Reines, a longtime aide to Hillary Clinton, and the reporter is Michael Hastings, perhaps best known for his 2010 Rolling Stone profile of U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal that prompted his resignation as commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

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You can read the full exchange over at BuzzFeed, but, in short, the exchange begins with Hastings pressing Reines about his weekend statement that called CNN's decision to report information it found in a private journal written by Ambassador Chris Stevens that it discovered at the American compound in the days after the attack "disgusting" and an "indefensible" violation of privacy. From there, things quickly got testy, with Hastings suggesting the State Department is waging a "disinformation" campaign and Reines accusing Hastings of being "needlessly antagonistic." For good measure, the two managed to pepper in a few personal shots as well. Then things really got good.

"Why don't you give answers that aren't bullshit for a change?" Hastings wrote.

Reines countered [sic]:


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

(It's worth noting that early on in the exchange, Reines pretty much dares Hastings to publish his email: "And you should feel free to use every word above, in its entirety. Though I suspect you won't.")

For those who haven't been following this story closely, a quick refresher: CNN says that one of its reporters found Stevens' journal three days after the attack "on the floor of the largely unsecured consulate compound" where he was killed. The network then reached out to Stevens' family "within hours" and returned the journal to them via the State Department—but not before reading and transcribing the journal, which included a passage where Stevens apparently expressed worries about rising security threats in Benghazi.

Reines claims that CNN promised Stevens' family that it would not "use the diary or even allude to its existence" until they gave the network permission. The network, however, didn't stop working while waiting to hear back from the family. CNN reporters managed to confirm the details through other sources, clearing the way for Anderson Cooper to report Stevens' fears Wednesday citing "a source familiar with Ambassador Stevens’ thinking." Then Friday, faced with questions from other media outlets about its convoluted sourcing, Cooper told his audience about the journal.

CNN has defended its decision to report the info—and many in the journalism world have likewise applauded their decision—based on the premise that Stevens' fears were newsworthy, particularly because the White House and the State Department were slow to confirm that the attack on the consulate had been the work of terrorists, something Republicans have accused the White House of doing to downplay a threat for which it was unprepared.

"Perhaps the real question here is why is the State Department now attacking the messenger," CNN said in a statement over the weekend.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. Follow him on Twitter.