Did CNN commit a serious ethical lapse by keeping deceased Libya ambassador Christopher Stevens’s personal journal and reporting on its contents against the wishes of his surviving family members? The considerable list of people who say “yes” now includes the entire US State Department.

The facts: CNN acknowledges that its crew removed the personal diary of Mr. Stevens from the “largely unsecured” scene where he and three other US citizens died in a coordinated attack on the US embassy in Libya. The network’s reps also acknowledge that they asked members of the Stevens family several times whether they could report on the diary’s content and received word that the family members would have to review the material first. This is fairly standard procedure, no?

According to the Associated Press, CNN initially assured the Stevens family that it wouldn’t use the diary at all but reneged on that promise, citing national security concerns and a need to inform the public. The network’s reps later defended their behavior by accusing the State Department of “attacking the messenger” and insisting that the public “had a right to know” about the information contained within the Stevens diary.

So what was this huge scoop that CNN took from the document? And was it worth the risk they assumed by reporting without permission?

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