The U.S. State Department and CNN are digging in over the cable network’s reporting on murdered U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens' personal journal over his family’s objections, in what has devolved into a personal and public dispute between the agency and the news media.

CNN found the journal inside the charred and damaged U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where Stevens and three other Americans were killed in a Sept. 11 uprising.

The news channel reported online Saturday that it found the journal four days after the attack. It said it took "newsworthy tips" that it confirmed with at least one source familiar with Stevens' thinking, and reported the ambassador wrote he was concerned about security threats in Benghazi and a "rise in Islamic extremism."

A State Department official told Fox News on Monday that issues like the ones mentioned by CNN are being addressed in the ongoing FBI investigation of the attack.

Philippe Reines, a senior adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, called CNN’s actions "indefensible" immediately after the story was published. 

CNN responded by saying it did not initially report on the journal “out of respect for the family,” but decided issues raised in it required full reporting.

"Why is the State Department now attacking the messenger," the channel asked in a written statement.

Fox News has learned that the journal was supposed to be returned to the Stevens’ family through the Italian consul general in Benghazi, but it is unclear whether that has happened.

Michael Hastings, a correspondent for the website BuzzFeed, touched off a tense exchange when he emailed Reines with several questions on Sunday, including why the State Department didn't first search for and find the journal.

The heated exchange, which was captured over several emails and posted on the site, included harsh words and a one four-letter word by Reines, followed by him signing off  “have a nice life.”

Reines did not address the BuzzFeed flap but told Fox News, in part, that “given the truth of how this was handled, CNN patting themselves on the back is disgusting." 

“What they're not owning up to is reading and transcribing Chris' diary well before bothering to tell the family or anyone else that they took it from the site of the attack," Reines continued. "Or that when they finally did tell them, they completely ignored the wishes of the family, and ultimately broke their pledge made to them only hours after they witnessed the return to the United States of Chris's remains." 

"Whose first instinct is to remove from a crime scene the diary of a man killed along with three other Americans serving our country, read it, transcribe it, email it around your newsroom for others to read?” Reines asked.