LOS ANGELES – CNN reported on the personal journal of slain American ambassador Christopher Stevens over objections from his family, a State Department spokesman said.
The news channel, in a story posted online Saturday, said that it found a journal belonging to Stevens four days after he died in the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Three other Americans also were killed.
CNN broke a pledge to the late ambassador's family that it wouldn't report on the diary, said State Department spokesman Philippe Reines, a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
In a blistering statement, Reines called CNN's actions "indefensible."
The channel said in the story online that it took "newsworthy tips" from Stevens' diary and confirmed them with other sources. Citing an unidentified source "familiar with Stevens' thinking," CNN said that the ambassador was concerned about security threats in Benghazi and a "rise in Islamic extremism."
In a statement Saturday, CNN defended its use of the journal's contents and asked "why is the State Department now attacking the messenger."
"CNN did not initially report on the existence of a journal out of respect for the family, but we felt there were issues raised in the journal which required full reporting, which we did," the channel said.
The public has a right to know what CNN learned from "multiple sources" about fears and warnings of a terror threat before the Benghazi attack, the channel said, "which are now raising questions about why the State Department didn't do more to protect Ambassador Stevens and other U.S. personnel."
Stevens' family was informed within hours about the discovery of the journal, a hard-bound book that included seven handwritten pages. It was returned to them via a third party, according to CNN's online story.
An Italian official took control of the diary from CNN in Benghazi at the State Department's request, and it is en route back to Stevens' family, the department said.
"Given the truth of how this was handled, CNN patting themselves on the back is disgusting," Reines said in his statement.
"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 and then call the family?" Reines asked.
In a phone call with the Stevens family, CNN "agreed to abide by the clear wishes of the Stevens family, and pledged not to use the diary or even allude to its existence until hearing back from the family," Reines said.
But four days later, "they just went ahead and used it," he said.
The diary was first mentioned on-air Friday by Anderson Cooper, following previous CNN reports that Stevens feared he was on an "Al Qaeda hit list" but did not mention the journal.
Cooper said that some of the information in the reports was based on Stevens' personal journal, which he said CNN came across in its reporting.
In its online story, CNN said it found the journal on the "floor of the largely unsecured consulate compound where he was fatally wounded."
Asked to comment on CNN's report that Stevens was concerned about a "hit list," Reines referred to a news conference last Thursday at which Clinton was asked about it.
"I have absolutely no information or reason to believe that there's any basis for that," Clinton had said.