Media critic

In a chat this morning on his own network, CNN Worldwide Executive Vice President and Managing Editor Mark Whitaker stuck closely to key talking points on the network’s intense spat with the State Department over the journal of slain U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. He noted that the network took quick steps to return the journal to the Stevens family after one of its correspondents found it and he talked about showing respect to the family.

But check out the bolded part of the transcript below:

We also talked to [the family] about what we could report because we thought that there were legitimate — there were a lot of newsworthy issues that were raised specifically on the issue of what the ambassador thought about possible terror threats and the fact that he might actually be a target of al Qaeda. State Department officials got involved in the middle of all of this, but when we talked directly to the family, their main concern was that they wanted the physical journal back and that they didn’t want personal details from the journal revealed. We felt we had to respect that and as a result we didn’t immediately report on the existence of the journal or any of those details.

Bolded text added to highlight what the apparent frustration of CNN about the control-freaky ways of the State Department in this whole journal dustup. When a top CNN executive discussed the journal with a Stevens family member on Sept. 14, at least three State Department officials participated in the conference call. Talk about close monitoring.

State maintains that it didn’t just thrust itself into the matter — the Stevenses, it says, requested its assistance after a CNN staffer contacted a member of the family regarding the journal, according to State Department spokesman Philippe Reines.

Yet here’s the thing: Over the weekend, a CNN source told this blog that the network tried on various occasions to contact the Stevens family independently of State Department participation. All such efforts came to naught, said CNN. Another wrinkle is that the Stevens family member who negotiated with CNN declined to give an e-mail address to the network, according to Reines. (This blog’s own attempt to get comment from the family went nowhere: Two relatives reached yesterday on the phone declined to address the issue).

These logistical considerations matter. CNN may well have needed to multiple discussions with the family about what it was thinking, how it was approaching the issues and so on. If if couldn’t reach the family without State Department minders present, well then, what does that say?