Asymmetrical Information - Megan McArdle

09.24.12

State Department Aide Tells Reporter to ‘Fuck Off’

Clinton Aide Philippe Reines fires off an angry expletive to reporter Michael Hastings.

I've never seen a government official get quite this testy with a reporter. According to BuzzFeed, Clinton aide Philippe Reines sent quite the stream of profanity to one of their reporters:  

On Sunday morning, BuzzFeed correspondent Michael Hastings emailed Philippe Reines, Hillary Clinton's longtime aide and personal spokesman at the State Department, asking a series of pointed questions about State's handling of the Benghazi fiasco, and Reines' over-the-top attack on CNN. The emails quickly got personal, with Reines calling Hastings an "unmitigated asshole" before an exchange of harsh words on both sides.

Really, you need to read the whole thing. To be sure, Hastings was being quite provoking. But I'm not sure what Reines was thinking. There is virtually no situation in which telling a reporter to fuck off is going to enhance your image. Like most people who spend a lot of time in the public eye, I have been provoked into hauling out the howitzers a few times in my career. And I have regretted doing so more than once. But to the best of my memory, I have never actually aimed them at my own head as unerringly as Reines seems to have done.

And while Hastings was being rather agressive, he was asking real questions that Americans have the right to know the answer to. I'm not sure what I think of CNN's decision to use Ambassador Stevens's diary, but there is no "fruit of the poison tree" restriction on journalists using information that has leaked, even if you question the leaker's ethics.  

The information revealed in that diary—that Stevens was worried about the security situation in Benghazi for months before the attack—does seem to raise questions about what he was doing there unprotected, and reporter Michael Hastings was right to ask those questions, even if I personally would have used a much less aggressive tone.  

Getting outraged about the violation of Stevens' privacy does not relieve the administration's obligation to explain how this happened. And losing your temper with a reporter just makes it seem like the questions are hitting a little too close to home.