[Marxism] John Miller, NSA whitewasher, joins DiBlasio's police department
lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Jan 4 16:43:56 MST 2014
NY Times December 22, 2013
When ‘60 Minutes’ Checks Its Journalistic Skepticism at the Door
By DAVID CARR
Last week, a study commissioned by the president concluded that the
National Security Agency had reached too far into the private lives of
Americans. The study, which came after a series of journalistic
revelations exposing the agency’s surveillance practices, recommended
numerous reforms that would curb the N.S.A.’s prerogatives. President
Obama said he was “open to many” of the suggestions.
It was exactly the kind of news-making moment that “60 Minutes” —
America’s leading purveyor of serious television news — has often been
responsible for creating. For more than four decades, the program has
exposed C.I.A. abuses, rogue military contractors and hundreds of
But where was “60 Minutes” on the N.S.A. story? The Sunday before the
damning study, the program produced a segment that scanned as a friendly
infomercial for the agency. Reported by John Miller, a CBS News
reporter, the piece included extensive interviews with Gen. Keith
Alexander, the director of the N.S.A.
In a scene that served as something of a metaphor for the whole segment,
the producers negotiated access to the Black Chamber, a supersecret area
where the nation’s top code breakers work. The door is briefly opened,
we see a deserted office hall that looks like any other and then the
door is closed. We get a look in, but we learn nothing.
Coming as it does on the heels of the now-discredited Benghazi report —
in which “60 Minutes” said it was fooled by an eyewitness who was
apparently nothing of the kind — the N.S.A. segment raises the question
of whether the program has not just temporarily lost its mojo, but its
skepticism as well. It didn’t help that the day after the piece aired, a
federal judge ruled that the agency’s program of collecting phone
records was most likely unconstitutional.
In between its coverage of Benghazi and the N.S.A., “60 Minutes” drew
criticism for letting Amazon promote a drone delivery program that is
years from actually happening, if it happens at all. It was a fanciful
look at the commercial future, though Charlie Rose, the reporter, also
asked Jeff Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon, some tough questions:
whether providing cloud services to the C.I.A. was a conflict, and
whether its “ruthless” pursuit of market share was fair.
Let’s stipulate that “60 Minutes” has been and continues to be a
journalistic treasure, which just this year has done hard-hitting pieces
on the damaging practices of credit report agencies, the high rate of
suicide among returning veterans, and how tainted pain medication that
caused fungal meningitis killed dozens and sickened hundreds. Mr. Rose
also landed an interview with the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad,
about chemical weapons. At a time when both the definition and execution
of news has dimmed, “60 Minutes” stands out.
Historically, the news that “60 Minutes” was in the lobby or on the
phone has struck fear in the hearts of both the stalwart and the venal.
The show made its targets quake and audiences thrill as it did the hard,
often amazing work of creating consequence and accountability.
But in the last few months, there have been significant lapses into
credulousness, when reporters have been more “gee whiz” than “what
gives?” The news that “60 Minutes” is calling could be viewed as less
ominous and more of an opportunity. More than once this year, the show
has traded skepticism for access.
When it comes to the access game, everyone, even “60 Minutes,” plays
ball on occasion. When it seeks to lighten things up, as it did with
Taylor Swift, or Maggie Smith of “Downton Abbey,” no one expects hidden
cameras or brutal interrogations. Everyone, including the audience,
knows the score.
But viewers expect the show to bring its A game, and deserve it, when it
takes on a huge issue like the N.S.A., to serve as a stand-in for the
American people and ask the uncomfortable questions.
Mr. Miller is a former high-ranking official in the Office of the
Director of National Intelligence and a former spokesman of the F.B.I.
whose worldview is built on going after bad guys and keeping the rest of
us safe. In his report, Mr. Alexander was allowed to parse his
responses, suggesting that the collection and retention of telephone
metadata from Americans is not a big deal — it is — and that the agency
is “not collecting everybody’s email, we’re not collecting everybody’s
phone things.” The report delivered to the president last week said that
the agency was doing a great deal of both and that it should stop.
After taking over “60 Minutes” from Don Hewitt less than 10 years ago,
Jeffrey Fager has managed to maintain the journalistic momentum of the
news division’s crown jewel. In 2011, he was named chairman of CBS News,
and since then has earned high marks for helping restore hard news at
the evening news program and developing a distinct identity for “CBS
This Morning” by emphasizing topical coverage.
But people inside and outside the news division have questioned whether
those dual roles are stretching him too thin. An internal CBS
investigation into the Benghazi fiasco cited fundamental lapses in
execution, including missed opportunities to check the story of Dylan
Davies, a contractor who had told conflicting accounts about his
whereabouts on the night of the attacks on the American diplomatic mission.
Of course, any news organization can be fooled — The New York Times
famously fell short with its reports of supposed weapons of mass
destruction in the run-up to the Iraq war — but it was hard to watch the
N.S.A. segment and not wonder who was minding the store.
On what planet is it fine for someone like Mr. Miller, a former federal
law enforcement official, to be the one to do a big segment on a major
government security agency? Mr. Miller got the story because the N.S.A.
said yes to his pitch — why would it not? — but other journalists at “60
Minutes” without his potential conflicts were interested as well. No
matter how the deal was brokered, the optics were terrible and the
N.S.A. got its hands on a megaphone with nary a critic in sight.
Mr. Fager would not speak on the record, perhaps in part because he was
pummeled after initially defending the Benghazi broadcast; when it fell
apart, he was forced to put Lara Logan, the reporter, and the producer
on leave. But while declining to comment, he made it clear that he very
much had his eye on the ball at “60 Minutes” and pushed back against any
notion of institutional malaise.
Mr. Miller was more than happy to explain his N.S.A. segment, which he
said he would not change if he had the chance. As a reporter, he has a
blend of insider knowledge and careful inquiry that has been lauded by
many, including me, especially during the school shootings in Newtown,
Conn. He is nothing if not confident, dismissing his critics as
ankle-biting, agenda-ridden bloggers who could not be compelled to get
out of their pajamas and do actual reporting.
“I fully reject the criticism from you and others,” he told me. “The
N.S.A. story has been a fairly one-way dialogue. There has been no
conversation and when you do hear from the N.S.A., it is in a terse,
highly vetted statement.”
“We went there, we asked every question we wanted to, listened to the
answers, followed up as we wished, and our audience can decide what and
who they believe. As we constructed it, the N.S.A. was a story about a
debate, not a villain, and we added to that debate with important
information. I fail to understand how a shrill argument for the sake of
creating televised drama would have accomplished anything.”
Mr. Miller is a highly respected reporter, and stand-up enough to come
on the phone and defend his work. (He is reportedly heading back into
government to work for his former boss, William Bratton, in the New York
City Police Department.) But I’m pretty sure that the credentials that
make him valuable on a mass shooting are the same ones that create a
conflict on the N.S.A. segment. And Ms. Logan, who raced past
conflicting information to a predetermined conclusion and pulled the
program into a ditch in the process, should get more than Christmas off
for her lapses.
The DNA of “60 Minutes” is adversarial, investigative and most of all
accurate. It would be a cheap and easy trick to roll Mike Wallace back
from the grave for the sake of contrast, but of course the N.S.A. would
not have let him near the place. Maybe that is the point. “60 Minutes”
is a calling, not an assignment, and the program should not be the kind
of outfit that leaves its skepticism at the door to get inside.
Email: carr at nytimes.com;
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