CBS Airs NSA Propaganda Informercial Masquerading As 'Hard Hitting' 60 Minutes Journalism By Reporter With Massive Conflict Of Interest

from the journalism! dept

Last night I started seeing a bunch of folks on Twitter absolutely trashing 60 Minutes. We had mentioned last week that 60 Minutes would be doing something about the NSA, including the revelation that some NSA officials favored granting Snowden asylum, and that Keith Alexander ridiculously stated that people should be held accountable for their actions — without recognizing the irony of that statement when pointed at himself. What we didn’t realize was that the episode of 60 Minutes would be a complete propaganda infomercial for the NSA. Among the many, many, many issues with the program:

  • The reporting was conducted by John Miller, a former intelligence community official (who worked for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA) in a spokesperson role and a variety of historical roles in the intelligence community. While he does “disclose” the ODNI role upfront (but not the others), he left out that he’s about to be hired in an intelligence role for the NYPD, a deal that has been described as “a 99.44 percent done deal.” Also, in the past, when he also worked for the NYPD, he had a bit of a problem with telling the truth. Miller is, clearly, an intelligence industry spokesperson at heart, pretending to be a journalist here.
  • There was not a single hard hitting question asked throughout. It was all softballs. Seriously. Many of the setup questions were the same bogus strawmen we’ve seen the NSA focus on in the past — concerning things like “is the NSA listening to everyone’s calls.” But that isn’t what people are actually concerned about. At no point did they appear to even attempt to ask followup questions when the NSA people made clearly misleading statements, such as those concerning the surveillance of “US persons.”
  • Not a single critic of the NSA was shown during the entire episode. Seriously. Not a single claim by the NSA was refuted or pushed back on. At all. Basically, Miller served up softballs, the NSA hit ’em back, and the “investigative journalists” at 60 Minutes said, “Wow, isn’t that amazing!”
  • They admit that they did this piece because the NSA “invited them in.” In other words, this was purely a propaganda piece from the very outset. The most hysterical thing to watch is the “overtime” bit that they have on the website in which they explain how 60 Minutes got to do this story on the NSA, which reveals that basically the NSA asked them to do this puff piece and then controlled every second of the process. There are even a few outtakes where the NSA “handlers” cut off parts of interviews to tell people what to say.
  • Miller claims he spoke to NSA critics and asked them what they would ask, but that’s not reflected in the questioning at all. He then defends the piece saying that his goal was to let the NSA explain its side of the story, which he argues wasn’t getting enough attention. Seriously.

    Because this is really the side of the story that has been mined only in the most superficial ways. We’ve heard plenty from the critics. We’ve heard a lot from Edward Snowden. Where there’s been a distinctive shortage is, putting the NSA to the test and saying not just ‘We called for comment today’ but to get into the conversation and say that sounds a lot like spying on Americans, and then say, ‘Well, explain that.’”

    Try not to laugh at that. He even claims that he didn’t want it to be a puff piece — which is exactly what it was.

  • The one big “revelation” in the piece involves NSA people implying, but never actually saying, how they stopped some sort of plot to turn everyone’s computers into bricks by infecting the BIOS. But, as lots of people who actually understand this stuff are noting, that segment was pure gibberish:

    There are no technical details. Yes, they talk about “BIOS”, but it’s redundant, unrelated to their primary claim. Any virus/malware can destroy the BIOS, making a computer unbootable, “bricking” it. There’s no special detail here. All they are doing is repeating what Wikipedia says about BIOS, acting as techie talk layered onto the discussion to make it believable, much like how Star Trek episodes talk about warp cores and Jeffries Tubes.

    Stripped of techie talk, this passage simply says “The NSA foiled a major plot, trust us.” But of course, there is no reason we should trust them. It’s like how the number of terrorist plots foiled by telephone eavesdropping started at 50 then was reduced to 12 then to 2 and then to 0, as the NSA was forced to justify their claims under oath instead of in front of news cameras. The NSA has proven itself an unreliable source for such information — we can only trust them if they come out with more details — under oath.

    Moreover, they don’t even say what they imply. It’s all weasel-words. Nowhere in the above passage does a person from the NSA say “we foiled a major cyber terror plot”. Instead, it’s something you piece together by the name “BIOS plot”, cataclysmic attacks on our economy (from the previous segment), and phrases like “would it have worked”.

  • Part of the piece, bizarrely, focused on smearing Ed Snowden based on a completely out of context statement about how he would work at home with a sheet over his head to keep work secret. Given the realities of what the NSA is doing, and what Snowden was up to, that doesn’t sound so strange. Yet, Miller (not the NSA), made it out like Snowden was a wack job for this:

    John Miller: At home, they discovered Snowden had some strange habits.

    Rick Ledgett: He would work on the computer with a hood that covered the computer screen and covered his head and shoulders, so that he could work and his girlfriend couldn’t see what he was doing.

    John Miller: That’s pretty strange, sitting at your computer kind of covered by a sheet over your head and the screen?

    Rick Ledgett: Agreed.

There was more, but it’s more of the same. You have the producers of the episode oohing and ahhing about how the NSA’s headquarters looked like something out of Star Trek, and how they had to fight hard to get the NSA to open a door for the NSA’s “black chamber” — showing a couple of cubicles.

Coming so soon on the heels after 60 Minutes totally bungled a report on Benghazi, you would think that the once respected news program might try a little harder not to post something so obviously ridiculous. But, apparently not. While many have suggested that the NSA communications people should get a raise for pulling off such pure propaganda, some are pointing out that the whole thing was so obviously a bogus puff piece that no one’s buying it. Anthony DeRosa has put together a series of tweets about the episode and hasn’t yet been able to find a single person who reacted positively to it. Not a single one.

It’s no secret that the NSA isn’t very good at PR but, in this case, not only may they have harmed their case, they helped CBS News shoot themselves in the foot, yet again, over whatever shreds of journalistic credibility they may have had.

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Comments on “CBS Airs NSA Propaganda Informercial Masquerading As 'Hard Hitting' 60 Minutes Journalism By Reporter With Massive Conflict Of Interest”

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61 Comments
ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Rick Ledgett: He would work on the computer with a hood that covered the computer screen and covered his head and shoulders, so that he could work and his girlfriend couldn’t see what he was doing.

John Miller: That’s pretty strange, sitting at your computer kind of covered by a sheet over your head and the screen?

Man, Snowden should totally patent that shit. I know of at least a few people who would buy it for their husbands/wives this Christmas so they can continue working on their computer without keeping their significant others awake. Figure out some way to make it fully immersive (sound, video, etc.,) without having that stuff broadcast to folks who are sleeping in the house and that could be a good niche product worth some serious money.

Usually I just keep the computer out of the bedroom, but there is a TV in there and there are some times I wish I had this type of system for the TV too.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’ve actually seen something just like that in a pic, where someone who was on a plane had a cloth something or other that wrapped around the bottom of their laptop, and a ‘tube’ that went over their head, with two other tubes that they stuck their arms in.

Looked more than a little ridiculous(kinda like wearing a jacket upside down now that I think about it), but for privacy when using a I imagine it would be pretty effective.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: It needs to be said

The major American ‘news’ networks have completely abdicated their role as a check against government abuses.

Hence the reason I get most of my ‘news’ from the Daily Show/Colbert Report (on Hulu.) Figure if I am watching Entertainment anyway, I might as well have a good time and I might actually learn more.

CK20XX (profile) says:

Re: Re: It needs to be said

Why is a joke ever funny? Because it’s true on some level. If a joke isn’t true, then it doesn’t make sense and hence isn’t a joke. Good comedians use their wits to call out all sorts of bad behavior by jabbing at the hypocrisy, hubris, and absurdity in it all. They’re like modern day prophets.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: It needs to be said

Good comedians use their wits to call out all sorts of bad behavior by jabbing at the hypocrisy, hubris, and absurdity in it all. They’re like modern day prophets.

True that.

Of course, you know it is humor, which makes it an easier pill to swallow. Some people see the humor and hopefully move on, using it as constructive criticism. The question is whether the criticism is accepted and used to learn better when it comes from humor or from fire-and-brimstone. The old carrot vs. stick argument. I think it works better, but only when the humor is taken to heart.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work, and I fear the higher you go in politics, the less likely it works.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Media Bias...

The “Media” wants Big Govt.

1. Refuses to Question the Big Govt policies (NSA, Drones, IRS, Guantanamo still open, Healthcare.gov has NO security built-in, more to come – stay tuned)

2. Pushes Big Govt Programs (Obamacare ads everywhere, i.e. propaganda)

3. CBS News President David Rhodes and ABC News President Ben Sherwood, both have siblings that not only work at the White House, that not only work for President Obama, but they work at the NSC on foreign policy issues directly related to Benghazi.

4. CNN?s deputy Washington bureau chief, Virginia Mosely, is married to Tom Nides, who was appointed by Obama to work under Hillary as Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources.

5.With not ONE taker of the $100K reward showing a single incident of Tea Party racism, the Media still wants to “stereotype” them as racist and ignore the Black Panther Progressives who want to “kill white people”.

6. David Plouffe, Obama?s former campaign manager, has joined Bloomberg News as a commentator

7. Former senior adviser to the president David Axelrod was hired by MSNBC. (The President went so far as to joke at the latest White House Correspondents? Association dinner that ?? David Axelrod now works for MSNBC, which is a nice change of pace since MSNBC used to work for David Axelrod.?)

8. 14 or more journalists have joined the Obama Administration and taken key posts there. ?Those inside the administration hit 14 this month when the Post?s Stephen Barr joined the Labor Department,? reported the Washington Examiner last February. ?That?s a record, say some revolving door watchers, and could even be much higher: The [Washington] Post reports that ?dozens? of former journalists have joined the administration, although Washington Secrets couldn?t verify that tally.? After all, there?s ?? a whopping 19 journalists and media executives, including five from The Washington Post and three each from ABC and CNN, who?ve gone into the administration or center-left groups supporting the president.?

9. ?NPR?s White House correspondent, Ari Shapiro, is married to a lawyer, Michael Gottlieb, who joined the White House counsel?s office in April.? And, ?The Post?s Justice Department reporter, Sari Horwitz, is married to William B. Schultz, the general counsel of the Department of Human Services

10.?Biden?s communications director, Shailagh Murray (a former Post congressional reporter), is married to Neil King, one of the Wall Street Journal?s top political reporters.?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Media Bias...

“5.With not ONE taker of the $100K reward showing a single incident of Tea Party racism, the Media still wants to “stereotype” them as racist and ignore the Black Panther Progressives who want to “kill white people”.”

How many districts are controlled by the Black Panther Progressives? How many gov’t shutdowns have they caused? BIG difference between the crazy racists in the Tea Party (I don’t care if there isn’t proof that those at the top are racist, those who follow most certainly are) and the Black Panthers you’re referring to.

All that said, AC, you’re painting a picture of this being very 1-sided, which leads to the obvious next step of, “and if the GOP was in charge, all this would be different!” which is a flat-out lie.

Take a step back, realize that both major US parties do every single one of the things you refer to, and then start thinking about how to react to improve things. Shuffling around the chairs on the Titanic isn’t helping.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Media Bias...

You: …I don’t care if there isn’t proof…

Spoken like a TRUE LOSER. You have no proof of what you say…

Black Tea Party members listed below:
Col. Allen West,
Herman Cain,
Dr. Ben Carson,
Kevin Jackson,
Charles Butler,
Alan Keyes,
Lloyd Marcus,
Reverend C. L. Bryant,
Doreen Boreilli,
Charles Payne
Nigel Innis is a chief strategist for the Tea Party and guess what, he’s black, so the next time you hear a liberal call the Tea Party racist all you’re hearing is a scared liberal that will call these people Uncle Toms!

“BLACK TEA PARTY LEADER NIGER INNIS: ?THE SLAVES HAD FOOD STAMPS TOO; IT WAS CALLED SCRAPS FROM MASSA?S TABLE?”
http://www.tpnn.com/black-tea-party-leader-niger-innis-the-slaves-had-food-stamps-too-it-was-called-scraps-from-massas-table/

You: You’re painting a picture of this being very 1-sided,…

Just posted the FACTS, sorry if that hurts your overly sensitive nature…You assumed I’m affiliated with a party, I’m not part of either corrupt organization.

Just ask yourself, “Who wants to stop Big Govt OVER-spending?” If you’re truly not affiliated with a “party”, then you’ll vote for the people who want Smaller Govt like me, not a Dem or GOP.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Media Bias...

.With not ONE taker of the $100K reward showing a single incident of Tea Party racism, the Media still wants to “stereotype” them as racist

The racism of a larger-than-average portion of the Tea Party is plain to see by anybody who isn’t part of the Tea Party. Proof is rampant, and easy to find either in person or with simple web searches.

However, I would never, ever, claim that $100K “reward”. In the first place, I doubt I’d get it, but even if I did, it wouldn’t even come close to being worth the amount of hellfire the Tea Party would unload on me.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Media Bias...

I’m not a Tea Party member or follow the Tea Party. As an Independent, I want ALL held accountable.

You are such a loser –
“The racism of a larger-than-average portion of the Tea Party is plain to see by anyone who isn’t part of the Tea Party. Proof is rampant, and easy to find either in person or with simple web search.”

Provide ONE example of “proof” or stick it up your ass, you lying shit-for-brains.

jameshogg says:

Shhhhhh

This calls for some soothing slogan ideas to calm the situation.

“The NSA. We have nothing to hide and everything to fear.”

“The NSA. Because Al Qaeda can’t be bothered with sending USBs in the post.”

“The NSA. We install backdoors within the enemy’s encryption: because Al Qaeda have kindly let us.”

Shh, no tears. Only dreams now.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Yrt9qkBQ2Q

Richard (profile) says:

CBS is finally in the game!

Given the commercial success of Fox and MSNBC as propaganda outlets in sheep’s, um – news’, clothing, CBS HAS to do something “artistic” to maintain an audience. This is simply another network programming for the average 60+ year-old crowd with an all-the-“news”-the-way-you-wish-it-was approach.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: CBS is finally in the game!

Responding just to the age remark and hoping to give your hope a little boost: I’m not sure that age is the defining factor in mental ossification. I’m a 60+ person and wouldn’t touch network news with a barge pole. Gimme Techdirt, Young Turks, Colbert report, RT, emptywheel, Democracy Now, Guardian, etc.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: CBS is finally in the game!

Yes, thanks, I did notice you said “average” but thought I’d chime in anyway as the voice of yet another of the, hopefully many, not-so-average among us. Sorry, no, I didn’t notice your profile pic although even now that I have, I can’t tell much from it. Heh. My poor bespectacled eyes. But I’m assuming you’re another as well, right? 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

First, I don’t think it strange Snowden worked with a sheet over his computer and laptop. Given recent exposure to the fact that the FBI can turn on the camera without the light on and that nothing will show when the microphone is recording, one has to assume the NSA definitely has this ability as well. Doing it that way, his domicile and girlfriend could not be visually seen. Since he is working on agency stuff one also has to assume he was working with an agency laptop to do it with, which makes it even worse for possibly spying.

It’s not just CBS that has lost it’s journalistic credibility. Pretty much all the major news outlet sources have lost it. This is what happens when you put all the news majors under the control of a few corporations, all with their own agendas to push. As a counter to that, years ago, I left to go to the internet for my sources. I’ll even read RT. I know that it too has it’s bias but at least I will learn the worst first. It would have been in those corporations best interests to actually have a believable investigative reporting that prevents all from doubting their broadcasts, which the above article displays why no one is believing the broadcasts other than the die hards.

They have killed their golden goose at a time when it would have been most beneficial to have an undoubting viewership. But then that has pretty much been the story all along hasn’t it? The good faith would have served them well at this point and that has been squandered away long ago.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Doing it that way, his domicile and girlfriend could not be visually seen

One would think that a piece of tape over the camera would be less cumbersome.

If the sheet thing is true, though, it’s unusual, but not weird. It sounds like a homemade version of privacy shields that are commonly used in places where sensitive data can appear on computer screens.

If I worked for a spy agency, I would absolutely not want my roommates/girlfriend/wife to see anything on the screen of my work computer, as much for their security as anything.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:Doing it that way, his domicile and girlfriend could not be visually seen

Tape over the camera works great when it’s your camera you’re worried about.

If you’re downloading NSA’s secrets so you can expose them to the press (as Snowdon was), it’s not your own webcam you worry about so much – it’s the NSA’s hidden cameras in your apartment that might or might not be there (depending on whether NSA has gotten suspicious enough yet).

If that’s the case, working under a sheet is by far the simplest way to be sure nobody can see what you’re working on.

(For you or me, it might be a sign of paranoia. It’s not paranoia if you’re Ed Snowdon busily breaking all the NSA’s rules.)

I call it a brilliantly simple solution.

Anonymous Coward says:

Even if the NSA is actually telling the truth… I still find it very disturbing that the NSA is spying on the personal lives of everyone else in the world.

The recent leak about them tracking the location of 5 billion cellphone users, is extremely disturbing. Not to mention a clear human rights violation.

Is that the kind of country we want to be? A country that abuses the human rights of everyone living outside it’s own boarders?

Anonymous Coward says:

The Sheet

Since I have yet to see it mentioned by anyone else; the sheet is not at all weird if you are working with top secret material and wish to protect your girlfriend from the NSA and co. after you blow the whistle. Much harder to put her into some kind of quarantine (prison) for collusion if she never sees anything she could tell anyone about, accidentally or otherwise.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The Sheet

“Much harder to put her into some kind of quarantine (prison) for collusion if she never sees anything she could tell anyone about, accidentally or otherwise.”

That may be an indirect benefit, but throwing a blanket over your head and your screen has more to do with what the NSA sees than what she would. This wont make sense at first, but it will soon enough.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ageism comment

Richard’s comment demonstrates his immaturity and ignorance. He seems to think we surrender our accumulated experience, knowledge and capacity to think on the 60th birthday. As to the 60 wasted minutes, what a bunch of crap. Gen Alexander’s litany of lies and disproved talking points are just more hippocracy. The cheap shot at Snowden is precious, with all the legal manipulations to cover their asses they have the balls to make fun of Snowden while he beat them at their own game, and very badly at that. I have a feeling Snowden will have more than one more shoe to drop, he will empty Foot Locker’s entire warehouse one by one responding to the official lies. The NSA is a textbook case of the Peter principal collision with Murphy’s law, AKA FUBAR.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Ageism comment

Richard’s comment demonstrates his immaturity and ignorance.
That’s so wonderfully knee-jerk.

> He seems to think we surrender our accumulated experience, knowledge and capacity to think on the 60th birthday.
I didn’t, but recognize the existing meme that “we do” as is so frequently portrayed in the wider media, especially “re” the pseudo-news sellouts such as Fox.

> As to the 60 wasted minutes, what a bunch of crap…(blah, blah, blah).
Huh?! Oh, this was not a REAL, considered remark. It was some sort of trollishly taking-my-comment-as-an-excuse (with an agist pretense) remark. Never mind…damn, I fed a troll. (BTW – “hypocrisy” – old fella, unless you meant rule by hippopotami, and I think my first or second comment on joining was about Snowden’s admirable patriotism…sort o’ “non sequitur” vous.)

Rosco P Coltrane (profile) says:

This is Great!

I think this is excellent news. You know the criminals at the NSA are on the ropes when this is the best they can do, and the world sees right through it!

Just a few more Snowden revelations and the walls will crumble. Hopefully we see some lengthy prison sentences out of this.

And that headline was the funniest I’ve seen in a long time. No journalistic bias there! Love it!

Anonymous Coward says:

Now shoot the other foot.

I find it hilarious that they try to discredit Snowden and all they could come up with was: “ehhhh he covers his computer screen… derp”. I wonder if they wouldn’t cover their screen if they had highly sensitive material and didn’t want to involve their girlfriend/wife in something that they new might kill him or brand them a traitor?

I wonder what the next move is? “Ehhhh… he might be gay because he looked at a boy in gym shorts in 7’th grade” and it would turn out it was in gym class.

John85851 (profile) says:

Look- it's a distraction!

Why is everyone arguing whether or Snowden does something weird or unusual? At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy nut, this is exactly what the NSA wants us to talk about: if we’re talking about meaningless crap like this then we’re not getting to the core issues. I want to know the details from the NSA about how many terrorists they actually stopped with all this spying, or why they think they have the power to spy on Americans and violate the Constitution, and how this affects large tech companies.
Oh, look over there- Snowden had a pet cat. Why would a guy have a cat? Don’t you think that’s weird?

techflaws (profile) says:

The definition of insanity

Also funny to see that after they success stories of 50 thwarted terrorists completed failed to impress ANYONE, they’re now trying it with another bullshit story about an oh so dangerous BIOS endangering the global (!) economy which – as Mike pointed out – even if true could in no way possibly have said effects. Suckers.

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