Conflict-Ridden CBS 60 Minutes 'Journalist' Defends NSA Propaganda Piece By Insulting All His Critics

from the how-convincing dept

We recently wrote about 60 Minutes' laughably bad propaganda piece for the NSA, done by "reporter" John Miller, who has spent much of his time working in various high level positions in the law enforcement and intelligence communities. That he's expected to be rejoining law enforcement in an intelligence role shortly and that reports suggest the deal was negotiated long before his NSA report was completed only add to the questionable nature of allowing someone with such an obvious conflict of interest to handle that report. And, given that Miller appeared to only toss ridiculous softballs, failed to challenge any of Keith Alexander's highly questionable statements, and that the entire 60 Minutes team (in a "behind the scenes" clip posted to the web) seemed in awe of the NSA from the word go, the idea that this was nothing more than a infomercial for the NSA has plenty of credence.

After a week or so of silence, Miller finally decided to respond to his critics, by insulting them all and claiming that only the great and mighty John Miller does real reporting. Everyone who criticized the report is nothing more than angry bloggers in pajamas. David Carr, at the NY Times spoke to Miller:
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.... 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.”
Nearly everything said above is wrong or misleading -- like the comments he got from his buddies at the NSA. Many of the people who criticized Miller's infomercial are well-known and successful reporters with long histories of investigative reporting. For example, New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza absolutely trashed Miller's report, and Lizza recently wrote what I think is one of the absolutely most comprehensive and well-researched pieces on the NSA stuff. Other critics included Glenn Greenwald, who, it's difficult to argue, hasn't done some rather impressive reporting recently on these subjects. Then there's Spencer Ackerman, who has done amazing investigative work concerning the intelligence community and law enforcement for years. And he did a wonderful piece totally debunking the lies the NSA told in the 60 Minutes piece -- that is, the stuff John Miller let go through without questioning any of it. To argue that real investigative reporters weren't criticizing his piece is just wrong. Sure, some of us may be bloggers in our pajamas (guilty!), but to pretend that's where all the criticism came from isn't just lame, it's wrong. Besides, I really thought we were past the age where complaining about "bloggers in pajamas" was considered a thing to do.

As for the idea that the NSA story had been a "one-way dialogue," that's also just ridiculously false. I mean, when a large part of the federal government is on your side, the idea that the NSA's side of the story wasn't being told is laughable. Each week on the usual Sunday talk programs, NSA defenders seem to dominate the airwaves. While it might not be Keith Alexander or James Clapper directly, plenty of surrogates are out there listing out the talking points.

But it's that final paragraph that's really the most maddening -- this idea that "well, we asked questions and now it's up to the audience to decide who to believe." That's bullshit. That's not reporting. Reporting is about uncovering the truth. Bad reporting is, as journalism professor Jay Rosen (who also criticized Miller's reporting) calls it: "he said, she said" journalism where you write down what everyone says and then let the public sort it out for themselves who's full of shit. In this case, it was even worse, because Miller didn't even do the "she said" side. He provided the "he said" without any pushback to clearly bogus statements, and now wants to claim it's okay because the public can figure it out? Really?

Furthermore, what "important information" did they add to the debate? There was nothing in the report that revealed anything new or valuable at all. There was a scare-mongering story about a "BIOS" attack that was quickly shown to have been reported incorrectly (one security expert noted that it was gibberish, rather than anything real). That was about it.

I can understand Miller's desire to hit back at his critics, but name calling and refusing to respond to the direct claims of things that were clearly misleading or erroneous in his report, doesn't help his credibility. Oh, wait, I mean his credibility with the public who get news from him. I'm sure it helps his credibility quite a lot with his former and future bosses within the law enforcement community. And that's why 60 Minutes is a laughingstock for allowing someone so conflicted to put on such a bogus infomercial love letter to the NSA.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Dec 2013 @ 11:27am

    Re: Get out of your pajamas, Mike, and STOP reporting on the "reporting".

    You first.

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