’60 Minutes’ reporter didn’t want NSA story to be ‘a puff piece’

“60 Minutes”

In an interview with “60 Minutes Overtime” producer Ann Silvio, John Miller talks about his intentions with “60 Minutes”‘ two-part NSA story, which ran Sunday. Miller said the disclosure that he used to work in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was important, but “You also don’t want this to be a puff piece.”

I think we asked the hardest questions we could ask. And part of this is not to go there and show you can beat up a public official in an interview. I have been beat up as a public official in interviews, and I have beaten up public officials in interviews. Our job this time was to take the hardest questions we could find and ask them, ‘What’s the answer to it,’ and then spend a couple of minutes listening. 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.’”



NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander “made the call to invite us in,” “60 Minutes” producer Ira Rosen says in the same video. NSA monitored interviews for the piece, and Alexander called “time out” at certain points in his interview with Miller. At one point, when “60 Minutes”‘ cameras accidentally captured an image of a certain person, security staff reviewed the show’s recordings.

“What they got was a chance to make their case,” Miller says.

But although Miller says the show approached critics in Congress and privacy advocates to craft its questions, he didn’t ask Alexander why he said in 2012 the United States doesn’t hold data on its citizens.

The pieces are not terribly complimentary toward Edward Snowden, described by Miller as a “20-something-year-old high school dropout contractor.” Snowden cheated on an exam for NSA employment and worked at home with a hood covering his head and computer screen, an NSA official tells Miller. “That’s pretty strange,” Miller says.

Circa’s Anthony De Rosa collected reactions to the broadcasts, writing Sunday night he was still looking for positive reports. Some representative tweets (the first is, of course, by a guy who has some skin in this game):

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  • JH

    60 Minutes is a shell of its former self.

  • LarryCohen2014

    Real journalism is dead in America. It’s been dead for close to a decade now. It’s just that most of the people are finally realizing it.

  • Cuppa

    You are either his relative or employee.

  • Cuppa

    He didn’t want it to be a puff piece? Fail.

  • qualityrkc

    ^John miller^

  • miamisid

    Why no interviews with NSA critics?

  • Craig Swinson

    After the NSA propaganda I wonder if the Benghazi bit was a pay it forward deal to confuse the issue.

  • Craig Swinson

    All John Miller did was show how badly he wants to move to NYC and work for the new NYPD comish.

  • sloppyslim

    and the government didn’t even have to pay to produce it

  • Brendan Keefe

    You have to look at this through the lens of recent failures by 60 Minutes — Lara Logan’s retraction for her un-vetted Benghazi piece that got it all wrong; The GoPro camera commercial that featured more hand-out video than original photography WITHOUT IDENTIFYING ANY OF IT AS HAND-OUT VIDEO; the amazon.com commercial the night before Cyber-Monday (with no tough questions of Jeff Bezos and his deliberate attempts to get around sales tax laws for two decades, or his pie-in-the-sky drone idea that’s hardly “just around the corner”). Ask yourself how Mike Wallace would have handled the NSA story. Steve Kroft is still living up to the reputation of the greatest news magazine ever created, but the rest of the show is turning into an infomercial.

  • fbxl5

    I mean really, what else was anyone expecting……………real jounalism?

  • liz29

    My gut reaction to Gen. Alexander was he was lying through his teeth.

  • Trumbull Desi

    I have always found John Miller to be a thoughtful, insightful journalist. His background gives him particular insight into judicial matters, particularly in law enforcement. He’s very balanced in his reporting.

  • JCDavis

    CBS has outed itself as a shill for the intelligence community. This was either an example of Operation Mockingbird at work, or grade school journalism.