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Fresh off the controversy surrounding a report on the 2012 Benghazi attacks that relied on a now-discredited source, "60 Minutes" is attracting new questions over a segment that profiled the National Security Agency (NSA) that aired Sunday night.
Specifically, did the CBS news magazine pull its punches by sending correspondent John Miller, himself a former government spokesperson, into the agency to lob a series of softball questions at NSA leadership? And why were no on-camera interviews with NSA opponents included?
Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who first reported on classified U.S. documents leaked by former NSA employee Edward Snowden, was quick to call out the segment Sunday night.
60 Minutes journalism: former DNI official & FBI spokesman - soon to be NYPD official - "interviews" NSA chief http://t.co/wvEGO9ducb
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) December 16, 2013
And it didn’t take long for the rest of the Web to pile on, including this tweet from Shane Harris, senior writer at Foreign Policy and author of the 2010 book, “The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State.”
This 60 Minutes report on NSA has gone from one-sided to misleading. No critics? No skeptics to question the cyber Armageddon claims?
— Shane Harris (@shaneharris) December 16, 2013
Then James Bamford, author of the 2001 book, “Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency” and one of the first journalists to ever profile the agency, chimed in.
60 Minutes has become 60 Morons. I was asked to help on the piece weeks ago but said no, that it sounded like a puff piece, and it was.
— James Bamford (@WashAuthor) December 16, 2013
It just spiraled from there.
Last night’s 60 Minutes amounted to an uncritical commercial for the NSA. http://t.co/S1SF3UucPo
— New York Magazine (@NYMag) December 16, 2013
Terms like "puff piece" and PR victory don't say enough. The more I think about it, the more remarkable last night's '60 Minutes' seg seems.
— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) December 16, 2013
Hey, young people: Believe it or not, "60 Minutes" once stood for solid, deep, important journalism. I know, that sounds absurd now.
— Dan Gillmor (@dangillmor) December 16, 2013
The Guardian’s U.S. national security editor, Spencer Ackerman, even fact-checked the entire segment on Monday.
The NSA Wants You To Believe These Five Things About Its Bulk Spying. Here's The Thing About That. http://t.co/iUY914L3ow
— Spencer Ackerman (@attackerman) December 16, 2013
Part of the problem for "60 Minutes" stems from Miller's past work as a spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence and the FBI. He is also set to leave CBS in the near future to take over as the chief spokesman for the New York City Police Department. Miller's past affiliations were disclosed at the start of the segment.
"The disclosure's important," Miller said in a behind-the-scenes segment posted on CBSnews.com, "but you also don't want this to be a puff piece."
Miller defended 60 Minutes' reporting by saying they "went to Congressional critics. We went to the privacy advocates and we said, 'If you were sitting there, what would you ask them?' And we built those into our questions. I think we asked the hardest questions we could ask."
Regarding the lack of a counter argument in their story, Miller said "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.' "
Did CBS go too easy on the NSA? Judge for yourself. Here is the segment as it aired on Sunday night.