Did ’60 Minutes’ do a puff piece on the NSA?

FILE - This June 6, 2013 file photo shows a sign outside the National Security Agency (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Md. A federal judge says the NSA's bulk collection of phone records violates the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches. The judge put his decision on hold pending a nearly certain government appeal. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

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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.

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.”

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.

It just spiraled from there.

The Guardian’s U.S. national security editor, Spencer Ackerman, even fact-checked the entire segment on Monday.

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.




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