60 Minutes must be a glutton for punishment. The tail end of 2013 has seen "the most successful news magazine in TV history" air hard-hitting journalistic endeavors like its exclusive report on Benghazi that featured flat-out lies to encourage conspiracy theorists, and last month's segment that was essentially a commercial for Amazon.
And now, last night's beauty of an interview with National Security Agency Chief Keith Alexander. The behind-the-scenes look at the NSA was about as softball as an interview can get.
Criticism for the news magazine poured in as soon as the segment aired. Greg Mitchell at the Nation called the interview the completion of the "sad decline and fall of 60 Minutes" that's been "a long time coming." He's not alone, and frankly, it's not hard to see why.
First off, the interview was conducted by John Miller, former official in the office of the director of National Intelligence and Federal Bureau of Investigation. Think that just might be a conflict of interest? Or was Miller's "full disclosure" at the beginning of the interview enough?
It only got worse from there. The interviews of Alexander and other NSA officials amounted to little more than PR. Alexander promised, once again, that the NSA isn't spying on every American's phone calls, rather "less than 60 people globally who are considered U.S. persons." Very reassuring, just like Alexander's statement that "[the NSA's] job is foreign intelligence and we're very good at it." Because nothing says quality journalism like giving the NSA an opportunity to tell the American public what a good job it's been doing.
Miller raised no questions on the NSA's appearances before Congress, like that time Alexander demonstrably lied to a congressional committee. And when the interviews did get a chance to broach uncomfortable topics to the NSA – like the revelation that the agency is spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel – the NSA official questioned merely said the agency was only following orders from other federal departments. Miller didn't see a need to question further, because why not let the NSA pass the buck sometimes? They've earned it.
Any answers Miller did get from Alexander were veritable non-answers. When asked about the Merkel surveillance, Alexander said the NSA would stop spying on foreign nations when other foreign nations stop spying on the U.S., even though he doesn't really know if they do. And on the subject of breaking into Google and Yahoo for email data, Alexander said, "we will collect those communications of terrorists that flow on that network." Yeah, that clears it up. Thanks.
All of this only becomes worse when it's revealed that Alexander actually asked 60 Minutes to do the segment. It was his idea. Because he believes the NSA "has not told its story well." So nothing like a puff-piece from 60 Minutes – including off-camera "minders" from the NSA supervising the interviews, who warned Miller to change the subject when he got too close to a topic the NSA didn't want to talk about – to get the real story out.
Does Miller have any defense of his sham of an interview? Why, yes he does: "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."
Oh, okay, I see: Too much news coverage of the NSA has been critical. Thanks, John. That explains everything.