The Rapid Decline of 60 Minutes

David Carr has a great piece today about the plummeting credibility of CBS’s flagship program 60 Minutes. First there was Lara Logan’s Benghazi faceplant. Then there was Charlie Rose’s Jeff Bezos tonguebath. Most recently and worst, there is the John Miller NSA whitewash:

The Sunday before the damning study, the program produced a segment that scanned as a friendly infomercial for the agency. Reported by John Miller, a CBS News reporter, the piece included extensive interviews with Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the N.S.A.

In a scene that served as something of a metaphor for the whole segment, the producers negotiated access to the Black Chamber, a supersecret area where the nation’s top code breakers work. The door is briefly opened, we see a deserted office hall that looks like any other and then the door is closed. We get a look in, but we learn nothing.

Viewed in context, it’s quite obvious that Miller, “a former high-ranking official in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and a former spokesman of the F.B.I.” who is going back to work for the NYPD soon, traded access for a puff piece.

But one thing is for sure, Miller reacts just like every other elite reporter whose work is criticized:

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.”

Well, thanks Mr. Miller, for your lengthy highly vetted statement. You certainly have done yeoman’s work handing the microphone to the NSA to present its most highly polished PR work. And your no doubt hand-tailored suits definitely improve your journalistic credibility.

In any case, the real tragedy, as Carr points out, is that 60 Minutes still does some great work, as shown by their pieces on returning veterans and credit report agencies.

Since Miller is going back to government work, let’s hope that Jeffrey Fager, the head of CBS, puts 60 Minutes back onto the straight and narrow.

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Ryan Cooper

Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent at the Week. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the New Republic, and the Nation. He was an editor at the Washington Monthly from 2012 to 2014.