In his “Stories I’d like to see” column, journalist and entrepreneur Steven Brill spotlights topics that, in his opinion, have received insufficient media attention. This article was originally published on Reuters.com.
1. Profiling John Miller:
This story in the Huffington Post last week speculated that CBS News senior correspondent John Miller might be appointed to run the New York City Police Department’s counterterrorism unit, now that Bill Bratton has been named police commissioner by Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio.
The story makes sense. Miller and Bratton are close friends and Bratton had Miller running counterterrorism in Los Angeles when he was police chief there. Miller — who began his career in the 1970s as a reporter for local New York City TV outlets before being promoted to the networks — had served as the NYPD’s deputy commissioner for public affairs during Bratton’s first tour running the NYPD in 1994. And just before coming to CBS in 2011 he had held senior positions at the FBI and in the office of the Director of National Intelligence.
But here’s why CBS should do everything possible to make sure Miller doesn’t leave — and why a newspaper or magazine editor would be smart to assign a profile of him: If major league television news organizations named a Most Valuable Player the way baseball does, Miller would get the honor this year, hands down.
Whether on CBS’s resurgent morning and evening news shows, or on its 60 Minutes juggernaut, Miller seems to have been everywhere since he joined the network, with scoops or with reports that dive deeper than the competition into stories that everyone else is covering. From the Boston Marathon bombing, to Sandy Hook, to drone strike strategy, to the Snowden leaks, to the shooting of TSA officers in Los Angeles, to the Justice Department’s leak investigations that targeted reporters, Miller consistently seems to have the smartest, sharpest take.
There are all kinds of intriguing angles a story about Miller could explore. For starters, is his success simply a matter of getting old law enforcement colleagues to leak to him more than to his competitors? Or, as I assume, is there more to it than that, including the possibility that his actual experience on the inside makes him more able not only to ask the right questions but to ask the right people?
Miller’s police work in recent years has gone well beyond the traditional press relations jobs that reporters usually do when they go into government. In Los Angeles, he oversaw not only counterterrorism but also the criminal intelligence unit, as well as the major case and bomb squads. In the office of the Director of National Intelligence in Washington, his title was deputy director of the analysis division.
So, I’d like to hear him talk about the trade-off between being a reporter covering what others are doing versus being one of the doers. With Bratton coming back to New York, that is again likely to be something Miller is thinking about.
2. The Snowden dilemma:
Speaking of Miller, he scored another coup Sunday night on 60 Minutes by getting inside the NSA, where various officials, senior and junior, explained and even demonstrated the kind of code-breaking and data-gathering they do. (He also got this wonderful scooplet: One of the first places NSA leaker Edward Snowden hacked into, according to a top NSA official talking to Miller on camera, was a file containing the questions and answers for a test Snowden had to take to keep his job.)
Miller then got two senior NSA officials to open up on a painful dilemma they may be facing. It has been widely reported that Snowden has only revealed a fraction of the damaging files he made off with and that, in fact, he has material that if made public would be far more damaging than the bombshells that have been leaked so far. With that in mind, Miller asked two NSA bosses if they would favor giving Snowden amnesty if he agreed to return everything he had stolen and provided verifiable assurances that no one else, including his Chinese or Russian hosts, had retained copies of it.
One NSA leader—the man in charge of the investigation into what Snowden stole—said he would, in fact, be willing to consider such a deal. But his boss, NSA director Keith Alexander, said he wouldn’t. Apart from the issue that getting an assurance that no one else had copies of the material would seem next to impossible, Alexander told Miller that agreeing to such a deal would be the equivalent of allowing a bank robber who takes 50 hostages and kills 10 to go free for promising not to kill the other 40.