David Carr writes: Last week, a study commissioned by the president concluded that the National Security Agency had reached too far into the private lives of Americans. The study, which came after a series of journalistic revelations exposing the agency’s surveillance practices, recommended numerous reforms that would curb the N.S.A.’s prerogatives. President Obama said he was “open to many” of the suggestions.
It was exactly the kind of news-making moment that “60 Minutes” — America’s leading purveyor of serious television news — has often been responsible for creating. For more than four decades, the program has exposed C.I.A. abuses, rogue military contractors and hundreds of corporate villains.
But where was “60 Minutes” on the N.S.A. story? 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.
Coming as it does on the heels of the now-discredited Benghazi report — in which “60 Minutes” said it was fooled by an eyewitness who was apparently nothing of the kind — the N.S.A. segment raises the question of whether the program has not just temporarily lost its mojo, but its skepticism as well. It didn’t help that the day after the piece aired, a federal judge ruled that the agency’s program of collecting phone records was most likely unconstitutional. [Continue reading…]