The Washington Times-Herald

Columns

December 21, 2013

Two stories put focus on First Amendment

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

If everyone remembers their U.S. history class, the previous text is the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Adopted in 1791, the amendment is part of famous Bill of Rights, one of the first pieces of legislation in the world to guarantee civil liberties to its citizens.

This week, there were two stories in the news that had people invoking the most sacred of amendments, but some missed the mark on what the amendment means.

The first story was last Sunday, as the decorated CBS news show 60 Minutes took us inside the National Security Agency, the agency under fire after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked part of the agency’s far-reaching spying program to reporter Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras.

I’m a fan of 60 Minutes. When I was a kid, it was kind of sad because I knew when I saw that ticking stopwatch, I knew I had to go back to school the next day. Later on, I came to appreciate the interesting stories it provided. I studied the program and it’s history in college when I was training for my current profession.

But the piece on the NSA Sunday, led by correspondent John Miller, was rife with problems. Like many journalists watching the two segments, I did not see the good reporting I have come to expect with 60 Minutes.

In its place was what we call in newspaper land a puff piece, or fluff. Sometimes people like the fluff and sometimes you need to be hard.

There’s a whole laundry list of issues I could go into, but the biggest problem I had with the piece was Miller himself. This so-called insider was hand-picked by the NSA due to his previous roles for the Los Angeles Police Department, the FBI and the Director of National Intelligence. In fact, it was reported that Miller will be heading to the New York Police Department for a job soon. Correspondent Steve Kroft would have held NSA’s collective feet to the fire and done a better job than Miller.

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