John Miller crops his hair like a cop, wears $2,000 Brioni suits like a mob boss and orates like an announcer. His resume – featuring four decades as a roving newsman and many years as a New York Police Department, Los Angeles Police Department and national intelligence official – is equally varied.
Since Miller, 55, joined CBS News in October 2011, his law enforcement sources have not been far behind. Deep contacts have fueled his reports on events like the Aurora theater shooting, the Newtown shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing. But after just two years back in journalism, the duPont-Columbia, Peabody and Emmy winner is rejoining the NYPD.
"When you get a call and you get the chance to serve the largest city in the world, potentially the greatest terrorism threat in maybe the greatest police department in the world, it's hard to say no," Miller told WCBS-TV anchors Dick Brennan and Alice Gainer on Thursday.
Miller did not elaborate on his new gig, but comments to the New York CBS affiliate indicate future work in counterterrorism. He noted that terror groups are becoming more resourceful with less materials. "The message going out is not from al Qaeda as much as it's al Qaeda-ism, which is do what you can do with the resources you have," he said. Of the NYPD, Miller added, "They have certainly the biggest, most complex and forward-leaning counterterrorism operation of any police department in the world, so it will be a great challenge that I hope to rise to."
"John, congratulations," said Brennan. "Our loss is the city's gain."
Thursday's appointment reunites Miller with William Bratton, the NYPD's incoming commissioner. Bratton, who previously led the department from 1994 to 1996, will replace longtime top cop Ray Kelly when Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio takes office January 1. Miller served as Bratton's chief spokesman from 1994 to 1995. He joined Bratton at the Los Angeles Police Department in 2002, leading his bomb squad and hazardous materials unit. Other roles include a public relations post at the FBI, then a position at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the agency that oversees the FBI and CIA.
Miller's law enforcement ties have won him major scoops as a reporter. At age 14, he got a job tracking police scanners for WNEW, then a New York-based independent TV station. Rather than attending gym class at New Jersey's Montclair High School, he bussed into the city and reported on homicides, robberies and other violent incidents. He missed so many classes, he graduated high school a year late. In 1985, he continued his on-air work at WNBC-TV, hounding Mafia head John Gotti outside a Manhattan courthouse. In 1992, he was the first reporter to learn that Gotti had bribed a juror with $60,000. After leaving his first NYPD post, he joined ABC News, after which he landed a rare interview with Osama bin Laden and, after September 11, 2001, anchored the network's coverage alongside Peter Jennings.
It was reports like these that led Bratton to hire Miller, then rehire him twice. "There is no one in law enforcement who won't take John's call," Bratton told New York Times media columnist David Carr last December. "He's careful and he knows his way around all aspects of law enforcement, which makes it easy to trust him and talk to him."
But critics argue that Miller's government connections have limited the fairness of his reporting. A segment he filed on the National Security Agency, aired December 15 on 60 Minutes, hardly diverted from an interview with chief Gen. Keith Alexander.
"The fact is, we're not collecting everybody's email, we're not collecting everybody's phone things, we're not listening to that," Alexander told Miller. "Our job is foreign intelligence and we're very good at that."
"This is precisely the time that we should not step back from the tools that we've given our analysts to detect these types of attacks," Alexander added, again insisting that personal surveillance plays a minimal role in agency efforts.
But the day after Miller's 60 Minutes piece aired, a federal judge ruled that the agency had likely collected phone exchanges and other personal records in an unconstitutional manner. Critics of the segment called it a pro-government fluff piece and debated the correspondent's allegiances.
"On what planet is it fine for someone like Mr. Miller, a former federal law enforcement official, to be the one to do a big segment on a major government security agency?" Carr wrote in a December 22 column. "Mr. Miller got the story because the NSA said yes to his pitch – why would it not? – but other journalists at 60 Minutes without his potential conflicts were interested as well. No matter how the deal was brokered, the optics were terrible and the NSA got its hands on a megaphone with nary a critic in sight."
Miller replied to Carr, insisting his piece gave the NSA a chance to answer its detractors.
"I fully reject the criticism from you and others," Miller said. "The NSA story has been a fairly one-way dialogue. There has been no conversation and when you do hear from the NSA, it is in a terse, highly vetted statement. We went there, we asked every question we wanted to, listened to the answers, followed up as we wished, and our audience can decide what and who they believe."
CBS News seems to remain on good terms with Miller, stating that the NSA story played no factor in Miller's exit.
"John Miller is a remarkable journalist with deep insight into law enforcement," network spokeswoman Sonya McNair said in a statement Thursday. "He has been invaluable to the CBS News family. We wish him well in his quest to help make the City of New York a safer place as part of the NYPD. John will always have a home at CBS News."
CBS News president David Rhodes told Capital New York that Miller will appear on CBS This Morning on January 6 to discuss his new job.
NOTE: The author of this post previously worked alongside Miller as an intern at CBS News.