NSA Throwdown: John Oliver v. 60 Minutes

Posted: April 28, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Politics National Security

In the debut episode Sunday of his new HBO show Last Week Tonight, Daily Show alum John Oliver grilled former National Security Agency chief Gen. Keith Alexander about the spy agencys controversial surveillance programs. Oliver won praise for being remarkably tough in the segment, especially for a comedian, but it isnt the first time Alexander sat down for a nationally-televised interview.

In December last year, Alexander granted unprecedented access to the CBS News program 60 Minutes, including an extensive interview with the top spook himself. The 60 Minutes segment on the NSA scored extraordinary access into a notoriously secretive organization but at perhaps too high a cost. The segment was panned for being remarkably easy on the agency, especially for a venerated investigative news program.

TIME wanted to see how tough-for-a-comedian stacked up against easy-for-a-venerated-news-program. So we did a completely unscientific, utterly subjective match up to help weigh the two interviews against one another. (Full disclosure: TIME is currently owned by Time Warner, the same parent company that owns HBO, though that will change in the coming months.)

Behold, the comedian-journalist throwdown of the century (or the week, or the day, anyway): John Oliver v. 60 Minutes.

1. On the reach of the NSAs programs.

Among the low points of 60 Minutes correspondent John Millers interview with Alexander was when Miller asks if the NSAs phone records collection constitutes spying on Americans and basically answers his own question. You dont hear the call? Miller says, offering Alexander his answer. You dont hear the call, Alexander repeats, to the surprise of no one. Miller didnt see the point in pressing the issue any further. And while Alexanders answers were not strictly untrue as a logistical matter, the NSAs collection of phone metadata, including call duration, timestamp, and phone numbers, is not trivial, which John Oliver proves with one piercing retort.

But thats not nothing. Thats significant information. Otherwise you wouldnt want it.

Point Oliver

2. On the status of NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

More here:

NSA Throwdown: John Oliver v. 60 Minutes

Related Post