CBS' John Miller on bin Laden and more
CBS senior correspondent John Miller, 54, once chased John Gotti down the street for WNBC/4, and was also one of two U.S. TV reporters to interview Osama bin Laden. But there's a little bit more to a career that began 40 years ago at WNEW/5. After Ch. 4, Miller went to the NYPD, then ABC News. LAPD Commissioner William Bratton later named him head of the LAPD's Major Crimes Division, and from there he went to the LAPD's Counterterrorism and Criminal Intelligence Bureau. He later joined the FBI, then the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. He ended his government service as Deputy Director of the Analysis Division, before joining CBS News and "CBS This Morning" last October. We spoke last week.
What brought you back to TV news?
What brought me into public service basically was 9/11. A lot of friends were killed, a few close friends, and I thought I had something to contribute. The intelligence community was trying to grapple with the issue of bin Laden, and I'd been there and met the man and studied it, [and] that's what Bratton wanted. But I was accomplishing less 10 years after 9/11 [and thought I] could maybe contribute more by sharing the knowledge I had gained.
Pretty unusual career path, no?
People do tend to pick one or the other, but I still find that whichever side of the fence you're on, you're always learning and I find that's valuable. The irony for me is, when I left NBC to go to the NYPD, my colleagues said, you're going to the dark side. When I left for ABC, the cops said, you're going to the dark side. When I left LAPD to the FBI, they said, you're going to the dark side.
Who reached out to you at CBS?
I did the reaching out . I gave everybody the same pitch, which is, I knew a little before I left, learned a lot more while I was away, and [said] I could recognize stories others might not see, and I have a network of friends that can bring you stories you might otherwise not get. And when something big or confusing is unfolding and you need someone to translate that in real time, I think I can give you a leg up. They were all good conversations, but the best one was here.
What's it like being back now after a decade away?
This is a very comfortable show and an ensemble cast . . . so that makes it easy. The [story] themes are expanded. Organized crime was in the '80s, the new millennium was the age of terror, and I think we're on the precipice of whatever's next.
You and CNN's Peter Bergen were the two to interview bin Laden. What was your visceral reaction when you heard he had been killed?
I was reading a bedtime story to my daughter and had fallen asleep and [my wife] Emily came in and said, 'oh you're sleeping...All the phones are ringing and they're all numbers I don't recognize.' That's never good - it usually meant something bad had happened and it meant you needed to write up something for the president's daily briefing. But the messages were all from the media - 'can you confirm? can you comment?' none of which I could do. [Much later] I went downstairs and thought about Danny Richards [Bethpage native and member of the NYPD Bomb squad who died in the Tower One] and [FBI special agent] John O'Neill then grabbed a beer from the refrigerator, a bottle of Jack Daniels, and then got…the best cigar on the planet. I had the laptop on so I could watch CNN, then I stopped myself. 'I'm not like those guys that celebrate the violent death of another person, no matter what they've done.' I thought about that for a beat [then] had a party you’d be proud of. And it was just me.