John Miller's New NYPD Gig and the Terrible Revolving Door

John Miller
Three times John Miller has jumped from reporter to an institution he covered as a reporter.

Here's a brief timeline:

1973-1994: Journalist, including 10 years as an investigative reporter for New York's NBC affiliate.

1994-1995: Law enforcement official, as deputy police commissioner for the NYPD.

1995-2002: Journalist, as a correspondent for ABC's 20/20.

2003-2005: Law enforcement official, as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department's Counterterrorism and Criminal Intelligence Bureau.

2005-2011: Law enforcement official, as the FBI's assistant director for the Office of Public Affairs.

2011-2013: Journalist, as a senior correspondent for CBS News, including reporting for 60 Minutes.

2014-present: Law enforcement official, as NYPD's deputy commissioner of intelligence.

That so many respectable employers have hired Miller indicates his competence. Perhaps he will make New Yorkers even safer during his tenure at One Police Plaza. By taking that pursuit, though, he's done a disservice to journalism.

Miller is not the first reporter to make this sort of switch--newsrooms are shrinking and folks have families to feed. He has, however, crossed the bridge more frequently than most, and certainly in a brighter spotlight than anyone.

He has shown that there is a viable, and lucrative, career in circling the revolving door between journalism and law enforcement (or any other institution).

The revolving door, of course, has long poisoned politics -- with public officials taking jobs with the banks or oil companies or lobbying firms they were supposed to be regulating. But, well, politics has always been cynical. Talk to ten guys off any street in world and probably nine will tell you that the only reason any right-minded person would want to run for office is for the power and riches it can bring.

And while the journalism industry certainly has its shortcomings, there are just enough stories every year -- from Ted Conover's undercover expose on slaughterhouses in May to Paul Tough's vivid portrait this month of a fisherman who fell into the sea -- to keep alive the ideal that the craft's foremost incentive is to reveal truths. This often means that many of its practitioners tell themselves that journalism is not a career but a lifestyle or a calling, that the reporter is a participant observer detached from the greater world by a notebook and pen. This ideal is a necessary counterweight against the inevitable outside pressures -- to sell papers, draw page clicks, win awards.

The incentive can change, though, when the revolving door is legitimized--when an aspiring and well-educated young scribe begins to see the newsroom as a potential stepping stone to a more stable, more lucrative job on the other side of the phone, in city hall or One Police Plaza or Goldman Sachs.

It's common enough for reporters -- covering politics, sports, courts, crime, business, and elsewhere--to get too cozy with the people they write about, spending enough hours at a place to feel a subconscious loyalty toward it. All the more so if the thought of sending in a resume crosses the mind.

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