CNN has hired John Miller, a former New York City Police Department official who lied about the department’s history of surveilling Muslims, to be its chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst — a move that has alarmed civil rights leaders and activists.
“John will help deliver on CNN’s commitment to tackle complex issues while presenting audiences with independent, objective news and meaningful analysis across platforms,” Chris Licht, CNN’s relatively new chairman and CEO, said in a press release Tuesday. “As both a brilliant journalist and experienced, compelling subject matter expert, he brings to the network an incredible breadth of knowledge.”
Critics, however, have called attention to other aspects of Miller’s record. While testifying before the New York City Council in March, Miller denied that the NYPD ever inappropriately spied on Muslims, even though the department has acknowledged that it ran a Muslim surveillance program after the Sept. 11 attacks.
While running the program — which was exposed in 2011 in a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press report — the NYPD used census data to spy on Muslim Americans in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, placing undercover informants in predominantly Muslim communities. The informants took pictures and videos of mosquegoers, recorded the license plate numbers of worshippers, chatted with Muslim business owners, hung out in hookah bars — and reported everything back to the NYPD.
The NYPD has admitted that the program did not produce a single lead to any terrorist plot, and the department has settled at least three lawsuits pertaining to the surveillance program in the past few years. Miller refused to admit any wrongdoing by the NYPD, and claimed there was no evidence of inappropriate surveillance.
But members of the Muslim community say the program caused irreversible damage, and they question what Miller’s new role at CNN could mean for coverage of Muslim Americans at a time when Islamophobia is on the rise.
CNN did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Shahana Hanif, the first female Muslim member of New York’s city council, told HuffPost that Miller should be removed, and that she does not believe he could be objective.
“For him to be able to take on a position that will give him a broader impact to an outlet that many of us trust is just another reminder of just how Muslims in our city are treated,” Hanif said. “I hope that CNN is watching the kind of backlash and the response to this hiring, and they should take very seriously the voices of the Muslim community because we are viewers too. We too want objective news.”
Hanif, who questioned Miller during an eight-hour city council meeting earlier this year, was one of several Muslim leaders who met with New York City Mayor Eric Adams after the testimony and pushed for Miller to be fired. Miller, who was the deputy commissioner of intelligence and counterterrorism at the time, resigned from the NYPD after local officials, including Adams, disavowed the comments he made during his testimony.
News outlets need to remember and call out the NYPD’s actions and the damaging effects they had on Muslim Americans, said Naz Ahmad, acting director of the Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility project at the City University of New York School of Law. CLEAR filed one of the lawsuits against the NYPD.
“The unwillingness to reflect upon the outcomes of what you have done and to not see that as a problem, I think that that suggests that maybe somebody’s going to have trouble being objective,” Ahmad said. “At the very least, don’t deny that it happened.”
Moiz Mohammed, who was a plaintiff in another case against the NYPD that was settled in 2019, said it’s “startling” that CNN hired Miller.
“If he was being brought on here as an occasional contributor to represent various spectrums of views, that’s another thing. But to be hired as such a senior role, where a lot of these things that he will have to be covering in the future will intersect with this — I just don’t understand that,” Mohammed said. “It just takes away the credibility of how CNN will handle these topics moving forward.”
Ahmed Mohamed, the legal director of the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he questions whether Miller can “be credible for a major news network.”
“He had a major role in destroying the lives of Muslims in New York City, leading the unconstitutional surveillance program,” Mohamed said. “He shouldn’t have a similar role at CNN, further stigmatizing and marginalizing Muslims.”
Miller previously served as a correspondent for CBS News and ABC News, and worked as a spokesperson for the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department.
Al-Haj Talib Abdur-Rashid, the senior imam at the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in New York and an outspoken critic of Miller, said Miller’s hiring points to a larger issue regarding how marginalized groups are covered in the media.
“We all, as American citizens, have to be diligent when it comes to the news that’s being reported by individuals who do not have a record for defending the rights of American citizens in the name of security,” Abdur-Rashid said.
Angelo Carusone, the president of Media Matters for America, a nonprofit media watchdog organization, raised similar concerns. He said anti-Muslim bias is often not taken as seriously by news outlets as discrimination against other groups, and studies show that Muslims tend to be portrayed negatively in American media.
“If the types of things that he had done and said about Muslims were done to other groups, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now, because he would not have been hired,” Carusone said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story described Hanif as “the first and only Muslim member of New York’s city council.” She is the first female Muslim member.