Yesterday, I posted a diary based on news reports on international news websites that Richard Engel and his staff had disappeared and were assumed kidnapped. Other journalists had been kidnapped, some freed some still under the control of kidnappers.  The reasons I pulled the diary has to do with the DK community and more - and if you are interested in one newbie-former-journalist's take on that interesting experience and some thoughts on "blackouts" or embargoes, they are below the squiggle.  

This morning the Today Show began with breaking news, and featured Richard Engel and two crew members who had a terrifying story to tell, including witnessing one of their local guides being shot to death in front of them.

It will be interesting to see if any of the gruesome details that might allow us insight into what is actually happening in Syria, will get national air time.  Anyone who reads foreign news stories or watches video from foreign sources, knows how sanitized our news is when reporting from war zones.  

As I wrote yesterday, years ago war reporting was much more honest and graphic. Perhaps more of us were able to understand why friends and family came home from the Vietnam war with wounds we couldn't see, and drug addictions more deadly than the physical wounds of war because we had an occasional honest peek at the horror show they had been been sent to survive.

Why risk the lives of reporters in foreign wars if their reporting is edited to hide the actual horrible truths of war?


Original Post/Diary Written 12-17-2012
In unconfirmed reports now swirling around the Internet there is some speculation that Richard Engel is missing. Working for a national network that often sanitizes images from war-zone, his first-hand reporting is often gritty and up-close.

American journalists in today's war-zones often witness horrors that we will never see. If you are over 45, you probably remember the nightly black and white images of war sent from from the battlefields of Vietnam. The constant front-line images and reports of the dead and wounded reported like sports scores that kept us appraised of which side was ahead, were a part of our lives in the 70's.

In 2012 those types of images are reported, complete with the images of bloodied dead and injured adults and children, but they are reported by foreign news sources. We see little of what our own soldiers and thus embedded journalist, experience.

Engel has seen it all and found himself at risk, as described in a review of his book, "War Journal."

NBC was clearly conflicted about Mr. Engel’s life in Iraq—news gathering nearly always meant more danger. And as the violence worsened, Mr. Engel was forced to further restrict his activities. "It was medieval," he says of the Mahdi’s Army’s tactic of "using power drills on their victims knees, chest and skulls." A few sentences later he concludes, "It was now almost impossible to work in Iraq."

As the situation deteriorated in 2005, Mr. Engel came to believe that "Baghdad would eventually hurt or kill me." And yet, he adds, "I wanted to stay." Mr. Engel has a way of boiling things down, surely the result of years of whittling the news down to 90-second spots for the evening and morning shows. "The Iraqis were actors on an American stage," he writes, describing what he calls "the farce" of Saddam Hussein’s trial.

A search of the Internet finds Engel last reported from Syria December 10 where an al-Qaida-linked rebel group had taken a Syrian army base:

Rebels capture Syrian army base Rebels have captured a Syrian army base outside Aleppo, tightening the oppositions grip in some areas:

Linked from that page are several videos, giving warning of graphic images. None of those video links are working right now.

According to the Washington Post, the Rebel group has the US concerned about al Qaida connections:

BEIRUT — Syrian rebels including Islamic extremists took full control of a sprawling military base Tuesday after a bloody two-day battle that killed 35 soldiers, activists said. It was the latest gain by opposition forces bolstered by an al-Qaida-linked group that has provided skilled fighters but raised concerns in the West.
The presence of the jihadi groups has raised concerns in the U.S. and other nations that are supporting the opposition in Syria but do not want to see extremists gain power in the region. The U.S. this week blacklisted al-Nusra as a foreign terrorist organization and said the group was part of al-Qaida in Iraq.
NBC is quiet about this right now, but social media has picked up this story from a Turkish news source:
A Turkish reporter working for the NBC TV news network is said to have been missing in Syria since Wednesday.

Turkey's NTV news channel reported on Monday that Turkish correspondent for NBC Aziz Akyavaş went missing in Syria and the station has not been able to reach him for four days. The Turkish journalist was reporting from the region.

Along with Akyavaş, NBC is unable to reach its Middle East bureau chief Richard Engel, who was also reporting from inside Syria.

Apparently these sources are not always accurate, but with no other news about Engel, this story is feeding rumors he is missing. The same story also reports that other journalists have been held and released recently:
In a related story, a Turkish journalist held in Syria for three months by a group alleged to be linked to the Syrian government was released last month.

Cüneyt Ünal, who works for the US-funded al-Hurra television channel, went missing with Jordanian colleague Bashar Fahmi Kadumi shortly after crossing into Syria from Turkey on Aug. 20 to cover the civil war in the war-torn city of Aleppo.

Palestinian journalist Kadumi, who was captured at the same time as Ünal, has not yet been released.

Engel  has received the the Edward R. Murrow Award, and the Peabody Award for his reporting while he was embedded in Afghanistan, and the Medill Medal for Courage for the book "War Journal"  He speaks several languages and has friends, sources and connections from his years living in the area.

Engel is 39, divorced and has no children.

When he was making the talk-show rounds promoting War Journal, I remember an interview where he talked about his job and the toll it had taken on his personal life.  He remarked that many reporters in his position, if they are married, those marriages don't often survive. It was noted then that he has dedicated his life, to the detriment of a personal life, to his job.

This Diary was originally posted yesterday at 1:09pm. Imediatley DK members began posting comments that there was a "blackout" on this news. I had not seen or heard anything, except a story posted on Gawker.com- a gossip wesbsite - who posted a story about the assumed kidnapping, and included the news that there was a "blackout" requested by NBC.

Yep. They were publishing the story, but telling everyone else not to. The author claimed to have communicated w/NBC and that he was told there was a blackout. ASide from that story, there were many international stories posted all over the internet in many languages about this kidnapping.

My diary post was up for 15-20minutes, and it garnered some friendly suggestions and one stern "why is this still up, please remove it." from DK members. The messages were based on the Gawker story, and one DK diarist said his/her post had been deleted.

I unpublished my post and sent a message to the DK admin., because as a newbie I wasn't sure if the order to "remove the story" was actually from someone on staff.

A couple of hours later an admin response said they didn't know anything more than what was on the Internet (Gawker) and wouldn't have deleted if posted. I held it.

But like someone close to me asked in an email yesterday, "What difference would it make if a US blogger writes a story based on published foreign stories? The guy is in Syria or Turkey - the people holding him probably don't speak English! Isn't it more about NBC and Gawker etc wanting to control who breaks the story? Isn't about NBC not being able to report on their own reporter because they might be in negotiations - and if they can't report on it, they want anyone else to?"

And that is basically what an editor would have said, unless someone had arranged an embargo ... but this isn't a newspaper and there are no editors.

I know all about embargoes, what is what we always called it.  If a story was embargoed that usually meant we'd receive it as an exclusive if we agreed to hold it for one reason or another. Or on the other side, it was a press release prepared and people involved briefed, but the story held from the press until the embargo was lifted.

I've been on both sides of journalism. It was my college major, I edited a college newspaper and learned the rules of journalism. I left the idea of lifetime career in journalism behind because I watched the rules constantly broken as the competition got more and more intense. It seemed that once one paper broke the rules to enhance stories, others followed suit. It was all about selling the paper, not reporting the truth.

I've now spent almost 12 years on the other side. I often refer to myself as a "victim" of the first amendment. The journalism I deal with is all very localized, but I am constantly amazed at how local weekly and daily papers print stories that are skewed and often not true. I even explored a libel suit and learned that I was helpless unless I had a lot of money to spend as our daily and one of our weekly papers were purchased by Murdoch owned Ottoway/Dow Jones.  As one editor told me, I'd be dealing with his "New York Corporate Lawyers" if I sued.  After talking to my own lawyer, I learned he was correct. That really sucks - not just for the reported, but for those who report.

And then there are local blogs. They can report blatant lies and unless they claim their subject has committed a crime, it is very hard to win a libel suit, and again, libel suits cost tens of thousands of dollars to file. Criminal suits don't apply to to libel.

DK has standards and I respect that. So, I took this diary down yesterday because I felt that the community here was unhappy.

Originally posted to 51 Percent on Tue Dec 18, 2012 at 07:52 AM PST.

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