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Richard Engel and the Pressures of War Reporting

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Richard Engel has a new book out describing his time serving as the Baghdad bureau chief for NBC.  Below are a few key paragraphs from the Washington Post story:

Three years into the Iraq war, Richard Engel was holding down the fort as NBC’s Baghdad bureau chief when a top producer in New York, M.L. Flynn, told him there was “tremendous pressure” in the newsroom to lighten up his coverage.

“It was all about getting good-news stories out there,” Engel says. “There was a collective impression that all the journalists were getting it wrong. It quickly spread to the blogosphere and the world of punditry. It seemed orchestrated.”

Despite the feedback, Engel says NBC executives never directly pressed him to change his approach to the violence in Iraq. But in recent weeks he has found himself under assault by the White House over the editing of an interview with President Bush — the same president who had once invited him to the Oval Office to seek his advice about the interminable conflict.

[…]

Beyond the physical risks, he also had to defend himself in the media echo chamber. Engel says he and other correspondents once again came under attack in 2006 and 2007 from bloggers and radio hosts who wanted a more positive portrait of the war.

This round of criticism, he says, “seemed even more disconnected from reality because, as we were seeing in Baghdad, the situation had deteriorated so much that many people were calling it a civil war, including NBC. It was more and more ludicrous.” There was even a widespread “myth,” he says, that most journalists lived in the heavily fortified Green Zone, which was untrue.

[…]

When Engel did an on-camera interview with Bush late last month, he asked whether the president had been referring to Barack Obama in saying that those who would negotiate with Iran were guilty of appeasement. As aired on “NBC Nightly News,” the interview showed Bush saying that his policies regarding the nation’s adversaries hadn’t changed, but deleted part of the answer in which Bush told Engel, “You didn’t get it exactly right, either” in covering his speech. Also dropped was Bush’s explanation that he was talking about al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas as well as Iran. The truncation prompted White House counselor Ed Gillespie, in a letter to NBC, to accuse the network of “deceitful editing to further a media-manufactured storyline.”

Engel is puzzled by the charge, noting that the full exchange had aired the previous day on the “Today” show. “If we were trying to hide this from the public, why would we have put it online before anyone asked us to? Frankly, I didn’t get it.”

In his book, though, Engel may have handed his critics ammunition by essentially declaring the war a mistake. “The problem was that the U.S. invaded the wrong country, destroying an odious government that was not responsible for 9/11,” he writes. “I don’t know how you recover from invading the wrong country, no matter how you spin it.”

Irancove @ June 10, 2008

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