Written in Ink

"No Comment": NBC News execs ignored warnings about anti-Syria stories

This story is amazing. For people who thought Brian Williams did something worthy of a 6-month suspension (which he didn't), just remember: the people who covered this story up are the ones who judged Williams as untrustworthy. When NBC reporter Richard Engel was kidnapped in Syria in 2012, it was reported repeatedly that he had been abducted by pro-Assad forces, and freed by brave anti-Assad rebels. Welllll.... Nobody's blaming Engel for making that mistake, but reports are surfacing that NBC News execs were warned that the kidnappers were framing Assad's forces, and that the rebels had kidnapped and then freed their own hostage. And those execs didn't stop their own network news shows from blaming Assad throughout and after the ordeal. Yesterday, Engel and NBC posted the equivalent of a retraction, acknowledging it wasn't Assad's forces who abducted him. Beyond that, though, NBC isn't commenting, and nobody is suspended for 6 months. I'd have to look and see if anyone from NBC ever told these stories on any late-night talk shows.

Mr. Engel and his team were kidnapped in December 2012 while reporting in Syria. They were held for five days. Just hours after emerging, they appeared on the "Today" show.

"This was a group known as the shabiha, this was the government militia, these are people who are loyal to President Bashar al-Assad," Mr. Engel said on "Today," citing information he had gathered from the group. In that and other appearances on NBC, and in a Vanity Fair magazine article, he said that he had been rescued by Sunni rebels. At least two people died during the course of the captivity, he said in some versions of the account.

Interviews by The Times with several dozen people — including many of those involved in the search for NBC's team, rebel fighters and activists in Syria and current and former NBC News employees — suggested that Mr. Engel's team was almost certainly taken by a Sunni criminal element affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, the loose alliance of rebels opposed to Mr. Assad.

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