I’m a huge fan of NBC’s Richard Engel. We’re watching one of the best-ever war correspondents in action.
As a quasi-journalist, I’ve always been a fan of war correspondents. Ernie Pyle set the standard during WW2. Walter Cronkite and Andy Rooney cut their teeth during WW2. The New Yorker’s AJ Liebling wrote “Molly,” the best piece of war writing I’ve ever read; it shows up in most WW2 anthologies. I reread it a couple months ago.
Vietnam gave us David Halberstam, Michael Herr, Joe Galloway (“We Were Soldiers”), and Peter Arnett. Arnett, of course, also covered the Gulf Wars and everything in between. Christiane Amanpour did superb reporting in various conflicts, including Bosnia.
In the current conflicts, two men stand out to me: Dexter Filkins of the NY Times, and Richard Engel.
I love listening to Engel. When on camera, he is totally prepared. He can answer every question asked of him, showing that when off-camera, he’s doing diligent reporting. He can put conflicts in historical context–both recent history, and history going back centuries. He can explain the dynamics of the various parties in a conflict (like in Iraq). He knows the perspectives of everyone, from top leaders to grunt soldiers and civilians on the street. He is fluent in Arabic (and Italian and Spanish).
Some reporters, like Geraldo Rivera, like to be chummy with the troops. That’s crowd-pleasing, but it isn’t reporting. Engel goes deep to get information, and he skillfully conveys it to the public.
Probably most of the best war correspondents work in print, mostly for major newspapers or freelance. They aren’t as visible as TV reporters, but usually go far beneath the surface in their reporting. Engel started out there, going to Iraq in 2003 as a freelance journalist. NBC quickly snapped him up, recognizing his brilliance. He has since reported from the midst of every hotspot–Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Somalia.
Enjoy him while you can. Engel operates in a dangerous career. As we know, sadly, from Ernie Pyle, who died on Okinawa from Japanese machine gun fire.