First it was NBC News anchor Brian Williams who came forward and admitted he had embellished his story of having been in a Chinook helicopter over Iraq that took enemy fire in 2003. Claiming, incredibly, that it was a mere lapse of memory, Williams acknowledged in February that it was not the helicopter he was riding in that was shot at but an aircraft in front of him. Close but no cigar.
Now it’s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel’s turn to fess up. As with Williams, Engel’s account of having been abducted in 2012 is accurate at least in its general outlines. But, again like Williams, Engel altered details of the kidnapping to make the story more sensational, claiming that he and members of his crew were captured by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (in fact it was a Sunni militant group) and that, as they were being rescued, he saw “one of his captors lying dead.”
On Wednesday, Engel and NBC published a “correction” of sorts, but under the deliberately misleading headline “New Details on 2012 Kidnapping of NBC News Team in Syria.” Real would be a far more accurate adjective than new. The explanation, which runs just shy of 1,800 words, isn’t any more forthright, intimating that the lies Engel told were due to the fog of war.
In the “new” version of what went down, it is no longer Engel who saw the corpse of a captor but “one of our producers [who] says he saw and stepped over a body that was lying next to the front wheel.”
Engel concludes his revised report with the observation that correcting the record “does not make our kidnappers or the five days they held us at gunpoint any less dangerous” but serves rather to “underscore the treacherous and violent nature of the conflict inside Syria.”
No one should discount the very real danger that this news crew faced. But neither should anyone overlook the fact that Engel, as a member of the media, violated his sacred trust with his audience, for whatever reason.
Williams’s punishment was a 6-month-suspension without pay. In deciding Engel’s punishment, NBC should take into account that Williams at least overtly admitted to having lied. Engel has not.
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