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NBC reporter reveals he was kidnapped by Syrian militants linked to the US, not Iran

22.04.2015  |  13:18
NBC reporter reveals he was kidnapped by Syrian militants linked to the US, not Iran

Finally, a PR win for NBC: the network scooped the ‘New York Times' with the revelation of the true identity of its chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel's kidnappers. Score one for image-battered NBC News, which has finally gotten the better of a rival news outlet intent on exposing its shortcomings

The Peacock Network's chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, on Wednesday night preempted a two-month-long New York Times investigation, bylined by three Times journalists and prepared with the help of six others-the sort of ambitious team effort that ordinarily would have landed on the front page but in this case was relegated to B1.

With the active involvement of NBC News President Deborah Turness and brand-new NBC News Chairman Andy Lack, who assumed formal control of the broadcast and cable news operations in a corporate shakeup earlier this month, Engel scooped the Times on its own scoop, correcting NBC's long-held version of a harrowing December 2012 incident in which Engel and five other employees were kidnapped, blindfolded, and subjected to physical and psychological abuse for five days in civil war-torn Syria.

In his detailed, 1,700-word account-600 words longer than the Times's story -Engel reported that contrary to his original belief, which he affirmed in television appearances and a riveting article in the April 2013 edition of Vanity Fair, he and his colleagues were not taken by Shiite Shabiha militiamen who backed Syrian President Bashar al Assad, but instead by Sunni thugs with ties to the rebel Free Syrian Army.

"The group that kidnapped us put on an elaborate ruse to convince us they were Shiite Shabiha militiamen," Engel wrote, describing his tormentors as "a criminal gang with shifting allegiances."

Writing that his own investigation began a month ago, and was prompted by questions from the Times, Engel added: "The group that freed us also had ties to the kidnappers."

One can only imagine the shrieks of agony and anger that emanated from the Times's Renzo Piano-designed headquarters on Manhattan's West Side as reporters and editors scrambled to rush their long-planned scoop into publishable shape, hours behind NBC and even further behind the Huffington Post's media columnist Michael Calderone, who broke the news of Engel's revision.

The Times essentially seconded Engel's re-reported version but added piquant details, notably that NBC News stuck by the Shiite militia version in the weeks after the kidnapping, even as contrary evidence mounted from U.S. government and other sources.

Indeed, in a groundbreaking Dec. 22, 2012 report in the Daily Beast, my colleague Jamie Dettmer was the first journalist to raise doubts about NBC's version, five days after Engel & Co. gained their freedom.

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