Journalists getting wind of the veteran NBC News war correspondent’s vanishing act complied with the network’s demand to not publicize his disappearance — until Gawker’s John Cook decided to hell with NBC’s news blackout when reports surfaced in Turkey and on Twitter.
Engel: “The last five days were very difficult. We are very happy to be out.” Washington Post. UK Daily Mail. On NBC’s Today: “I am very happy we are able to do this live shot this morning.” “There was a lot of psychological torture.” “They made us choose which one of us would be shot first, and when we refused, there were mock shootings.”
NYT: “After being kidnapped and held for five days inside Syria by an unknown group, NBC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel and his production crew members have been freed unharmed,” NBC said in a statement. “We are pleased to report they are safely out of the country.”
Poynter: After entering Syria, Engel and his team were abducted, tossed into the back of a truck and blindfolded before being transported to an unknown location believed to be near the small town of Ma’arrat Misrin. During their captivity, they were blindfolded and bound, but otherwise not physically harmed, the network said.
Early Monday evening local time, the prisoners were being moved to a new location in a vehicle when their captors ran into a checkpoint manned by members of the Ahrar al-Sham brigade, a Syrian rebel group. There was a confrontation and a firefight ensued. Two of the captors were killed, while an unknown number of others escaped, the network said.
Engel and an unnamed number of other people with him were let go at the checkpoint, the network said. They then re-entered Turkey.
This information was being kept quiet by the network, reported Gawker’s John Cook on Monday.
During that blackout, which Poynter honored, The Atlantic Wire, the Houston Chronicle and others published news of Engel’s disappearance, then unpublished those stories.
Cook explained in a comment why he published news of the disappearance after honoring the blackout request for about 24 hours:
The rationale for the blackout was offered in off the record conversations, so I can’t present their argument here. But I will say this: No one told me anything that indicated a specific, or even general, threat to Engel’s safety. No one said, “If you report this, then we know, or suspect, that X, Y, or Z may happen.” It was infinitely more vague and general than that.