NBC's Engel Relays Frustrations of Soldiers Disturbed by Opposition to War Back Home

A week after NBC News reporter Jane Arraf conceded that life in Iraq “isn't entirely what it seems” from the constant media focus on bombings, the Friday NBC Nightly News gave rare voice to soldiers in Iraq disturbed by criticism of the war back home. Embedded with the Army's Stryker Brigade's Apache Company (the Fort Lewis, Washington-based 1st Battalion of the 23rd Infantry Regiment; newspaper story) in Hurriya, Richard Engel relayed how “troops here say they are increasingly frustrated by American criticism of the war. Many take it personally, believing it is also criticism of what they've been fighting for. Twenty-one-year-old Specialist Tyler Johnson is on his first tour in Iraq. He thinks skeptics should come over and see what it's like firsthand before criticizing." Johnson asserted: “You may support or say we support the troops, but, so you're not supporting what they do, what they're here sweating for, what we bleed for, what we die for. It just don't make sense to me."

Staff Sergeant Manuel Sahagun directly took on the spin of war critics, complaining that “one thing I don't like is when people back home say they support the troops, but they don't support the war. If they're going to support us, support us all the way." Engel soon powerfully concluded: "Apache Company has lost two soldiers, and now worries their country may be abandoning the mission they died for.”

Video clip (1:10): Real (2 MB) or Windows Media (2.3 MB), plus MP3 audio (400 KB)

My January 19 NewsBusters item, with video, recounted:
Back in the United States from Baghdad, NBC News correspondent Jane Arraf, who joined NBC last year after eight years with CNN, conceded that life in Iraq “isn't entirely what it seems” from the constant media focus on bombings. In studio with Brian Williams on Friday's NBC Nightly News, she acknowledged how journalists are “really good at getting across the relentless bombing and the violence, but it's really a lot harder for us to portray those spaces in between. I mean, for us, we live in the city. It's as secure as it can be, but we wake up to the sound of car bombs. We feel the mortars sometimes. And in a horrible, inevitable way, it becomes sort of like the weather, and it's kind of the same for Iraqis. Unless they're in the middle of it, life looks amazingly normal."

Williams noted how “we get asked all the time....where's the good news we know is going on there?" Arraf conceded there's “a piece of good news that's out there every day that's really hard for us to get at,” and that's how “there are children walking to school, there are girls and boys, there are Iraqi girls who are walking to school, and it's that wonderful sign of resilience that is the fabric, the background of life there.” But, “to go out and do that story....we'd probably be putting those children in danger because that is the nature of television.”

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video for the January 26 NBC Nightly News report from Iraq:
Brian Williams: "Tonight we get to see American soldiers on the job in Iraq, and more important really we get to hear from them about all the talk about the war here at home. We get this view courtesy of our veteran Baghdad-based correspondent who is tonight embedded with U.S. forces as they prepare to be joined by a whole lot more U.S. forces. Here with our report, NBC's Richard Engel."

Richard Engel: "When the Stryker Brigade's Apache Company headed out this morning, they had one mission: to find bases for the new U.S. troops coming in. There aren't a lot of safe options in Hurriya. This Baghdad neighborhood has been overrun by Shiite militias that have forced out nearly all of the Sunnis. The company also checks out an Iraqi army outpost, but it's just a trash-strewn soccer field exposed to snipers. And there's a bigger problem: The Iraqi soldiers aren't staying on guard duty."

Unidentified soldier to an Iraqi soldier: "We came here to find you guys, and we came in here and no one was here."

Engel: "It's not just the new mission the new soldiers are adjusting to. They have something else on their minds -- the growing debate at home about the war. Troops here say they are increasingly frustrated by American criticism of the war. Many take it personally, believing it is also criticism of what they've been fighting for. Twenty-one-year-old Specialist Tyler Johnson is on his first tour in Iraq. He thinks skeptics should come over and see what it's like firsthand before criticizing."

Specialist Tyler Johnson: "-because people are dying. You know what I'm saying? You may support or say we support the troops, but, so you're not supporting what they do, what they're here sweating for, what we bleed for, what we die for. It just don't make sense to me."

Engel: "Staff Sergeant Manuel Sahagun has served in Afghanistan, and is now on his second tour in Iraq. He says people back home can't have it both ways."

Staff Sergeant Manuel Sahagun: "One thing I don't like is when people back home say they support the troops, but they don't support the war. If they're going to support us, support us all the way."

Engel: "Specialist Peter Manna thinks people have forgotten the toll the war has taken."

Specialist Peter Manna: "If they don't think we're doing a good job, everything that we've done here is all in vain."

Engel: "Apache Company has lost two soldiers, and now worries their country may be abandoning the mission they died for. Richard Engel, NBC News, Baghdad."
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center