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Shoot for the Stars Richard Engel

By tmcbpatriot | March 29, 2011 | 7 Comments

Shoot for the Stars Richard Engel takemycountrybackWhen I was a child, I think maybe in 1977, my mother took my sister and me to the taping of a game show. It was called “Shoot for the Stars” and it was on the air I think for about the time it took for them to record the shows I saw that day. But while the show was short-lived, something happened that day that I was reminded of yesterday and what led me to write todays post.

On that day the show was a cavalcade of stars including David Lander, otherwise knows as Squiggy from Laverne and Shirley, and June Lockhart from Lost in Space.

Now, for those who have never been to a taping of a live TV game show, here is how it works, or at least how it worked back in 1977…

A game show tapes multiple episodes in one afternoon with the same audience. Then on any given week those shows are broadcast over a period of a few days. The TV audience has no clue. You never see the audience, so how would you know? Anyway, during the taping of the first “episode” Ms. Lockhart complained of having a bad cold. After this first taping the contestants took a break, changed clothes and came back to film episode two. For those watching at home, the change of clothes cleverly gives the appearance of it being another day. To play up the ruse, the host even asked Ms. Lockhart how she was feeling today. Of course for us in the audience it’s the same day. Nevertheless she replies, “Oh much better today.”

I must have been 8 years old, but I was blown away by this. Wow! She just totally lied. Was she even sick 30 minutes ago or was the whole thing just acting? Well, I never forgot that and it has stuck in my memory ever since. In fact, it is the only thing I remember about that whole experience, except for how damn cold it was in the studio.

So here I am this past Wednesday listening to the Rachel Maddow show. He guest is correspondent Richard Engel. For those who don’t know, he is a movie star looking journalist who gets into the sh*t in war zones and looks great doing it. He is currently in Libya embedded with some “rebels,” er “freedom fighters” sorry, as they try to advance on some towns held by Ghadaffi’s army.

I now ask that you read some quotes from two different Maddow/Engel conversations over a three day period and tell me if I am having another Shoot for the Stars moment. To focus on the items of importance, I have put them in bold.

Here is Richard Engel from a transcript of the Rachel Maddow show – Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011:

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The road outside Benghazi today is a graveyard of Gadhafi‘s armored vehicles destroyed by Western air strikes.  After an hour and a half driving south flanked by desert, we reached the rebels‘ front line.  There are no trenches or sandbags, just men poorly armed who want to fight.

Outgunned, the rebels say they are killed whenever they approach Gadhafi‘s forces. “We have light weapons, he has tanks,” complained one man.

Another rebel showed me he isn‘t actually armed at all. (on camera):  It‘s a toy gun. This is amazing.  He just handed me his gun.  I didn‘t realize until he put it in my hand, it‘s actually just made of plastic.  It‘s a toy…(voice-over):  Shockingly, the rebel we interviewed leaves cover to retrieve his plastic gun, but abandons it as we hear another explosion.

We leave a few minutes later and find rebels regrouping at a safer distance.  But without leadership or the close air support they desperately want from the West, the rebels are struggling…

…Then when you get to the actual front lines, you see the rebels and they can‘t get further because Gadhafi‘s troops and tanks and artillery are still in a part of Ajdabiya, and the rebels are begging for close air support.  They want Apaches, A-10s.

And here is Richard Engel just two days later, again from a transcript of the Rachel Maddow show – Friday, March 25th, 2011:

MADDOW:  We had you talking about weapons and the rebels‘ ability to fight.  And they are sort of expressing some optimism that they are getting better in terms of their military capacity, their training, their discipline.  Do you share that optimism?

ENGEL:  I was fairly encouraged by what I saw today.

The rebels inside the city where they have something of—they are on par, more or less, with Gadhafi‘s forces, because Gadhafi‘s troops have the advantage in the open where they can fire tanks, they can shoot at great distances.  But in urban warfare, if you‘re untrained rebel, and you‘re a fairly unskilled Libyan soldier, the sides are much more even.

And we were somewhat encouraged.  We saw them moving better.  They seemed to be communicating among themselves with greater degree of sophistication. They were camouflaging some of their vehicles, and reinforcements were actually coming in, and they were in the town.  That‘s perhaps the most encouraging thing.

Now, they are willing to go into the city and fight. There‘s also a tactical advantage.  They don‘t have—Gadhafi‘s army doesn‘t have the heavy weapons they did before. So, yes, of course, that helps.

Whoa. What? Did I read this correctly? On Wednesday did Engel not say that the rebels were fighting with toy guns and without any coordination and “without leadership or the close air support?” Weren’t the rebels in fact, and in the words of Richard Engel, “struggling” against the formidable force of Ghafai’s army?

But then just two days later we find these same rebels ”on par, more or less, with Gadhafi‘s forces.” What seemed a cluster-f on Wednesday is now a more polished group who are “moving better and “communicating among themselves with greater degree of sophistication…and…”Gadhafi‘s army doesn‘t have the heavy weapons they did before??” WTF??

Maybe I am reading this incorrectly. Please tell me if that is the case. Otherwise, I fear that Engel just pulled a June Lockhart for the warring class. Is he perhaps changing his story based on the needs and desires of the military? Was Wednesday’s narrative not the “correct” one? Are we not supposed to think of these rebels as some sort of rag-tag-bad-news-bears, but rather a “sophisticated” and coordinated force?

Which is it Richard? And more importantly, why didn’t Maddow call him on it? Now I know you guys are chums and all:

MADDOW:  I will have to meet you in some country where liquor is illegal and fly you with liquor illegally there because I don‘t think you‘re going to be allowed to come home, man.

ENGEL:  I know. Next, you‘re going to say that we went to college together but weren‘t friends. But we‘ll go on from there.

But to be honest, I don’t give a rat ass about your friendship. Engel is in a war zone. Act like it! Cut out the banter and just tell me something that I can believe. When I hear/read stuff like this is just makes me wonder how much of what these people are saying is nothing more than television theatrics for those at home who are unaware of how things are really done.

It makes me wonder too how truthful they are being with us overall? At the end of the day is this all just simply television drama? Is this all nothing more than a show meant to entertain us? Worse yet, to distract us? To make us believe something that in all appearances looks real, but in fact is just one big lie?

I really hope that’s not the case. I expect this type of reporting with organizations like FOX “News,” but I had hoped Maddow had a bit more integrity than that. After watching these interviews over the past few days however, I had been made to wonder how much of this is real and how much is nothing more than actors playing a part.

I am sure I am not far off from the reality. Perhaps it’s a little of both. In other words, perhaps Ms. Lockhart was really sick but said she was feeling better just for the cameras. And perhaps Engel really did see amazing improvement over a two day period or perhaps he felt it a better narrative if he said so.

A game show is after all just entertainment for a boring afternoon. However, the more our news becomes something akin to what we now call “infotainment” the more sick I begin to feel. And unfortunately for me, that sick feeling won’t magically go away in a half hour.


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  • Jscott

    I’m not so sure what you’re obsessing over here. The “on par with” comment seems to be referring to the tactical abilities of each side (open terrain as opposed to close-in fighting), and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to believe that the rebels could have improved their firepower over a period of a couple of days. They could have obtained some abandoned or captured weapons from the military, and I have seen other recent reports that suggest there are CIA assets on the ground working to povide the rebels with weaponry. There are plenty of examples to support your hypothesis, but I don’t think this is a good one for you to use.

    • Anonymous

      Obsessed is a strong word. After all this is not myobsessionwithrichardengel dot com. This is a political blog where political type things are being thought about and written about. As is mostly the case is it to prove how idiotic the right is, but sometimes things happen that make me think and hence write about it.

      “It doesn’t seem unreasonable to believe that the rebels could have improved their firepower over a period of a couple of days.”

      I agree with you. But then why not say that is all I am asking? Why not say to Maddow that two days after you pretty much wrote these guys off my how things have improved SINCE then. It was as though however that the other day never happened. That struck me as odd and something I don’t normally hear, except of FOX on course.

      “There are plenty of examples to support your hypothesis.”

      Such as?

  • Cthulhu

    It’s not inconcievable that they had improvements over a 2 day period. We’re using A10s and AC130s in close air support roles (Which have NOTHING to do with enforcing a NFZ, btw.) which REQUIRE American forces directing the airstrikes. So we HAVE troops (frequently called “advisers”) on the ground, even though it’s denied. Those same advisors could ahve EASILY brought with them arms and ammo, and been instructing the rebels on tactics and fire control.

    • Anonymous

      “It’s not inconcievable that they had improvements over a 2 day period.”

      Correct. So say that. I literally was working while listening to this guy over those two days in question and what he said on the second day compared to the first make me stop and go…what? Then I went to the transcripts to make sure I did not imagine it. Maybe they did find weapons and get air support all of a sudden. But that would be pretty darn significant considering the rebel just the day before had a toy gun. Engel made a point to let us know that. Today that guy’s got an machine gun and air support? Cool! You’d think Engel would find it cool too and tell us about that. But he narrated as if the other day never happened.

      “Those same advisors could ahve EASILY brought with them arms and ammo, and been instructing the rebels on tactics and fire control.”

      Great! Then why not say so? Why make it sound as though what he said the other day never happened? And then why not ask him? If Maddow was actually listening to what he said on Wednesday she could easily have followed up on Friday with “You know, Richard I have to ask…you sounded pretty bleak the other day. Sounds like dramatic changes occurred in the past day. How does a shift like this happen?” Or does she assume we all should just know this?

      Just because its a liberal doesn’t mean we march in lock step. And thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

  • Bill_wolfe

    Your concerns about pro-war propaganda and TV news entertainment values are valid.

    But I think your illustration doesn’t work – conditions change and reality is complex. Urban “asymetrical warfare” does favor less organized and equipped forces.

    The excerpts you boldface do not support your conclusions.

    Mountain meet molehill.

    • Anonymous

      I understand your point and thanks for the comment. However, I listen to this stuff everyday, and I imagine you do as well. Normally I can follow along and it all seems to be quite linear but this just struck me as odd how one day things are going all to hell and the next they are looking much better. It was an odd way to report on it and then not even mention how bad things seemed just two days before on the same show and from the same city. What’s so molehill about that? Just because he’s an accomplished journalist who is friendly with Maddow doesn’t mean he is not thinking of a narrative. Has to be considered, doesn’t it? Dude’s famous after all and he knows it.