Richard Engel Embraces Learning Disability

By Chris Ariens 


Ruth Friendly, Jeff Fager, Francoise Simon and Richard Engel at the Fred Friendly awards luncheon. (Photo: Quinnipiac U.)

Most years, the Fred Friendly awards luncheon honors a member of the TV news media who has shown courage in their work. This year, two TV newsers, one posthumously, were honored for their contribution to journalism and for preserving the rights of the First Amendment.

While the Fred Friendly First Amendment Award was presented to NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, Quinnipiac University’s School of Communications also presented a Lifetime Achievement award to the late Bob Simon.

So in one gilded room of New York’s Metropolitan Club — about as far from Baghdad, Cairo and Mogadishu as you can get — network newsers from both NBC News and CBS News gathered to honor Engel and Simon for their daring and enduring work.

Following an introduction from Ruth Friendly, widow of the legendary CBS News president for whom the award is named, 60 Minutes ep Jeff Fager accepted the award on Simon’s behalf. Tanya Simon, a 60 Minutes producer, was pegged to accept the award for her father but was sidetracked by a trip to the hospital where she gave birth to her second child today. The baby boy’s middle name is Robert, Fager revealed.

“I feel very connected to Bob,” Engel said in his remarks. “I am an admirer of his work, and now I work with his former producer, the amazing Ben Plesser.” Plesser was in the crowd, at the head table.

Engel, who covers all corners of the globe for NBC News, said despite “almost limitless sources of information” censorship “is alive and well.”

State controlled media is thriving. Just go to Russia and ask people what they think is happening in Ukraine. Or go to Egypt and ask about the former president. Go to Turkey and you’ll see – or actually you won’t see – the dozens of reporters and media activists behind bars.”

Like Fred Friendly was, Engel revealed he is dyslexic. “My grades were poor and my behavior was erratic, mostly bad. I got into fights. I had little self-confidence,” Engel said, adding, “I now think being dyslexic is a privilege. Because – who wants to think like everybody else?”

Supporting Engel at the luncheon: NBC News president Deborah Turness, ep of international Madeleine Haeringer. Also, NBC News execs Alex Wallace, and Pat Burkey, and correspondents Ayman Mohyeldin, Kate Snow and Harry Smith.