04/12/2011 05:37 pm ET | Updated Jun 12, 2011

NBC Reporter Engel in a Class by Himself in Middle East

What's right about TV and cable news? This critic doesn't often get to address that because broadcast and cable news is generally so dismal -- disgusting, even.

But here's a rare example of TV news excellence: NBC's Richard Engel.

The NBC/MSNBC Middle East correspondent -- more precisely, war correspondent -- recently won the David Bloom Award for courageous reporting. The handsome, bright Engel richly deserves it.

Two main reasons Engel's reporting is miles ahead of the competition's:

a) He speaks Arabic, unlike few U.S. reporters, which gives him a huge advantage over most Western newspeople in many ways; and, b) Engel is fearless. For years he's been a peripatetic presence throughout that turbulent region.

Engel, who was then working for ABC, was the only U.S. reporter left in Baghdad when the U.S. began bombing (the "Shock and Awe" show). We've also seen Engel crouched down in the mountains of Afghanistan, reporting among isolated and besieged U.S. troops.

He was all over Egypt during the recent uprising before moving to more dangerous Libya, where his clear-eyed reports have surpassed all other Americans'.

One recent report especially stands out.

Engel was in the desert outside the rebel stronghold of Benghazi amidst a group of young rebel fighters armed only with pickup trucks and a few rifles. The NBC reporter was telling the amazing, dismaying story of a young man armed only with... a toy plastic gun!

Suddenly, 50 yards away, an artillery shell exploded and everyone, including Engel, hit the dirt. Engel then showed the young rebel braving live rifle fire -- to retrieve the toy pistol he'd dropped after the explosion. It was an unforgettable moment.

I once saw the thoughtful Engel candidly admit on MSNBC that he felt the odds were high he might be killed doing his job one day, and he discussed how he dealt with this daily.

I've watched the bright reporter stroll through a busy market in Kabul with MSNBC's veiled-up, also-bright Rachel Maddow. He helped her buy a blanket -- decorated with AK-47's. He also showed Maddow Kabul's wealthiest neighborhood -- complete with dirt roads and garbage piled in the streets outside the mansions. That spoke volumes about the schizoid, dysfunctional nature of that embattled country.

Engel and MSNBC morning anchor (and Carolyn Kennedy lookalike) Chris Jansing co-hosted a remarkable series of live MSNBC nightly specials on the Libyan conflict all week long recently. Remarkable not just for their live nature, but for Engel's singularly brilliant reporting.

The ever-intrepid Engel, showing impressive versatility, co-anchored the broadcast -- he, from Benghazi, near the fighting. Out in the desert being shelled during the day, in the city anchoring a live network broadcast at night.

At first, I thought it silly to have a battlefield reporter, Engel, asking questions of in-studio guests, but Engel's queries were some of the most substantive and knowing I've heard about what's going on in Libya.

One Engel gem illustrated the lopsided match between the ragtag rebels and Col. Khaddafy's trained troops. Engel, just back from the front, reported that he'd seen rebel forces firing their rocket launchers repeatedly -- in the wrong direction.

Then, a few nights later, we saw Fox News' dismal Geraldo Rivera posturing out in the desert. Jon Stewart had fun with this riduculous nonsense.

The comparison with Engel's reporting was telling.