Oct 31, 2023 - Economy

Trey Yingst on reporting from Southern Israel: "You smell like death"

Screenshot of Yingst on air, courtesy of Fox News

Trey Yingst, a 30-year-old Jerusalem-based foreign correspondent for Fox News, has been covering wars and power battles in the Middle East and Europe since 2018. He tells Axios that he saw "the worst of humanity on display" during the Oct. 7th Hamas attack on Israel.

Why it matters: The personal toll of war on journalists is rarely covered on air or in print. The stress of reporting out a story and getting it right is often compounded by constant safety and security concerns, as well as mental and emotional baggage.

  • "There are some moments we don't talk about – you get back from these scenes and you smell like death. The smell sticks to your clothes and to your hair," he said.
  • "It's those moments that people don't think about in this coverage that are challenging because you are sitting there alone on the floor of the hotel room scrubbing blood of someone else off your boots."

Driving the news: Yingst and his team are currently staying in the city of Ashdod, just north of Gaza. He is traveling with his producer, cameraman, engineer and security.

  • He and his crew are working around the clock, leaving to shoot interviews or video of a scene at 9:30 a.m. and doing reporting and live shots "until we fall asleep at night." Multiple times over the past three weeks Yingst said he has fallen asleep with his clothes and shoes on.
  • Fox News has been reporting from Southern Israel for weeks, but access to Gaza and the Gaza border is becoming more difficult as the war progresses, Yingst said.
  • "We are facing two access problems – one has to do with getting into the closed military zone on the Gaza border and the other is getting into Gaza – there is no way to get into the Gaza Strip," he said. "We are doing what we can to get access where we can."
  • Reporters on the ground trying to cover the conflict should make contact with the people inside Gaza, Yingst said. "That part of the story is the most challenging to cover here."

Zoom in: Yingst has covered a slew of ground conflicts, including the war in Ukraine, but said with this conflict, "I've seen some of the most horrific things that can be done to humans."

  • He gave a few examples of what that looks like, including watching the bodies of police officers and militants being stacked in the back of a pickup truck in Sderot, witnessing authorities at the site of the music festival massacre pick up burned pieces of festival-goers and put them in bags and walking through blood-covered homes in Be'eri.
  • "You had to be careful where you walked in Be'eri so you didn't trip over bodies."

Be smart: War coverage experience has helped Yingst and his team navigate what's happening in Israel, although Yingst admits that "everyone was caught off guard" by the Oct. 7th attack.

  • "Right now, I am watching cluster ammunition being fired into the Gaza Strip. They are 155 mm rounds and I know that because they are the same rounds that are being used in Ukraine," he said.

Between the lines: Sending journalists into war zones takes enormous resources and planning. Already, this war has proven to be one of the deadliest for journalists in recent memory, with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) estimating that at least 31 journalists had died so far.

  • Writing to us from the Gaza border, Yingst remarked that he and his colleagues are within feet of a shelter, as they only have "10 seconds to respond" to any incoming threats.
  • One of the ways the team has navigated attacks is letting the camera roll while getting to cover during incoming fire.
  • Yingst said journalists on the ground from various outlets help each other by sharing locations where there is good cover.

The big picture: Even for journalists on the ground, confirming facts and figures can be challenging.

  • The Al-Ahli Arab Hospital attack on Oct. 17th showed how difficult it can be to rely on just one source of information in real-time.
  • One way Yingst and his team try to avoid being misled is to review original sources of video and imagery themselves and to insist that sources feeding them footage screen shot the meta data "so I can ensure that what they are saying is accurate," he said.

The bottom line: "There is no room for the fog of war among journalists," Yingst said. "We have to get it right."

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