Trey Yingst isn’t getting much sleep these days.
The 26-year-old Fox News foreign correspondent is in Baghdad reporting on the tension among the United States, Iraq, and Iran after the killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. At one point this week, Yingst said, he stayed awake for more than 48 hours straight, and over that time did more than 50 news hits across various Fox News programs.
But don’t feel bad for Yingst — he’s doing the job he dreamed of growing up in Harrisburg watching news reports from around the globe. Normally based in Jerusalem, Yingst became focused on Iraq after a tense, two-day siege by pro-Iranian demonstrators at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad earlier this month. He’s remained to cover the killing of Soleimani and a missile attack this week on bases used by U.S. troops.
“I’m a news junkie, and for me the news is part of my identity,” Yingst said in a phone interview. He’s modeled his approach to being a war correspondent after no-nonsense icons like Walter Cronkite, who like Yingst loved a good suit and stuck to the facts.
Despite having just joined Fox News in 2018, Yingst hasn’t been afraid to challenge assertions made by the Trump administration on the president’s favorite network. Last week, during a report on Fox & Friends, Yingst called out Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for claiming Soleimani’s killing would lead to a de-escalation in Iran.
“Let’s be very clear about something: The assassination of the most powerful military leader in Iran is not a de-escalating act,” Yingst said.
On Tuesday, Yingst again pushed back against the administration, this time on claims made by Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who downplayed a vote by the Iraqi parliament to expel U.S. troops from the country.
Yingst described Esper’s comments as “a shocking lack of understanding from America’s top defense official about what’s actually happening on the ground here in Iraq.”
“No, I haven’t heard anything,” Yingst said when asked if he received any blowback from the Trump administration over his reports.
Yingst has been reporting from dangerous areas since his freshman year at American University, when as a 20-year-old he was the youngest credentialed member of the press to cover fighting along the Gaza Strip. He’s also spent time in Ukraine, Rwanda, and Uganda.
After graduating from college, he took a job with One America News Network, a pro-Trump news channel that rarely bucks the president. But Yingst’s bluntness was visible during his 16-month stint as the network’s chief Washington correspondent. During one exchange in 2017, Yingst refused to let then-White House press secretary Sarah Sanders off the hook when it came to a false statement made by the president about taxes.
“I’m not a huge fan of politics — I wouldn’t say it’s my passion," Yingst said. “I’m much more interested in foreign policy and travel, so the job at Fox News aligned more with what I was interested in.”
Speaking from Baghdad on Wednesday, Yingst talked about the dangerous situation on the ground and why it’s difficult for TV news networks to report there live. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
It’s become hard to report live from Iraq. In fact, you’re one of the few U.S. TV reporters on the ground there.
The visa process is very difficult. … I’m using a local crew on this assignment because the visas are so difficult. I normally travel with my crew from Jerusalem.
Also, for the past few days, reporting is really dangerous right now for Americans in Baghdad because there’s basically a target on our backs. … There’s a security team with me in Baghdad, four security guards and two armored vehicles. These are all precautions Fox is taking because they understand the risk of an assignment like this.
What’s something going on now in Iraq you think most Americans should know about?
The Iranian presence here in Baghdad is very extensive. It’s like an octopus’ tentacles, it’s reaching all over.
Who were the correspondents you grew up watching who helped you decide you wanted to do this as a career?
The journalists I looked up to and watched a lot were Arwa Damon, Clarissa Ward, Steve Harrigan, and Anderson Cooper. I always followed war correspondents because I thought it was so cool they could go to a different part of the world where things were totally different from where they lived and grew up. … They all were able to humanize stories in a way I really respected.
How often do you communicate with your parents, and do they worry about your safety?
Oh, yeah. They’re in Harrisburg and I talk to them all the time, but they’re Mom and Dad, and they’re worried about my safety. … This isn’t the only conflict zone I’ve reported from, and I can’t say they’re always thrilled, but they know this is what I’m passionate about and love to do.