CBS’ Dr. Arnot examines Somalia

Dan Rather anchors the news at CBS, but it’s the network’s health correspondent, Dr. Bob Arnot, who tends to get himself right in the middle of the action. For Arnot, Somalia is no different.

For example, while most of the press corps watched the Marines land from the beach, Arnot, with producer Joe Halderman and a crew, viewed the landing with the bad guys. Instead of staying on the beach, Arnot watched alongside those people the Marines were coming to disarm.

Arnot spoke to a handful of reporters yesterday from Somalia as several rounds of gunfire went off near him and Cobra helicopters hovered in the air.

“There are military flares coming down, Cobras overhead,” Arnot said, as he fielded questions. “There’s a return of fire, several hundred yards away.”

Arnot, who typically spends most of his time on the domestic airwaves talking about the latest in medical techniques, has been having a field day covering Somalia.

During the Marines’ landing on Tuesday, his crew was forced to drop their equipment so they could be checked out. That was only after the Marines had fired over his head as he was doing a stand-up.

“The first deep landing was made this morning,” Arnot explained. Arnot and his producer Halderman found out about the secret mission and traveled to the southwest Africa town of Berdera to report on the situation.

When the crew and their armed guards drove out onto a barren airstrip, they found themselves looking down Marine gun barrels, and were made to get out of the car.

“These guys are jumpy. But I do think it’s a little unfair to say they were too jumpy,” Arnot said. “Their lives are at stake.”

Arnot is no stranger to the troubles in Somalia, nor the danger. He spent a week in the country last August reporting for each of the network’s news programs. That footage is now being combined into a documentary for PBS.

A doctor by training, Arnot doesn’t find a conflict between being a reporter and being a doctor trying to report on a story where there is a great medical need. And in famine-wracked Somalia, there is plenty of need for more doctors.

“I’m never afraid to turn doctor,” Arnot said. “I honestly don’t think it’s a conflict if you’re not using it in your reporting.”

While the country is a haven for such diseases as tuberculosis, measles and malaria, Arnot is quick to admit that the real danger comes from gunfire. Yet when traveling the doctor relies on things such as Powerbars and Slim-Fast to provide the nutrition he needs, and to prevent him from getting sick from local food and water.

Aside from the actual military coverage, Arnot believes there needs to be a greater emphasis on humanitarian reporting by the TV networks. This new beat would delve into issues such as famines, health, medical issues and people that could have an international impact.

“A situation like Somalia wouldn’t have happened if there was strong human-rights reporting,” Arnot said. “You really have to get into a situation like Somalia early and say, ‘This isn’t right.’ “

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