I don’t know how much to read into this, but one of the best embedded television reporters in Iraq is Bob Arnot, a man who’s background includes neither a journalism degree nor time reporting on a daily newspaper, but of all the teevee reporters covering this war, Arnot is the one who reminds me most of an Edward R. Morrow or a young Dan Rather.
Arnot isn’t a reporter by training. He is a doctor.
His live reports are Hemingwayesque prose poems. Terse. Tight. To the point. He paints pictures in short, verb-packed sentences. He talks fast, but never hyperventilates or overplays the story (like, say, Geraldo). He gives you the facts with little opinion and hardly a trace of bias, except for an understandable admiration for the Marines he covers. When I heard about the plan to have embedded journalists cover this war, Arnot’s reports, with the choppy video phone pictures direct from the front lines, is the kind of reporting I imagined we would get.
Part of what makes Arnot so good is that he seems fearless. He never files a report far from where the actual fighting is taking place. He stands in the middle of an open road or an open field and doesn’t flinch. He describes bullet whizzing over his head as if he were telling us about standing on a subway platform as the 5:15 goes by. He is all about the story, not the face time or potential book deals waiting for him when he gets home. For Arnot, it is clearly the moment that matters most, and what that moment means for the men in his unit.
To me, that is just damn good journalism.
Sadly, few if any other reporters seem to take the same approach. In comparison, most reporters are lifeless and fail to capture the context the events they tell us about — well after the fact. Arnot rarely files after the fact. Where most reporters keep their video phones focused on their photogenic mugs — except for the rare interview — Arnot is constantly directing his camera operator to zoom in on this artillery barrage, or that group of young Iraqi males milling about down the road, or the Marine snipers on a roof. Arnot puts the viewer right in the war instead of relying on second-hand summations.
They don’t give Pulitizers’ for broadcast coverage, but Arnot should get one just the same. Or at least an Emmy.
You can find Arnot on MSNBC.