Anthony Shadid, 43, perhaps the most respected US reporter covering numerous wars and battles zones throughout the Middle East and North Africa in the past dozen years, died today in Syria. He reportedly suffered an asthma attack. His body was then carried across the border to Turkey by his New York Times colleague, photographer Tyler Hicks.
Shadid won two Pulitizers for his coverage while with the Washington Post and had just been nominated for this year’s prize by the Times. HIs last article for the paper was on turmoil in Libya. It ran on February 9 and, typically, drew wide attention and praise.
This is certain to be one of the biggest losses to journalism in years. Shadid, who spoke fluent Arabic, had long provided perhaps the most valuable coverage of the so-called “Arab street.” He once said no story was worth dying for, but some were worth taking big risks for, and recently indicated that Syria was one such story.
In a statement, Jill Abramson, the executive editor of the Times, said, “Anthony died as he lived—determined to bear witness to the transformation sweeping the Middle East and to testify to the suffering of people caught between government oppression and opposition forces.”
He leaves a wife and two children. His much-awaited memoir about his ancestors and heritage in Lebanon is to be published next month. Shadid was born in Oklahoma City in 1968.
The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill, a veteran of risky foreign coverage himself, tweeted tonight: “The flag of international journalism flies at half-mast for the great Anthony Shadid.” Shadid’s former colleague at the Washington Post, Steve Coil, reflects at The New Yorker, calling him "over the last decade or more the most intrepid, empathetic, fully engaged correspondent working in the Middle East for American audiences….He will be missed; his work is irreplaceable."
When I was editor of Editor & Publisher during most of the last decade, I assigned several pieces on Shadid. The first time we interviewed him was after he was shot in the shoulder by an Israeli soldier while covering violence in Ramallah in 2002, while still with the Boston Globe. We ran a photo of him being carried away.
A few months later, he provided rare, sober coverage of the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq, staying in Baghdad right up to the shock and awe attacks. He was probably the first US reporter to reveal that the Iraqis viewed the Americans as more of an invading than a liberating force. (Read one of his Pultizer-winning humanistic dispatches here.) In his 2005 book on the Iraq war, Night Draws Near, he observed that President Bush’s rhetoric sounded “idealistic to Western ears, reminiscent of century-old colonialism to a Third World audience.” In my book on Iraq and the media, So Wrong for So Long, Shadid is held up as an examjple of a reporter who was rarely wrong.
Then he provided the most fair and eye-opening reports in the mainstream press on Israel’s attacks on Lebanon in 2006—calling the human suffering and destruction he witnessed among the worst he had seen—and on Gaza. “Some suffering cannot be covered in words,” he wrote in that forthcoming memoir, House of Stone. “This had become my daily fare as reporter in the Middle East documenting war, its survivors and fatalities, and the many who seem a little of both. In the Lebanese town of Qana, where Israeli bombs caught their victims in the midst of a morning’s work, we saw the dead standing, sitting, looking around. The village, its voices and stories, plates and bowls, letters and words, its history, had been obliterated in a few extended moments that splintered a quiet morning.”
And then, in the past year, he was on the scene for the “Arab Spring,” the war with Libya—he was kidnapped there for a week, and beaten, and his driver was killed—and, of course, tragically, in Syria.
HIs final article on Libya last week found the country in the grip of some 250 militiias. He closed with a resident telling him: “I don’t know where this country is heading. I swear to God, this will never get untangled.”
His paper’s nomination for this year’s Pulitzer carried this comment about him: “Steeped in Arab political history but also in its culture, Shadid recognized early on that along with the despots, old habits of fear, passivity and despair were being toppled. He brought a poet’s voice, a deep empathy for the ordinary person and an unmatched authority to his passionate dispatches.”
Marty Baron, his former editor at the Boston Globe, told the Times tonight, “More than anything, his effort to connect foreign coverage with real people on the ground, and to understand their lives, is what made his work so special. It wasn’t just a matter of diplomacy: it was a matter of people, and how their lives were so dramatically affected by world events.”
Greg Mitchell writes daily for The Nation. He is the author of more than a dozen books, most recently, Journeys With Beethoven and Atomic Cover-up.