Colleagues: Shadid a 'giant' among Mideast reporters

'NY Times' correspondents remember a world-class journalist whose generosity matched his talent.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Shadid 390 (photo credit: REUTERS/Turkish Foreign Ministry/Handout)
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Shadid 390
(photo credit: REUTERS/Turkish Foreign Ministry/Handout)
The ranks of Middle East journalists lost a giant on Thursday when The New York Times’ Anthony Shadid died of an asthma attack while reporting in Syria.
Shadid, an American of Lebanese descent, was the recipient of two Pulitzer Prizes for his coverage of the Second Gulf War and its aftermath.
His death at 43 left Shadid’s fellow Times journalists mourning a man they described as both a world-class reporter and a generous friend.
“Anthony was a giant among us,” said Ethan Bronner, the Times’ outgoing Jerusalem bureau chief. “He was, hands down, the best correspondent of the Arab world in the US media.”
“Anthony stood head and shoulders above everybody.”
“The most amazing thing is that he did that while being a pretty great guy at the same time,” Bronner said after returning to Israel from Turkey, where he helped make arrangements to transfer Shadid’s body to Lebanon for cremation.
“Had Anthony died several years earlier, it would have been the same enormous human tragedy. But in terms of our need to understand what’s going on in the Arab world in the past year, his loss is larger than that,” Bronner said. “We need his dispatches – by we, I mean all of us.”
“He had tremendous sympathy and deep, textured knowledge of the region, without sentimentality or excuse-making,” he added. “He was a great reporter who worked the street, got to know people and wrote stories of exceptional quality and lyricism. All around, it’s an enormous tragedy.”
Shadid died a week after sneaking into Syria’s Idlib Province, where he trailed the Free Syrian Army and reported on its increasingly bloody revolt against President Bashar Assad.
He was married to Nada Bakri, also a Times reporter, and had two children.
A native of Oklahoma, Shadid worked for the Associated Press, Boston Globe and Washington Post before joining the Times two years ago. In 2002, while covering the second intifada for the Globe in Ramallah, he suffered a gunshot wound to the back of his shoulder that he attributed to an IDF sniper.
While reporting in Libya in March of last year, he and three colleagues were captured and held for five days by forces loyal to the country’s strongman Muammar Gaddafi. One of those captured was fellow Times reporter Stephen Farrell.
“There are many advantages to having a foot in two cultures, but there are real disadvantages too,” Farrell said from Jerusalem.
“We were kneeling on the ground with guns pointed to our heads when those disadvantages became apparent.”
These Libyans thought they had four Americans in front of them – in fact, two of us were American, I’m British and Anthony had Lebanese documents on him,” he said. “I speak enough Arabic to know, and he certainly understood, that they said, ‘He’s a translator, he’s a spy – kill him.”
“Anthony’s Arabic, cultural knowledge and appearance allowed him to blend into a crowd the way others couldn’t,” Farrell added. “But when it went wrong, it would mean added danger for him – that in the heat of a highly stressed situation, someone might not make a distinction between Arab and Arab- American, and decide he’s more expendable than anyone else.”
Farrell said that his late colleague always retained the instincts of a reporter, even in the most trying circumstances.
“When we realized they were going to let us go, it was clear that mentally he had been reporting everything – every detail,” he said. “He had remained a reporter throughout, in what was a very scary time. At the end of it, we produced a report – heavily reliant on him – that was not just a tale of our capture, but a tale of Libya.”
“Anthony had a real sense of mission,” he added. “He wanted to show the human cost and consequence of war.”
Shadid, his colleague recalled, was talented enough to be charitable with his gifts. “Anthony knew how good he was, and he certainly had ambition and drive.
But he was good enough to not feel threatened by anyone,” Farrell said. “He was generous with his time and his expertise, and would even translate for people on the street if they didn’t speak Arabic.”
“There was no sense of this competitive overdrive you get with those striving to reach the top of the pile,” he said. “He was at top of the pile – he knew it and everyone else did.”