Anthony Shadid, one of the most incisive and honored foreign correspondents of his generation, died Thursday in Syria, where he was covering the armed insurrection against the government for his newspaper, the New York Times.
Shadid, 43, won two Pulitzer Prizes for his lyrical and poignant dispatches from Iraq, which he covered extensively for The Washington Post before and after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Shadid, a fluent Arabic speaker, roamed broadly across the Arab world, reporting with precision, nuance and depth from the West Bank, Lebanon, Libya and other troubled and peaceful realms in the region.
The apparent cause of death was an asthma attack — an ironic end for a man who placed himself in the path of danger countless times. Shadid was shot in the shoulder while in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Easter Sunday in 2002; he and several of his New York Times colleagues were arrested, detained and treated roughly by forces loyal to Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi last year.
“He changed the way we saw Iraq, Egypt, Syria over the last, crucial decade,” said Phil Bennett, the former managing editor of The Post who worked closely with Shadid. “There is no one to replace him.”
The Times said Shadid had been reporting in Syria for a week on rebels battling the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Tyler Hicks, a Times photographer who was accompanying Shadid, said the reporter had asthma and carried medication with him. Shadid began to exhibit symptoms early Thursday, and they escalated into what became a fatal attack, according to Hicks’s account, as quoted by the Times.
The two men had entered the country last week in defiance of a Syrian ban on Western reporters, sneaking in at night under barbed wire, according to the Times. They were met by guides on horseback, and Shadid apparently had an adverse reaction to the horses. A week later, as they made their way out, he reacted to the horses again. “I stood next to him and asked if he was okay, and then he collapsed,” Hicks said. Hicks attempted to revive his colleague and then carried him across the border into Turkey, the newspaper said.
The news of Shadid’s death sent shock waves through newsrooms in New York, Boston and Washington, where journalists who had worked with Shadid at those cities’ three leading newspapers recalled a colleague of deep intellect, enormous generosity and a well-tuned, ironic sense of humor. During the U.S. “shock and awe” bombing campaign in the early days of the Iraq conflict, for example, Shadid quoted an American-educated Iraqi this way: “To tell you the truth, I’ve been neither shocked nor awed.”
Marty Baron, editor of the Boston Globe, for which Shadid worked before joining The Post in 2003, recalled rushing to Israel in 2002 after Shadid, then a Globe reporter, was shot while covering demonstrations on the West Bank.
“It was amazing, seeing him in the hospital. Here was a person that, despite what happened to him, was still remarkably positive about things, demonstrated a real eagerness to get out of the hospital, get back in the field,” said Baron. “It was clear his wounds were not going to stop him, even though it looked like he was going to have severely limited mobility in at least one of his shoulders. He was amazingly resilient. He had such a love for the story of the region, and a passion for telling that story.”
Shadid, who lived in Beirut, had a daughter, Laila, from his first marriage, which ended in divorce. He had a son, Malik, from his second marriage, to Times reporter Nada Bakri.
In breaking the news to his staff, Washington Post editor Marcus Brauchli called Shadid “a brilliant correspondent, and a loyal and stalwart friend to many.” Shadid joined the Times in 2010.
Steve Fainaru, a former Post reporter who worked extensively with Shadid in Iraq and also won a Pulitzer for his own work, recalled him as “the best journalist I’d ever seen — without any question.”
“He wrote poetry on deadline,” Fainaru said. “What made him so great as a journalist [was that] he was able to somehow find compassion and empathy in everything he touched and wrote about.”
Fainaru recalled being in Kirkuk in northern Iraq with Shadid and asking the reporter if he thought it was safe to move around. “His response was, ‘I don’t know.’ And then he was gone. He was off reporting. . . . He was not, in my mind, an adrenaline junkie. He took the risks grudgingly, because that’s where the story was.”
Former Boston Globe foreign editor James F. Smith recalled that Shadid didn’t want to leave the West Bank after being shot in 2002 unless he was allowed to take a Palestinian colleague with him through the Israeli checkpoint. “It took hours to negotiate that passage, and Anthony’s life was at risk, but he wouldn’t come out on his own,” Smith said.
Shadid won the prestigious George Polk Award and an Overseas Press Club award; he is among the few foreign correspondents who have won two Pulitzers for foreign reporting.
Speaking to an audience in Oklahoma City about a month after being held with three Times colleagues in Libya, Shadid said he had had a conversation with his father the night before he was detained.
“Maybe a little bit arrogantly, perhaps with a little bit of conceit, I said, ‘It’s okay, Dad. I know what I’m doing. I’ve been in this situation before,’ ” Shadid told the crowd of several dozen people, according to the Associated Press. “I guess on some level I felt that if I wasn’t there to tell the story, the story wouldn’t be told.”
Shadid was a Lebanese American from Oklahoma; he studied at the University of Wisconsin and the American University of Cairo. He was the author of three books on Islam and the Middle East.
“Anthony Shadid’s magic was reporting,” said former Post foreign editor David Hoffman, who also worked closely with Shadid.
“Everywhere he went, he absorbed stories about people and their trials. Once when he was working on his second book, ‘Night Draws Near,’ we had a long talk about how to do it. And I saw how he did it: bundles of notebooks from Iraq, thousands of pages — stories, impressions, smells and sights. One young girl’s diary about those terrible days of war became part of the book, but the diary came to life in his hands.”
Hoffman recalled a memo Shadid wrote in early 2006 about wanting to probe what would happen when the frozen leadership of Arab countries cracked.
He wrote: “To me, this moment is no less sweeping than that experienced by Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the Cold War.”
“And he was right,” said Hoffman. “The Arab Spring was what he had been waiting for.”
Editors Denny McAuliffe and Patricia Gaston and researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.