NEW YORK – On assignment anywhere there was news across the Middle East for the last 20 years, you would find Anthony Shadid in a tea house or on a street corner and he usually had people clustered around him.
He was always listening.
He listened to the voices of the ‘Arab street’ with patience and wrote with grace and insight about the rising frustrations, the hope for a better future.
Put simply, Anthony was the best Middle East correspondent of our generation, the living embodiment of the idea of ground truth. He won two Pulitzer Prizes — in 2004 and 2010 — and a legion of other professional awards and was widely regarded by his colleagues. His death in Syria of an apparent asthma attack Thursday at age 43 stunned us all.
"His enormous heart, his generosity, and his passion for the story were unlike anyone I have worked with," Susan Chira, Assistant Managing Editor of the New York Times who worked closely with Anthony as foreign editor wrote in an email. "I cared about him very much, and my heart goes out to his family and friends."
Just before a gathering at the Overseas Press Club where a moment of silence was observed in Anthony's honor, Sonya Fry, OPC executive director, said, "With so many deaths in the journalism world you continually brace yourself for the worst. This morning when I heard that Anthony Shadid died in Syria I was heartbroken all over again. He was such a brilliant reporter along with being a poetic writer – it is a combination that does not come down the pike very often. In addition to his journalistic excellence he was a gracious human being."
To see Anthony working the streets of Baghdad or Cairo was to see one of the great practitioners of the craft doing what he loved to do, which was tell stories.
Anthony took considerable risks to get the job done, but he was not a cowboy. He was always measured and determined. For him, it was about getting the story not thrill-seeking. He was grounded that way.
He had survived a hostage taking by Libyan forces last year, a gunshot in the West Bank in 2002 and countless near misses. But he always stayed focused on the story.
I remember in March of 2002 when he was shot in Ramallah while covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for The Boston Globe. The intifada was raging and he was there doing work that made us all proud. I reached him at his hospital bed just hours after the shooting. Early reports on the wires had described a ‘cross fire’ incident and Anthony wanted to correct that. It was just one shot, he said, in a voice that was groggy from painkillers.
He calmly described in complete detail how he had been shot while walking between checkpoints and he provided a solid, firm accounting without emotion or anger. Just the facts.
As editors Marty Baron and James F. Smith had worked to get Anthony safely out of the West Bank, he refused to leave unless Said Ghazali, the Globe's Palestinian reporter, came with him.
In Baghdad, no one was closer to the street than Anthony. As a Lebanese American, he felt at home in the Arab world. And he was at home. In fact, he had just recently shared with me that he bought his family’s home in Beirut and had been restoring it — a process he loved and was writing a book about.
He was a fluent Arabic speaker. But his greatest gift was his ability to just listen. My clearest memory of him in the field, the image that will always stay with me, is of him nodding his head and writing at the same time while someone else was talking. In my mind’s eye, I can see him doing that just about everywhere I was lucky enough to work alongside him.
He will be greatly missed at this time of tumult in the Arab world, a time when we need to listen closely now perhaps more than ever.