The Common Good

Anthony Shadid, 1968-2012

Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Anthony Shadid files a report by moonlinght in Iraq, 2003. Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Late last Thursday evening, getting one final fix of news before going to bed, I saw it. Anthony Shadid, the New York Times correspondent and Beirut bureau chief, had died from an asthma attack while ending a clandestine reporting trip into Syria. He apparently suffered the attack in a reaction to horses being used by smugglers helping him and a photographer leave the country.

When you read the news as much as I do, you learn which bylines to look for if you want the most comprehensive and well-written coverage of a story. Mr. Shadid was one of those correspondents.

In a career that included stints with the Associated Press, Boston Globe, Washington Post, and The Times; Mr. Shadid covered one of the most dangerous parts of the world — the Middle East. He was shot in the West Bank in 2002, kidnapped and beaten in Libya in 2011. He won two Pulitzer Prizes, in 2004 and 2010, for his reporting on the Iraq war; and has been nominated by The Times for a 2012 prize.

I first remember reading Mr. Shadid when he wrote for the Globe, and soon realized there was something special about his writing. He understood that history is made by ordinary people as much or more so than by politicians and diplomats. His fluency in Arabic and his intimate knowledge of the history and culture of the Middle East gave Mr. Shadid's reporting and analysis a depth and nuance that no one else could match. Here are some excerpts from his reporting.

These themes were repeated over and over in the tributes this morning.

Martin Baron, the editor of The Boston Globe, for whom Mr. Shadid worked, said in an interview:  

“He had such a profound and sophisticated understanding of the region. 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.”

Jill Abramson, executive editor of The Times, in her email message to Times staff announcing Mr. Shadid’s death, wrote:

“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.”

After his release in Libya, Mr. Shadid spoke of why he took such risks, "I guess on some level I felt that if I wasn't there to tell the story, the story wouldn't be told."

In an era when loud-talking ideologues sitting comfortably in television studios pass as journalists, there are far too few journalists who do the hard and often dangerous work of telling us the stories. Sadly, there is now one fewer, and there are stories that now will not be told. 

Anthony Shadid, I’ll miss you.

For a look back at highlights of Shadid's video reporting from around the Middle East, click the link below.

New York Times Video Feature: Anthony Shadid, on the Scene

Duane Shank is Senior Policy Advisor for Sojourners. Follow Duane on Twitter @DShankDC.


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