Anthony Shadid: The Caring Correspondent
By: Layal Haddad
Published Friday, February 17, 2012
Whenever Anthony Shadid (1968-2012) came close to death, he would get angrier.
When he was hit by an Israeli sniper’s bullet in Ramallah in 2002, he took it personally: “I believe I was deliberately targeted...There were no battles going on for it to be a stray bullet,” he remarked in an interview published in Al-Akhbar last year.
When he was part of a New York Times crew that was kidnapped in Ajdabiya in Libya last March, he thought he was finished: “We tried to escape from the military checkpoint, but they chased us and caught us...I froze in my place. I felt it was the end.” The New York Times’ Beirut bureau chief was indeed nearly killed, but was saved by his US passport, which ensured him and his colleagues a safe return.
“I want more,” he would say with a broad smile and glinting eyes. That was always his attitude in the 20 years he worked as a journalist in the region. If there was a story to be covered in Oman or Syria, he would travel there to get a feel for what the situation was like on the ground. In 2003 he was stationed in Iraq, where he was sent to cover the American invasion. He also travelled to Egypt, where he described listening to Hosni Mubarak’s resignation speech on February 11 in Tahrir Square as one of the best days of his life.
“The youth were chanting and the square was filled with Abdel Halim Hafez songs,” he recalled. “These Egyptians were telling their government: we’re better than you think.”
Shadid understood, in other words, that the “Spring” the Arab world was experiencing was genuine. “For the first time ever, I feel optimistic” about the region’s future, he said at the time. “I hope it’ll have a positive effect on Lebanon.”
Lebanon was ever-present in Shadid’s life. He was born in Oklahoma to parents of Lebanese origin. His paternal grandfather hailed from the southern town of Marjayoun and emigrated to the new world in the 1920s in search of a better life. But the family never forgot their southern Lebanese roots and Lebanon was always in their thoughts, especially after the outbreak of the civil war in 1975.
“I don’t remember my family being with one side or against another. But my father’s views were left-leaning, and that helped form my political consciousness and my brother’s,” he recalled.
That consciousness, in turn, attracted Shadid to the world of journalism. “I wanted to change attitudes towards the Middle East,” he explained. “I didn’t like what I was reading or viewing about the region. The news was reported in line with US foreign policy.”
He specifically remembers, as a young man in 1982, reading slanted and misleading reports in the American press of the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the subsequent Sabra-Shatila massacre.
It was not just politics that drew him into the fifth estate, but attitudes to Arabs in general and the way much of the US media dehumanized them. He was determined, resisting his father’s attempts to persuade him to become a lawyer and going to the University of Wisconsin to study journalism.
He first took a job with The Associated Press in 1990. But he soon realized that it would be virtually impossible to write properly about the Middle East without learning Arabic. He packed his bags for Cairo, where he studied the language at the American University in Cairo and mingled with Egyptian society. In 1995, he began a four-year stint as AP’s Cairo correspondent.
Shadid then moved to the world of newspapers, initially with The Boston Globe. Thus began a journey that familiarized him with the tribulations of the wider Arab world and entailed several scrapes with death: in Ramallah, Beirut, Ajdabiya, Damascus, and of course Baghdad. The Boston Globe initially dispatched him to report from the Iraqi capital, but he soon moved to The Washington Post and covered the rest of the war and its aftermath for them.
His experiences in Iraq and his coverage were extraordinary. While foreign correspondents were being pulled out of the increasingly dangerous Iraqi capital, he insisted on staying. Days before the fall of Baghdad, he contacted one of the paper’s editors to beg him to let him stay. “I’ve given my whole life to this story,” he pleaded.
He did stay and wrote a succession of stories that highlighted the daily suffering of the people – the ”little” problems caused by the massive disaster inflicted on the country. “I wanted to show the reality and give a name to all those dead Iraqis who had just become numbers in the media,” he said. It was his reporting from Iraq that earned him his two Pulitzer prizes for international reporting in 2004 and 2010.
He was also short-listed for a Pulitzer prize in 2006 for his coverage of the Israeli assault on Lebanon in June that year, a subject he wrote about with accuracy and poignancy. “The human suffering in the south was among the worst I had seen in my life,” he said, likening the destruction there to the battered Iraqi city of Fallujah.
After the war, Shadid made a surprise decision. He came to Lebanon in 2007 and decided to spend an entire year in the country. He fixed up his abandoned family home in Marjayoun, which had been damaged by Israeli shellfire. A memoir he wrote largely during that time, House of Stone is due to be published in the US later this year.
Many wondered why he left The Washington Post in 2010 for The New York Times. His simple answer was that The Washington Post had changed in recent years and colleagues he had been close to had left the paper. He went on to work as The New York Times’ correspondent in Baghdad and then its bureau chief in Beirut.
In his last role, Shadid worked alongside his wife and New York Times colleague Nada Bakri. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the American University of Beirut, alongside distinguished figures such as the musician Marcel Khalife. He seemed happy living in Beirut, and particularly in Ras Beirut. He got to know it better and thought it a good place for his son, Malek, to grow up.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.
The interview with Anthony Shadid was conducted and published in Arabic in June 2011