We are reeling from the loss of Anthony Shadid, an extraordinary reporter, gifted writer and good friend to many of our staffers, editors and regular contributors. Anthony served on our editorial committee from 2000-2002.
Anthony died cruelly, unaccountably young at 43, and for many of us, the blow is personal. He had been in so many scrapes before — shot through the shoulder by an Israeli sniper in 2002, kidnapped by Qaddafi loyalists in 2011, braving nearly every battlefield of the “war on terror” in the years in between. He did not set out to be a war reporter, of course. All three of the Boston Globe, Washington Post and New York Times hired Anthony to be a roving Middle East correspondent who would cover a range of topics. At each paper, however, regional conflagration and assignment editors intervened to send him back into the line of fire. That he succumbed to asthma on a smuggler’s route out of yet another war zone is a bitter pill to swallow.
Anthony’s talents were prodigious, as his fellow reporters have been first to say. “Graceful and gripping,” wrote Rajiv Chandrasekaran of his former Post colleague’s prose. “Something transcendent,” agreed Roger Cohen, the Times columnist. Naomi Klein summed it up in a tweet: “Anthony Shadid was a journalist without peer, the best of our generation.”
To read the numerous testimonials that appeared in the days after his death is to appreciate the magnitude of the loss for public life. Before Anthony came along, for instance, reporters of Arab heritage were rare at US outlets, which had not banished stereotypes of Arabs as biased or hot-blooded (and thus unfit to be journalists). Because of the subtlety and skill of his work, Anthony opened the newsroom door for dozens of other Arabs and Arab Americans. He was, said Hannah Allam of McClatchy, “our pioneer, our mentor, our poet laureate.”
Many have described Anthony’s reporting as poetry, and it could be that, but more important it was intelligent analysis. In taut dispatches of telling detail, he distilled the essence of the historical moment, not in a reductionist manner, but with nuance of both substance and language. Anyone could sketch the trajectory of Iraq’s “Sunni triangle” under US occupation — reticence, anger at doors kicked in at midnight, armed resistance, infiltration by al-Qaeda, civil war, uneasy respite — but no one illustrated it better than Anthony in his late 2009 story from the Tigris town of Dhulu‘iyya. There, in 2003, a man had killed his own son for working as a US informant. Anthony had interviewed him then; he returned six years later to assess the aftermath. In 3,300 words, Anthony told readers everything they needed to know about the war, with scarcely a sentence of exposition, let alone editorializing. He was a master of making his material speak for itself. In so doing, he left his readers so vastly better informed as to make them better citizens.
Likewise his penultimate report for the Times, from post-Qaddafi Libya, spoke more plainly about the consequences of NATO-assisted regime change there than the most incisive op-ed. The piece zips through the Libyan capital of Tripoli, quoting everyone from a militiaman to a novelist on its way toward a resident’s troubling epilogue: “I swear to God, this will never get untangled.” This sense of place, this ease of expression, this grasp of narrative flow — these are the reasons why Anthony won two Pulitzers and several other prizes. (It was not his facility in Arabic or his physical courage, though those things helped.) Anthony used the platforms he earned at some of the most important English-language newspapers to convey his characters’ humanity, as many have noted, but also a politics all the more powerful for its understatement. His artistry cannot be replaced.
Anthony Shadid was, above all, a profoundly decent and principled man. We extend heartfelt sympathies to his family and to all those who mourn his passing.