Anthony Shadid dies at 43; New York Times foreign correspondent

Anthony Shadid, a reporter for the New York Times, died Thursday in Syria.
Anthony Shadid, a reporter for the New York Times, died Thursday in Syria.
(Julia Ewan / Washington Post)

Reporting from New York -- Anthony Shadid, a journalist who gave voice to those muffled by the turmoil around them — from Iraqi families enveloped in civil war to young Libyans spurred to take up arms against a dictator — died while doing just that: reporting from Syria in defiance of official attempts to limit media coverage of the bloodshed there.

Shadid, who died Thursday at 43, was stricken by an apparent asthma attack while preparing to leave Syria with his New York Times colleague, photographer Tyler Hicks. The newspaper said Shadid developed breathing problems while walking toward the border with Hicks and guides who had helped the pair slip into the country a few days earlier.

Although Shadid carried medication to manage his asthma, he also had a severe allergy to horses and was walking behind some when he had the attack, his father told the Associated Press. Shadid collapsed and died, despite Hicks’ attempts to resuscitate him.

The photographer carried Shadid’s body to Turkey, the Times reported.


Countless readers knew Shadid as one of the most prolific and poetic correspondents to cover the Middle East.

“It is no exaggeration to say that Shadid raised the bar for contemporary deadline war reporting in the Iraq conflict just as Ernie Pyle did as a correspondent in World War II,” the Los Angeles Times said in a review of his 2005 book, “Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War.”

Shadid won two Pulitzer Prizes, in 2004 and 2010, for his coverage of Iraq for the Washington Post. In 2004, judges cited his “extraordinary ability to capture, at personal peril, the voices and emotions of Iraqis as their country was invaded, their leader toppled and their way of life upended.” Six years later, they noted his focus on Iraq’s people as they “struggle to deal with the legacy of war.”

He began his career in the Midwest with AP, where his stories underscored the scars left by social upheaval.

Describing the destruction of a once-thriving auto factory in Kenosha, Wis., in 1990, he wrote that its “towering smokestack crashed to the ground with curtain-closing finality.” Covering the plight of innocent victims caught up in gun violence, he told of a girl shot dead on her ninth birthday by a stray bullet while lying on her mother’s bed.

It was a reporting style for which Shadid became known as he went on to cover the Middle East for the AP, Washington Post, Boston Globe and New York Times, which he joined in late 2009.

“He understood how essential it was to bring life to those forgotten stories of the victims of war and oppression. He made it his mission, and he succeeded with a startling clarity and depth,” said David E. Hoffman, a contributing editor to Foreign Policy magazine and a former foreign editor at the Post.

A Lebanese American who grew up in Oklahoma City, Shadid did not fit most outsiders’ image of a foreign correspondent steeped in war.


He had been shot in the West Bank in 2002, abducted in Libya and chased countless times; he had published two books; and he had been decorated with countless awards. But he rarely mentioned his exploits unless asked, and he seemed determined to use his experience to help others excel in a profession often known for fierce competition.

“Anthony was the kindest, most giving journalist I ever met,” said Leila Fadel, the Washington Post bureau chief in Cairo, who was a Boston Globe news assistant when Shadid was overseas reporting for the newspaper. “Most correspondents had no time to speak to an aspiring journalist still in college. Most didn’t even have time to be polite,” said Fadel. “But Anthony would … always offer advice and time.”

“When I was rejected from every internship I applied for, he told me he had been rejected as well from seven internships,” she said. “He saved every letter and looked back at them knowing they were wrong about him.”

“Anthony was not only a brilliant journalist, he was a people magnet; he gathered them by the dozens and stayed in touch,” said Kathleen Carroll, AP vice president and executive editor. “But most of all, Anthony was a colleague, a friend and a towering talent whose marvelous work and generous heart will be missed in equal measure.”


In the Baghdad neighborhood where Shadid had lived for a time during the Iraq war, near correspondents from several other Western news organizations, Shadid was known as a dogged journalist who still found time to host a card game, arrange a dinner party or happily take part in the few social events that a war zone allows.

“With all his superior expertise and accolades, he never got dogmatic, he kept an open mind,” Larry Kaplow, one of those correspondents, wrote on Shadid’s Facebook page, which quickly filled with similar comments. “Whenever he ... spoke about a subject, it seemed he was more testing theories and soliciting feedback (from me, from diplomats, from people on the street), rather than making an assertion or taking a stance.”

Shadid was born in 1968 in Oklahoma City to Rhonda and Buddy Shadid, and his Lebanese heritage drove him to become fluent in Arabic.

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1990, Shadid joined the AP, working in Milwaukee, Cairo and Los Angeles. He moved to the Globe in 2001 and was with the Washington Post from 2003 until he went to the New York Times. Most recently, he was the Times’ bureau chief in Beirut.


Shadid’s books include “Legacy of the Prophet: Despots, Democrats and the New Politics of Islam” (2001); and “House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East,” scheduled to be published next month.

In addition to his parents, Shadid’s survivors include his wife, Nada Bakri, who is also a reporter for the New York Times; a sister, Shannon, of Denver; a brother, Damon, of Seattle; a daughter Laila, from his first marriage; and a son, Malik, born in 2010.

Shadid’s Arabic served him well in his reporting but worked against him in March 2011 when he and three other New York Times journalists and their driver were detained by Libyan troops. When the captors heard Shadid speaking Arabic, they assumed he was a spy and threatened to kill the group. The journalists were released six days later, but the Libyan driver was killed.

Speaking about the incident later in Oklahoma City, Shadid said he had responded to his father’s concerns before the trip “perhaps with a little bit of conceit.” “I said, ‘It’s OK, Dad, I know what I’m doing. I’ve been in this situation before,’” Shadid said. “I guess on some level I felt that if I wasn’t there to tell the story, the story wouldn’t be told.”