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Anthony Shadid Remembered for ‘Great Brilliance About War Reporting’

February 17, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
A gifted Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent and a regular on the NewsHour, Anthony Shadid's reporting took him from one conflict zone to the next -- from Egypt to Libya and Syria, where he died Thursday of a severe asthma attack while covering the Assad government's violent crackdown. He was 43. Jeffrey Brown reports.

JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight, we remember the life and work of a gifted foreign correspondent.

Anthony Shadid’s reporting took him from one conflict zone to the next, from Egypt . . .

ANTHONY SHADID, The New York Times: This is Anthony Shadid for The New York Times in Cairo.

In some ways, one revolution may have ended tonight with the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, and another revolution may have begun.

JEFFREY BROWN: . . . and Iraq . . .

ANTHONY SHADID: Baghdad’s a pretty grim place right now.

JEFFREY BROWN: . . . to Libya . . .

ANTHONY SHADID: The road to Tripoli is about an eight-hour drive that seems to capture the hopes, ambitions, anxieties, and fears of a country wrestling with its future.

JEFFREY BROWN: . . . and, finally, Syria.

ANTHONY SHADID: We have seen scenes of hundreds of thousands of people gathering in downtown Hama.

JEFFREY BROWN: It was in Syria that Shadid died yesterday of a severe asthma attack while reporting on the violent crackdown by the Assad government.

An American of Lebanese descent, Shadid had spent much of his career covering the Middle East for several news organizations, most recently The New York Times. He also appeared often on the “NewsHour” with his reporting from the region.

As one of the few American reporters fluent in Arabic, Shadid was able to shine light on untold human stories.

ANTHONY SHADID: Security remains the overwhelming topic of conversation in Baghdad today. Of these three families that I was spending time with over the past few weeks, it’s almost the only thing they wanted to talk about.

JEFFREY BROWN: He won two Pulitzer Prizes for his dispatches, in 2004 and 2010, both while working for The Washington Post.

David Hoffman was his editor at the paper.

DAVID HOFFMAN, former assistant managing editor, The Washington Post: You know, what made his writing special was his reporting. He was one of the most relentless and tireless reporters I ever worked for.

And only after he had listened to hundreds of hours of people talking, after he had filled notebooks, literally buckets full of notebooks with things he had seen and smelled and heard, did he actually sit down to write. And, as one of his friends said, he was one of those few people that wrote poetry on deadline.

Anthony’s great brilliance about war reporting was that the story was not only the great tumult of violence and the bombs falling and the strategy, but also the people who suffered in every war. And every single time he got in his car and he went to the dark corners of a place where people had their lights out, he would sit on the floor. He would ask them, what was your experience like?

JEFFREY BROWN: It was often dangerous work. In 2002, Shadid survived a gunshot wound while covering the West Bank. Last March, he and three other Times journalists were kidnapped in Libya by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi as they covered the revolution. They were detained for six days.

ANTHONY SHADID: Those first three days were the most harrowing. As soon as we humanized ourselves, as soon as we became, you know, people in their eyes, we were treated, at times, better. But I don’t want to dismiss what — what was visited upon us over those first 72 hours.

JEFFREY BROWN: In 2005, I talked with Shadid about his approach to his work when we discussed his book “Night Draws Near” about the Iraq war.

Now, you had the advantage of speaking the language. How important was that?

ANTHONY SHADID: You know, it was important during the invasion, because I could get off — get out on my own, and that was critical.

You know, in the aftermath, I found language most helpful in trying to, I guess, create a fuller portrait of what was going on. In a way, I think language added the background noise sometimes. It was the — you know, the choice of words, the sayings, how they fit into the bigger conversation.

JEFFREY BROWN: Capturing such intimate portrayals of life amid war, Shadid said, was a goal of his reporting.

ANTHONY SHADID: I had made a decision before — before the invasion began to, you know, stay in Baghdad, to try to get a sense of how a city was going to react to an invasion, a city under siege.

And it was really pretty early on in the war that people started talking a little bit more honestly than they might have before the invasion. And it was actually something my editor saw as well, that there was a story to tell perhaps in how people — what people were saying, just popular sentiments, and that popular sentiments might be more revealing than we thought they would be.

JEFFREY BROWN: Anthony Shadid was 43 years old. He leaves behind a wife and two children.