Anthony Shadid

September 26, 1968 – February 16, 2012

Anthony made reporting look so easy. His writing was always fluid, transforming even the scariest of situations into the perfect setting for a good anecdote. I first met him in Tyre during the hot days of the July 2006 war when the Israeli air force was pounding southern Lebanon. Most journalists and NGO-types had gathered in one hotel in the city. It was hot, humid, and frankly a bit miserable. I was new to the journalists’ scene and it felt intimidating. Each evening, war photographers would trade stories on the day’s horrors dropping passing references to Grozny, Bosnia and Iraq.  

Anthony was different. Despite winning the Pulitzer Prize for his work on Iraq (he would go on to win a second one in 2010), he was approachable, modest and available to help others. He worked hard — was often the first out the door during that 2006 summer — but somehow never bragged about it. 

What set him apart was not just his beautiful prose or his attention to detail. It was his ability to get people to open up, to share with him intimate parts of their world. Iraqis, Tahrir square activists, southern Lebanese, Benghazi residents, all told him their stories, and he did a superb job relaying their fears, hopes and dreams. Steve Fainaru, a reporter who worked with him in Iraq was right when he called Anthony’s dispatches “poetry on deadline.” 

In an age of “embedded” journalists acting as scribes to invading armies, Anthony embedded himself in the societies he wrote about. He often reminded me of those mid-century anthropologists who spent months and sometimes years observing a society and striving to understand its unspoken rules. At his commemoration last month in Beirut, his brother said that even as a child, Anthony’s favorite past time on family vacations was to go discover. We should deem ourselves lucky that he shared his discoveries with us in writing.  

A few months ago, I met Anthony for coffee after he had returned from a particularly difficult and dangerous trip to Homs. He said it was one of the scariest trips he had ever made — a tall order for someone who had been shot in Ramallah and kidnapped in Libya. I teased him saying that with two Pulitzer prizes under his belt, maybe it was time to leave the running around the frontlines to others and write punditry. He smiled. He wanted to spend more time with his family, he said, but he loved reporting and there was so much going on in the region. That urge to go discover was still tugging at him.  

He died last month from an apparent asthma attack while trying to cross back to Turkey after reporting from northern Syria. Like so many great explorers before him, it was just one trip too many.

Anthony, you will be missed.

Nadim Houry is deputy MENA director at Human Rights Watch. He is also the director of the Beirut office.

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