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Remembering Anthony Shadid

Phil Bacharach February 17th, 2012

What I remember most about Anthony Shadid from high school was his laugh. It was disarmingly infectious. His eyes would crinkle and his head would tilt back, and he reminded me of a young Ringo Starr, all smiles and shy charm.

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That easy laughter made me underestimate him. Later, when we were both studying journalism at colleges out of state, we met up two or three times for beers over Christmas break. I remember being surprised and impressed by his passion in discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This guy is going places, I thought to myself.

And he did. As a reporter for The Associated Press, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post and eventually The New York Times, Anthony arguably proved himself the finest foreign correspondent of a generation.

He earned two Pulitzer Prizes, first in 2004 for his reporting on the U.S. invasion of Iraq and again in 2010. Anthony, who was fluent in Arabic, was that rarest of journalists whose gifted prose matched his intrepid reporting.

He was a consummate storyteller and, up until his death Feb. 16 at the age of 43, he seemed unstoppable.

It is a cruel irony that this man who reported from the most dangerous places in the world ultimately fell victim to asthma. He suffered an asthma attack while on an under-the-radar assignment in Syria.

By then, Anthony had already survived being shot while on assignment in the West Bank in 2002. And in March of last year, military forces in Libya held him and three of his New York Times colleagues captive, during which time they were subjected to abuse.

I did not know Anthony very well, but he was the kind of person you couldn’t help but warm up to, a trait that I suspect aided his reportage. He was a hero of mine, and I followed his career from afar with a mix of pride and awe.

The globe is a lonelier place for losing Anthony’s voice. That is not an exaggerated pronouncement. With the Arab world in the midst of an extraordinary, historic transformation — and when many Americans continue to fear Islam in a post-9/11 environment — Anthony’s dispatches exemplified journalism at its most noble and vital. His compassion, breadth of knowledge and powers of observation helped bridge oceans.

Anthony did so much more than give a human face to the people whose stories he told. He showed us their humanity. Lynne Roller, Anthony’s high school English teacher, remained friends with him throughout his life. That friendship took a new context when Lynne became education and research director at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum.

“His gift was helping us, as readers, understand what the people in the midst of that violence felt and thought,” she told me. “He made you understand war, terrorism and violence in a whole different way. He felt so passionately about the need to tell those stories.”

Anthony is dead, but we cannot afford to lose his voice. In an era that has witnessed the erosion of traditional journalism, he represented something pure and true about the profession. His father Buddy told The Oklahoman his son “lived and breathed journalism.” But it went deeper than that. Anthony Shadid was journalism itself, a testament to its power to teach, humanize and understand.

Anthony’s laughter is what I remember most vividly, but it’s his voice I will miss the most.

Phil Bacharach is editor-in-chief of Oklahoma Gazette.
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02.17.2012 at 03:13 Reply

Mr. Bacharach has truly honored his friend.


02.17.2012 at 04:42 Reply

I remember him speaking to us back when I was in highschool as his Alma Mater (Heritage Hall) He was great, kept up with him throughout the years. Sad sad day.


02.18.2012 at 06:58 Reply

I did a piece on Anthony for Distinctly Oklahoman a few years back and he was a class act. If you want to get a taste of his rich point of view and his seemingly effortless way with words, read Night Draws Near, a wonderful book about Iraq and what we were doing (and not doing) there. Linda McDonald