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Anthony Shadid: Quite simply the best

Our veteran Lebanon reporter Nicholas Blanford recalls the courage, humility, and friendliness of his Lebanese-American colleague, who died yesterday while reporting in Syria.

By Correspondent / February 17, 2012

In this February 2011 file photo provided by The New York Times, Times journalist Anthony Shadid, middle right, interviews residents of Embaba, a lower class Cairo neighborhood, during the Egyptian revolution. Shadid, the Middle East correspondent for The New York Times, died Thursday of natural causes while on a reporting assignment in Syria.

Ed Ou/The New York Times/AP/File

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Beirut

Anthony Shadid, the Middle East correspondent for The New York Times who died Thursday of natural causes while on a reporting assignment in Syria, was, quite simply, the best.

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The quality and depth of his reporting from across the region, particularly Iraq, was peerless, leaving the rest of us regional foreign correspondents stumbling in his wake in rueful admiration of his bravery, modesty, and innate talent. Perhaps part of that talent came from the fact that while he grew up in America, he was of Lebanese descent and thus had a cultural affinity with the region he was covering.

Although he began reporting from the region from 1995, first with the Associated Press in Cairo, then The Boston Globe and The Washington Post, it was in Iraq where he rightly achieved renown. Reading Anthony’s work, one sensed that he had an ability to shut himself off from the pressures of deadlines and the demands for instant analysis to take the time and thought to patiently locate, extract, and expose the soul of a story.

He did this with unforgettable and moving portraits of individual people attempting to cope with the rigors and fears of life in post-2003 Iraq. These elegantly written and nuanced reports, which became his trademark, offered a far more compelling and powerful insight into the realities of Iraq than the pedestrian daily accounts of the ebb and flow of the conflict.

His two Pulitzer Prizes for International Reporting, awarded in 2004 and 2010, were justly deserved.

A series of firsts

Anthony set a blistering pace in the competitive world of journalism. Even while he was busy racing between Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya to report on the startling developments of the Arab Spring, he still found time to scoop us all in his coverage of Syria. In May 2011, Anthony scored a fascinating and frank interview with Rami Makhlouf, Syria’s über-oligarch and cousin and confidante of President Bashar al-Assad.

Mr. Makhlouf’s boast that the regime would fight to the end in a struggle that could turn into a sectarian war and destabilize the Middle East revealed the arrogance of power and also left embarrassed Syrian officials scrambling to downplay the impact of his words. Anthony had won an unprecedented invite from Makhlouf to Syria in response to his profile of the influential regime insider published in The New York Times days earlier.

Not content to land the first interview with Makhlouf in the Western media, Anthony returned to Syria days later, this time without an invite. He became the first foreign reporter to clandestinely slip into Syria, boldly riding a motorcycle across a remote stretch of Syria’s border with Lebanon to reach Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, which was just then beginning to bear the brunt of the regime’s crackdown.

Calculated risks

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