Veteran foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid died while on assignment for the NY Times in Syria yesterday, of an apparent asthma attack. Shadid, 43, and photographer Tyler Hicks had sneaked across the border from Turkey (crawling under a barbed wire fence), and spent a week covering the conflict there. Hicks says Shadid had asthma medication with him, but on their way back to Turkey he suffered a fatal attack, apparently brought on by their guides' horses.
"I stood next to him and asked if he was O.K., and then he collapsed,” Hicks tells the Times. "He was not conscious and his breathing was very faint and very shallow." After a few minutes, he said, “I could see he was no longer breathing." Hicks performed CPR for 30 minutes, and then carried Shadid's body the rest of the way back across the border to Turkey.
Shadid, an American of Lebanese descent who had a wife and two children, won two Pulitzer Prizes for his reporting with the Washington Post, and authored three books, the third of which is due out in several weeks. Called House of Stone, it tells "the story of Shadid’s efforts to rebuild—and excavate the history of—a family property in Lebanon," according to Steve Coll at The New Yorker. Coll writes:
There are other great Middle East correspondents working today—Robert F. Worth of the Times, for example—but none with Anthony’s personal story and outlook, which flowed into his story choices, sentences, and techniques. Journalists recognize each other’s signatures and tricks. One of Anthony’s was to frame a story around the proprietor of a single café, bookstore, or university department. It’s not easy to bring a passive character and setting of that sort to life, but Anthony did it again and again.
Reading the whole body of his work was like reading a linked series of stories about a world of (usually) men bathed in cigarette smoke, hyped up on coffee, and ready to talk about why the world is the way it is. Like a great short-story writer, Shadid’s use of these characters was neither too heavy nor too light; he let them breathe and speak, and they allowed the reader to join in, to slip inside worlds and ways of thinking normally closed off.
In an email to Times staffers last night, Jill Abramson, the executive editor, wrote, "Anthony died as he lived — determined to bear witness to the transformation sweeping the Middle East and to testify to the suffering of people caught between government oppression and opposition forces." His last article for the Times was a dismaying account of the chaos in Libya, where the "paralyzed" government is unable to control warring and looting militias. "This is destruction!" a 51-year-old militia commander told Shadid. "We’re destroying Libya with our bare hands."