the friendly, genuine, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist
By Joe Hight, 2013 Inductee
My mind wandered when Anthony Shadid’s name was read for induction into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame in 2012. All I could think about is what he said to me the year before.
“Joe, I think this will be my last stint in the Middle East. I want to be here for my children.”
The induction to the Hall of Fame was well-deserved for a journalist considered among the greatest of all foreign correspondents. But it was sad, too, considering what he said to me and coming only two months after he died at age 43 of an apparent asthma attack. He had been trying to cross the Syrian border after spending a week there reporting for The New York Times.
Shadid and I had connected during his trips back to his native Oklahoma City. He would return to talk about his experiences in reporting in the Middle East or to provide training to students or fellow journalists.
His wife, Nada Bakri, said in an interview with Democracy Now after his death that she was struck in how modest he was when she met him in 2006. By that time, he already had won one Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for his coverage of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and its aftermath. He would win another in 2010. The Pulitzer board noted that he was able “to capture, at his own peril, the voices and emotions of Iraqis.” His coverage was “rich, beautifully written.”
Bakri also talked about “how nice he was,” how he always made time for people, how he always listened to them. It was his trademark as a reporter and as an individual. “The Anthony I knew was a hard-working journalist who never turned anyone down.”
He always seemed willing to stay that way when he returned to Oklahoma, even as his fame grew. But I also understood his deeper side, one involving his own heritage. After one of the times he spoke at The Oklahoman, I drove him back to his childhood home. We started talking about his last name and how it was pronounced. In Oklahoma, he said it, it was “Sha-DID.” But outside of Oklahoma, it was “Sha-DEED.”
He said in an interview on a Thousand and One Journeys: The Arab American Experience that he felt Lebanese Americans had to assimilate into the community, into the state of Oklahoma. That they were “not wanting to be too different.” That was the reasoning he gave me for the pronunciation of his last name here. At the same time, as he stated in the interview, he was “proud of being Lebanese… Proud of being Arab American.”
He seemed fearless as a journalist, too. He kept returning on assignment to the Middle East despite being shot in the shoulder as he walked on a street in the West Bank in 2002, despite fearing for his life after being kidnapped and tortured by the pro-government militia in Libya for more than a week in 2011, despite being harassed during riots in Egypt that same year.
He said in the Thousand and One Journeys interview that it was “painful as a journalist” to cover the human tragedy in the Middle East. He admitted, “I don’t like covering conflict.”
But he did it because he found friendly people whenever he was on assignment there. He found “how gentle” the Middle East can be.
That was a trait that I believe he found in most places he visited. A trait that made him among the friendliest and most genuine journalist I had ever met.
After the induction ceremony in 2012, I searched for a book that Anthony had signed for me. It was the paperback of the Night Draws Near, which won the 2005 Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
He wrote on October 4th, 2010: “To Joe: A great friend in Oklahoma! Wishing best regards, Anthony Shadid.”
I suspect that’s what he was to everyone he knew, wherever he traveled: A great friend. That’s how I’ll remember him.