Anthony Shadid should have been in Cambridge last night.
The city was like home to him, one of his colleagues recalled, and he had long been scheduled to appear at the Harvard Book Store to launch his new book House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East. He died last month of an asthma attack while covering the bloodshed in Syria.
Instead, Shadid's colleagues gathered last night to pay tribute to a man they described as the greatest foreign correspondent of his generation, as Shadid's wife and young son and daughter sat close by -- so close that in the recording of the event below, you can hear his son's voice. If you care even a little bit about journalism, you will not regret spending an hour listening to these stories.
The Shorenstein Center's Alex Jones moderated a panel featuring three of Shadid's colleagues, who told stories of his bravery in reportage, his loyalty and calm under fire, and his extraordinary gifts as a storyteller. Phil Bennett, now of Frontline but who worked with Shadid as an editor at the Washington Post, pointed out that Shadid had won the first Pulitzer ever given for covering the "other side" of an American war. Charlie Sennott, the founder of Global Post, recalled Shadid's early days as a Boston Globe correspondent -- recounting an incident in Rammalah in 2002 in which Shadid was shot in the shoulder (Shadid believed by an Israeli soldier) and came within a hair of death. Sennott noted that he refused to be transported to a better hospital across the border -- for fear that his Palestinian translator would be left behind -- and that when reached by phone, while in great pain, Shadid calmly laid out a succession of precisely lined-up facts. Globe editor Marty Baron recalled that Shadid had originally been hired to cover technology -- and that his transer to the foreign desk after 9/11 should rank as one of the greatest transfers in the history of journalism. Bennett recounted the story of Shadid's transformative coverage for the Washington Post in the first days of the American invasion of Iraq -- and how, as American forces prepared to move in and the Post recalled its correspondents, Shadid told him that while he understood Bennett might have to fire him, he was not leaving the country. The results of Shadid's subsequent reporting not only changed the way the war was covered, Bennett argued, but also may have changed the course of events on the ground. And finally, his New York Times editor Susan Chira read excerpts from Shadid's newly-published memoir, while pointing out that Shadid died while reporting on historic events that he had hoped for and prophecied: the spark of the Arab Spring, its complex and chaotic aftermath, as well as the questions of identity that threaded through all of Shadid's best work.
LISTEN: A Tribute To Anthony Shadid. With Susan Chira, Charlie Sennott, Phil Bennett, and Alex Jones. [Download Mp3]