Inside the Mind of Anthony Shadid

The Pulitzer prize-winning war reporter for The New York Times, who died of complications from an asthma attack on February 16 in Syria, has been rightly honored as the finest foreign correspondent of his generation. But how did he pull off such remarkable work? What were the tricks of his trade? His old friend Dave Kindred, a former colleague at The Washington Post and author of Morning Miracle: Inside the Washington Post—A Great Newspaper Fights for Its Life, explains all. Over at GQ.com, we’ve posted a chapter from Kindred’s terrific 2010 book that is all about Shadid—how he reported, the dangers he encountered (including the harrowing tale of getting shot in the streets of Ramallah in 2002) and the toll it took on his young family. There have been so many great pieces about Shadid since his death last week. We are proud to offer up one more. Below is a brief excerpt from the chapter; the full chapter is here.

Shadid saw it all. The scene spoke to the asymmetry of the conflict Here were doctors in white smocks facing soldiers with M-16s. As an Israeli lieutenant talked to the hospital chief, Shadid listened. In their confrontation, he saw the war. The lieutenant was an army that had to search among civilians for the enemy. The hospital chief was Ramallah, powerless against power.

"The doctor and this Israeli were face-to-face and they were yelling at each other," Shadid said. "I’m standing right next to them. And I’m writing down every word. This was one of those moments. Through it, I could tell the entire story of this fifty-year conflict. I was so excited. This is it. You could see how the entire story would be structured. So excited."

When a peaceful compromise was made, Shadid headed back to his hotel with a colleague, Said al-Ghazali. They walked in the middle of the street lest they raise suspicion by moving along walls. Both wore white flak jackets marked on the back with red-taped “TV,” the best-known symbol for international press. He had his notebook in his hands, flipping pages to read notes.

Then he was falling before he heard the gunshot. “It was deafening, like they shot next to my ear,” he said. “Probably twenty-five feet away.” On the street, he couldn’t move. He first thought someone had thrown a stun grenade, a weapon that momentarily paralyzes its target. Then he felt pain on his spine. “Said,” he said to his friend, “I think I was shot.”

Al-Ghazali was down on the pavement with Shadid, searching for blood. “I don’t see anything,” he said. Shadid now reached behind his flak jacket and brought back a bloody hand. He thought to tell his wife and infant daughter good-bye. He thought of ambulances that couldn’t move on Ramallah’s streets. He also thought, “I’ll die if I wait for help.”

Al-Ghazali carried him twenty yards before they fell. “Journalists!” Al-Ghazali shouted. “Help! Bring us a car!” There was no one in the street, no one could hear them, no one except perhaps the Israeli who shot him. Shadid thought that man might now be watching him struggle toward a vehicle in the street ahead.

"He’s wounded!" al-Ghazali shouted.

An Israeli said, “Show us!”

Al-Ghazali turned Shadid so the soldier could see the white flak jacket red with blood. The bullet had passed through Shadid’s left shoulder, sheared off part of a spinal column vertebra, and burst through his right shoulder, a classic M-16 wound: tiny on entry, huge on exit. Twelve pieces of shrapnel remained inside the reporter’s back. In his Boston apartment years later, I asked Shadid, “Did the guy intend to shoot you?”

"There were rumors that Palestinians were posing as Red Cross workers and journalists. I don’t think if they knew I was an American journalist that I’d have been shot. They might have, who knows? They can be rough on journalists. I think they wanted to teach a lesson. ‘Here’s what we’re going to do to people acting as journalists.’"

"God," I said.

"A cold-blooded execution."

"From point-blank range," I said.

"They were looking to kill me. Crazy, but reading my notes may have saved my life. I think they were aiming at my head, and I moved my head down looking at my notes."

Reprinted from Morning Miracle: Inside the Washington Post: A Great Newspaper Fights for Its Life, with permission from Doubleday.