As Politico reported and several friends have communicated to me, the late Anthony Shadid’s cousin Ed Shadid gave a very dignified commemoration at the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee’s gathering on the weekend in which he accused the New York Times of killing the renowned Arab-American writer by twisting his arm to go into Syria last February on a reporting assignment that he regarded as highly risky.
“The phone call the night before he left [Turkey for Syria], there was screaming and slamming down the phone in discussions with editors. As he got to Turkey and the plans began to fall apart… There weren’t motorcycles [he had arranged to be there]…
“It was at this time that he called his wife and gave his last haunting directive that if anything happens to me I want the world to know the New York Times killed me.”
The speech is igniting a quiet firestorm about journalism and risk. The New York Times has denied the allegation:
“The Times does not pressure reporters to go into combat zones. Anthony was an experienced, motivated correspondent. He decided whether, how and when to enter Syria, and was told by his editors, including on the day of the trip, that he should not make the trip if he felt it was not advisable for any reason.”
I happen to be on the Times’s side on this inasmuch as I believe journalism is often a dangerous undertaking, and grownups have to make decisions for themselves. Journalists gain glory by undertaking dangerous assignments. Shadid had been shot by the Israelis years before.
That said, I don’t think the issue will go away. There is bound to more scrutiny of these editorial decisions. Six years ago my editors at New York Magazine stopped me as I was buying my ticket to Iraq, on assignment, because they were being prudent and didn’t want me or their magazine to bear the risk. I was relieved. It is important to hear from Shadid’s widow, Nada Bakri, a Times correspondent. She tweeted the following a half hour ago:
“I do not approve of and will not be a part of any public discussion of Anthony’s passing. It does nothing but sadden Anthony’s children to have to endure repeated public discussion of the circumstances of their father’s death.”
(One way we can honor Shadid, I think, it to focus more on the many Mexican reporters who are right now dying to get out the truth. And give them support by examining the truth on this side of the border.)