Remembering 'Times' Correspondent Anthony Shadid

New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid died Thursday in Syria from an asthma attack. His reporting from Iraq, Libya and all over the Mideast was unparalleled. Robert Siegel speaks with Rajiv Chandrasekaran, an associate editor at The Washington Post and friend of Shadid.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

You have probably heard by now about the death of Anthony Shadid in Syria. That's because Shadid was so admired as a journalist and we cannot help but remark on his passing.

He died, evidently, of an asthma attack while on assignment in Syria for the New York Times. He was a native of Oklahoma City, of Lebanese ancestry. Before he worked for the Times, he won two Pulitzer Prizes as a Middle East correspondent for the Washington Post. He was both brave and enterprising in gathering the news and succinct and cogent in reporting it. He appeared many times on NPR programs, including this one.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran was Anthony Shadid's colleague at the Washington Post, where he is now associate editor and he joins us now. Welcome.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN: Good afternoon.

SIEGEL: When you think of Anthony Shadid's work and what he did best, what comes to mind?

CHANDRASEKARAN: Well, it's hard to pick a single story or even a single event. I mean, he was courageous beyond belief in the face of the American bombardment in Baghdad in 2003. You know, he fearlessly covered the Israeli war with Lebanon in 2006 and, most recently, you know, he's been in Egypt and in Libya, where he was kidnapped with some other New York Times journalists.

And, in each place, his work has been revelatory, it's been ahead of the pack and just so profoundly illuminating.

SIEGEL: Something that you've observed about Anthony Shadid is that, because he was the grandson of Lebanese immigrants, some readers or even colleagues might have assumed that he came by his fluent Arabic the easy way at home. Not so.

CHANDRASEKARAN: No. The hard way. He actually decided to learn Arabic after college. He went to Cairo and he immersed himself. He took classes there and he just worked at it and he had a real passion for the region and it came from a lot of hard work and a lot of love for the subject matter.

SIEGEL: I gather from what another former Post colleague of his and yours, Steve Cole, wrote today, that when he first applied for the job, he was absolutely single-minded about what he wanted to do: it was be a Middle East correspondent.

CHANDRASEKARAN: That's right. And that's what he saw as the pinnacle of his career. And I felt like, when the Iraq war started, a lot of us were caught flat-footed in the world of journalism. This was something that Anthony had seemed to be preparing his entire adult life for.

SIEGEL: He had not only been kidnapped in Libya. He had been hit by a bullet. He'd been shot in the West Bank, as well.

CHANDRASEKARAN: Yes. He was shot in the back in Ramallah. One more centimeter, he probably would have been dead. He survived that. He survived so many close calls, but he wasn't one of these adrenaline junkies. He wasn't a risk taker. He did go out, though, and put his life at risk time and time again because he believed in the importance of telling the story and he believed you couldn't go and tell the story from a distance. You had to be there. You had to be talking to people. You had to observe it.

SIEGEL: And it was the region in war or in peace. I mean, this was, as you say, not - he was not the adrenaline junkie who would have gone from here straight to the Congo and, from there, to - if there was a war somewhere in South Asia or wherever there's a war. You, know, I mean, that's not it.

CHANDRASEKARAN: No. It was the region. And both for good and bad, the region, in his adult life, has been defined by strife and so he was able to illuminate that strife in ways that went beyond the bang-bang of the day so we could understand the deeper, more enduring themes. We could see the humanity amid the rubble and we could see where these conflicts were headed.

SIEGEL: Rajiv Chandrasekaran of the Washington Post, thank you very much for talking with us.

CHANDRASEKARAN: Good to talk to you.

SIEGEL: Rajiv Chandrasekaran was speaking of Anthony Shadid, his former colleague at the Washington Post who died in Syria on assignment for the New York Times. Shadid was 43. He leaves behind a wife and two children.

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