The Roundup

OKC Councilman Ed Shadid Blames New York Times for Cousin Anthony’s Death

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Posted 06.26.12

Oklahoma City councilman and physician Ed Shadid blames The New York Times for the death of his cousin, Anthony Shadid, a foreign correspondent who was at work for the paper in Syria when he died of an asthma attack.

On Saturday night, Ed Shadid spoke at the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee’s convention in Washington, D.C., telling attendees, according to Politico: “The phone call the night before he left [Turkey for Syria], there was screaming and slamming on the phone in discussions with editors… 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.”

Anthony Shadid’s wife, Nada Bakri, also a journalist with the Times, refused to comment, but she tweeted Monday:

#AnthonyShadid “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.”

Ed Shadid also questioned his cousin’s cause of death, saying it sounded more like a heart attack than an asthma attack. “He noted that Shadid was a smoker and says he’s never seen the results of an autopsy,” Poynter reported. According to Gawker, “the emphasis on asthma comes from (photographer Tyler) Hicks, who wrote that Anthony sustained increasingly severe allergic reactions to the horses they travelled with. But according to Ed, Anthony took has young daughter to horseriding lessons once a week without any adverse reactions.”

“They put out a story that Anthony Shadid died from asthma—according to who? Dr. Tyler Hicks?” Ed told the site.

The Times initially declined to comment, but, after ADC’s legal director, Abed Ayoub, issued a statement—“From our end, we do stand by that, that there should be a closer look at the standards that are being used in sending journalists into war zones. It is great loss for the community, but the facts surrounding his death are interesting and there should be a closer look at the circumstances that led to that. We do hope that action is taken and rules are put in place so that we don’t lose another talent such as his.”— the Times did as well, also through Politico:

“Anthony’s death was a tragedy, and we appreciate the enduring grief that his family feels,” New York Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy told POLITICO. “With respect, we disagree with Ed Shadid’s version of the facts. 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.”

Tyler Hicks, the photographer who accompanied Anthony Shadid on his last assignment, told The Los Angeles Times: “We both campaigned very hard to go on this assignment.” Anthony’s brother, David Shadid, refused to comment, and “the unnamed sister-in-law who supposedly overheard the phone argument didn’t return an email from the (Los Angeles) Times,” Poynter reported.

According to Politico: “In his conversation with editors, Anthony Shadid is said to have complained about logistical issues regarding his transfer into Syria. Ed Shadid also told the audience that his cousin was suffering from health issues prior to his entry into Syria. Anthony Shadid died from an acute asthma attack on February 16.”

Anthony Shadid. Photo courtesy Flickr user Terissa Schor.

In his interview with Gawker, Ed Shadid said Anthony “didn’t want to go to Syria in February, didn’t feel like he had the support of his editors, and had been previously warned off a Syria trip by a Times security consultant.” From Gawker:

“There was a security advisor who said, in no uncertain terms, ‘You are forbidden to enter Syria,'” Ed says. “So Anthony wrote an email to Tyler Hicks and says, ‘Hey man, it’s off. We’re not allowed to go.'” But roughly six weeks later, Ed says, Anthony’s editors reversed course and asked him to go anyway.

“The situation was worse on the ground than it had been in December,” Ed says. “The only thing that had changed was that CNN had gained access to [the rebel stronghold] Idlid. My understanding is that CNN gaining access bothered his editors.” …

He asked for camping equipment to bring along on the journey through the mountainous border, Ed says, but his editors said no. When the 43-year-old reporter complained about the physical demands of the journey, Ed says, Times foreign editor Joseph Kahn responded, “It sounds like you’re going to get a lot of exercise on this assignment.”

In his ADC speech, Ed Shadid said Anthony’s death “is misunderstood, and there’s a tendency to romanticize it.” He quoted former NYT Executive Editor Bill Keller: “Anthony had one of the characteristics of great journalists. Great journalists always go… Anthony knew the risks but chose to go anyway.” Ed Shadid said the problem with that is that it puts pressure on young journalists eager to get ahead in their careers to “always go,” to “take excessive risks,” even if it might not be in their best safety or health interests.

He said: “Commitment and a history of bravery can be exploited by editors and management who are under their own pressure to meet their production goals and achieve awards.”

Shadid urged “prudent industry-wide protections for our correspondents.” He told Gawker that his family doesn’t plan to pursue legal action against The New York Times. “All he wants, he says, is to start a conversation about steps that the Times and other papers can take to better protect the safety of its correspondents.,” Gawker reported.

“How much would it cost to do an annual physical exam?” he said. “Or mandate basic medical training? These are not expensive, complicated things.”

Holly Wall, News Editor