Those who were there said the crowd gasped.
Ed Shadid, the cousin of late New York Times reporter Anthony Shadid, was speaking at a banquet for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee on Saturday night in Washington, D.C. He had been offering advice on how people could support Anthony’s causes when he dropped a bombshell that instantly hit Twitter and later made headlines at Politico and Gawker.
“It’s not the rosy picture, I’m trying to say, that was portrayed,” Ed Shadid said of the New York Times’ depiction of his cousin's decision to go into Syria. There, Anthony Shadid collapsed and died of an asthma attack, apparently related to a horse allergy, while reporting on the uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime.
“The phone call the night before he left, there was screaming and slamming down the phone in discussions with his editors. … It was at that 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.”
That remark immediately grabbed the attention of those familiar with Shadid’s courageous reputation, which was defined by a persistence in returning to crisis again and again. A reporter for the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Boston Globe, Shadid built a Pulitzer-winning career on the back of dangerous assignments in such global hotspots as Iraq, Libya and the West Bank.
Shadid took a bullet in the back -- he believed from an Israeli soldier -- in the West Bank in 2002, and he was kidnapped and beaten with three other New York Times journalists in Libya during last year’s civil war. But he continued his work with the New York Times.
Thus far, Anthony Shadid’s “final directive” to say the New York Times was responsible for his death has not been confirmed by anyone other than Ed Shadid.
"Anthony's death was a tragedy, and we appreciate the enduring grief that his family feels,” a New York Times spokeswoman said in a statement. “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."
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Ed Shadid, a surgeon from Oklahoma, said he heard about his cousin’s argument with an editor when he arrived in Lebanon a few days after Anthony Shadid's death.
“Some things have taken a while to piece together,” Ed Shadid said. “The angry phone call was [heard by] Anthony’s sister-in-law, who came home around midnight. As she came into the home, Anthony was yelling with his editors and ended up slamming down the phone and said, ‘this is horse [expletive].’ ”
The argument had to do with equipment for the trip and a lack of transportation, Ed Shadid said. “His editor said something along the lines of, ‘Well, Anthony, you’re going to get some exercise on this assignment,’ and that was the comment that set him off -- well, not just because of that comment, but that comment was particularly offensive.”
Confirmation from the family has been noticeably absent.
Anthony Shadid’s sister-in-law, whose name Ed Shadid said he didn’t know, did not respond to an email from the Los Angeles Times.
Damon Shadid, Anthony’s brother and a Seattle attorney, told the Los Angeles Times, “I am sorry, I am not going to comment on this story in any way.”
Shadid’s wife, Nada Bakri — who has also reported for the New York Times — did not return a call seeking comment, and took to Twitter to say that she didn’t plan to.
"I do not approve of and will not be a part of any public discussion of Anthony's passing,” she tweeted. “It does nothing but sadden Anthony's children to have to endure repeated public discussion of the circumstances of their father's death.”
In an interview with CNN's Erin Burnett shortly after her husband's death, Bakri became briefly emotional when she said that his death had made her "a little mad at journalism."
The clearest picture on what happened to Anthony Shadid on his final days comes from Tyler Hicks, the New York Times staff photographer who planned the trip with Shadid and who was with Shadid throughout the Syria visit until the reporter died.
In a phone interview from Kenya, Hicks told the Los Angeles Times that Shadid was pressuring his editors to make the trip happen, not the other way around, during an eight-week preparation period.