Ed Shadid, the cousin of dead New York Times foreign correspondent Anthony Shadid, caused a stir over the weekend when he claimed in a speech that Anthony pre-emptively blamed the Times for his death in Syria, telling his wife: "If anything happens to me, I want the world to know that the New York Times killed me." In an interview with Gawker, the surviving Shadid confirms the account and says the Times knew a trip to Syria was too dangerous, but sent him anyway.
In his speech at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee's convention on Saturday, which was initially reported on Twitter and later by Politico, Shadid said that his cousin didn't want to go on the reporting trip to war-torn Syria that led to his death, reportedly from an asthma attack, in February. On the night before he left for Syria, Ed said, Anthony was "screaming and slamming on the phone in discussions with his editors." In his last telephone call with his wife, Ed says, Anthony gave his "haunting last directive that if anything happens to me I want the world to know the New York Times killed me."
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.
In an interview, Ed Shadid—an Oklahoma City physician and city councilman—told Gawker that his cousin 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.
"Did he want to go at that time?" Shadid said. "Did he feel like he had the logistical support necessary? The answer is no." According to Ed, a Times security consultant reviewed a plan to infiltrate Anthony and his photographer Tyler Hicks across the border between Turkey and Syria in December 2011, but rejected it as too dangerous. "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."
The night before Anthony left his home in Beirut for Turkey to begin the journey into Syria, Ed says, he was overheard on the phone with his editors "screaming at them and saying, 'This is horseshit,' and slamming down the phone." He doesn't know the specifics of what the arguments were about, but claims that Anthony felt he wasn't supported by the Times. 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 a statement, the Times said that it "respectfully disagrees with Ed Shadid's version of the facts" and that the paper "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." Asked repeatedly whether a security consultant had rejected the Syria trip in December, Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy declined to comment.
Whether or not Anthony—a lifelong smoker—wanted to go to Syria, his cousin says, he was in no shape to be there. "When I saw Anthony in December, he wheezing," he says. "But the New York Times had never asked him to take a physical. If you are going to send someone across mountainous terrain with gun smugglers who could—and did—abandon the journalists, shouldn't you have a sense of whether they were physically capable? I don't think a physician would have signed off on him travelling this arduous terrain in the cold."
Contrary to a report from one Twitter correspondent who heard Ed's speech, Shadid's family is not pursuing legal action against the Times, even though he says he has "audiotapes and email evidence" to back up his claims. 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. "How much would it cost to do an annual physical exam?" he says. "Or mandate basic medical training? These are not expensive, complicated things." (According to Ed, Anthony's companion Hicks improperly performed CPR on the stricken reporter.)
Ed had previously spoken at several memorial events for his cousin, each time raising questions about whether the Times and other papers can do more to ensure the safety of their correspondents.
"While the specifics of this case are important," Ed says, "the bigger issue is what commonsense reforms can we put in place to protect journalists, at all newspapers."
He's also concerned that the official narrative of Anthony's death—he died of an asthma attack exarcebated by the presence of horses—doesn't wash. The emphasis on asthma comes from 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 says Hicks' account of Anthony's final moments—he "stopped and leaned against a large boulder [and] collapsed onto the ground...already unconscious and [not] breathing"—is much more consistent with a heart attack than an asthma attack. He also says an autopsy was performed on Anthony's body in Turkey, and wonders why he hasn't seen the results. "We don't have them," he says.
Kahn did not return a phone call. Anthony Shadid's widow, Nada Bakri, did not respond to an email. Asked if Bakri had been consulted prior to his speech Saturday, or if she agreed with Ed's assessment of Anthony's state of mind before leaving for Syria, Ed said, "No comment. I won't answer that."
[Image via AP]