W.P. Norton


In Anthony Shadid, W.P. Norton on February 23, 2012 at 2:47 pm


“My favorite years in journalism
happened at the Daily Cardinal.”
—Anthony Shadid and W.P. Norton.
From a 1987 Peter Barreras photo.
Feb. 19, 2012 — Anthony Shadid was a whirling dervish of a writer as far back as 1987, when he started reporting for the Daily Cardinal, the student-run newspaper where we served 40,000-something readers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
In his own words, “My favorite years in journalism happened at the Daily Cardinal. I look on those days as incredible, with a lot of nostalgia, with a lot of fondness,” he says in this UW video posted in 2011. “I kind of learned how to be a reporter in those days.”
PLAYING FOR HISTORY: Anthony Shadid (front right) runs the scoreboard as Daily Cardinal staffers cheer the home team to victory in a 1987 basketball grudge-match against opposition paper the Badger Herald. (Left to right): Christina Pretto, Rob Gebeloff, Jon Coifman, Sarah Kershaw, Tom Vanderbilt, Renee Botta, Jim Foti, and W.P. Norton. From a photo by Peter Barreras.
His preternatural reporting powers made me feel the bitterest kind of professional jealousy in the years that followed our respective flights from the Cardinal nest. But those ill feelings vanished in February 2011, when he emailed me a far more courteous note than I had any right to expect in answer to a question I’d asked him about what was already being called the Arab Spring. His message was dated on St. Valentine’s Day — nothing more than a coincidence, of course, but a sweet one nonetheless: we hadn’t talked in 21 years.
Precisely 30 days later, Anthony and three New York Timescolleagues were taken hostage by forces loyal to Libya’s then-dictator. With wide eyes and gritted teeth, several dozen of us former Cardinal colleagues came together on Facebook and other social media. The closed Facebook group now called “Shadid Brigade, Daily Cardinal Division” was where we went to stoke hopes, ease anxieties, and trade whatever news we could scrounge about the fate of our friend.
The Times quartet was dogged by death-threats and beatings, with photographer Lynsey Addario suffering the near-constant degradations of sexually assaultive groping by her guards. The cruelest fate had been suffered by their driver, a local hire who was subject to immediate summary execution on March 15, day one of their ordeal.
We followed the six-day drama through the March 21 finale, when Libya’s then-dictator freed Shadid-plus-three to the custody of diplomatic personnel who shuttled the four across the Turkish border to freedom.
I emailed Anthony to tell him of our joy. There was no theoretical limit to what he might achieve in years to come, I told him. High political office was in his future, if he wanted; maybe even a Nobel Prize, or perhaps the presidency of a university, if he ever chose to take it easy. More Pulitzers (he’d already earned two) would be child’s play.
Indeed, late last year the Times put Anthony up for a third Pulitzer — a rare trifecta in the history of American journalism. There are good reasons to think his name will be on that prize, too. (It transpires that the Pulitzer committee proved me wrong. It is nothing less than criminal that Anthony’s brilliant New York Times reporting on the Arab Spring of 2011 was passed over for that honor.)
Pride trumped envy as I recalled to Anthony how I’d handed him my New York Times campus stringer gig some 24 years before, and strongly endorsed his candidacy for the stellar internship he held at Madison’s longtime powerhouse of an alternative weekly newspaper, Isthmus.
I further stressed that it had never once occurred to me that helping him would make a whit of difference to his career, because I saw his rise to superlative achievement as inevitable even then. Handing off these minor boons to Anthony was something I saw as a matter of public service — the right thing to do for those publications in particular, and for the institution of journalism writ large.
I can only guess how absurd may have been heard the grand effusions of my message to Shadid by its recipient. He was the Mozart of modern journalism, I said; letting himself ever get that close again to such extreme risks as a desert combat situation would be incredibly selfish, would threaten the unforgivable loss of a voice that the world badly needed to hear.
No violation of privacy is being committed, I hope, in quoting Anthony’s emailed reply, which I received on March 29, 2011:
“I read your note twice, and I’m going to keep it, even if it is far too kind. The Cardinal days seem like so long ago, but they really were the place we all became who we are.”
Anthony Shadid died at age 43 on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, on assignment for the Times in Syria, reportedly of an asthma attack. Let’s be clear; Anthony would have done the things he did even if I had never been born. But I do treasure the many greatnesses he so freely shared among those of us who had the luck to spend our Daily Cardinal days working with the greatest generation of journalists yet fledged by a newspaper that marks 120 years in business on April 4, 2012.
The sorrows of the moment are eased however slightly by the knowledge that I told him so before that chance was taken from us all.

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