Losing a Friend I Never Knew

I’m not a journalist, though I may have been one in a previous life. Suffice to say that I am a news junkie. Following the news has always been a part of my consciousness. I grew up in a home where dinner time was coordinated with CBS Evening News. That is, we absolutely never ate while Walter came on – before or after Walter only. Walter Cronkite was like a member of the family, part jocular uncle, part international oracle. Whatever Walter said was the truth. He’d never try to trick us or sugarcoat anything. Walter was the shaft of light in the darkness, the guy who helped me through the assassination of JFK, the flight of Friendship Seven, the Six Day War, the debacle of Vietnam, the deaths of Bobby and Martin, and so much more. Walter will always be my journalist par excellence.
In pre-modern times people knew so little about the world in which they lived. Ignorance was the general state of humanity. The first newspaper appeared in 1665. Prior to that was lots of rumors, fears, and superstitions. Gaining insight into current events was like being given the gift of super powers! In fact, I feel that way in the 21st century. That I can talk about what’s happening in China, or Rwanda, or Israel, or Syria, and rely on the information I read or hear or see, is an enormous gift, an embarrassment of riches. This knowledge enables me to be a true citizen of the world. It reminds me of the gifts and responsibilities of my freedom. It also illuminates the truth that without a free press there is no true freedom.
To think of journalists not just as storytellers, but as agents of freedom, is not just an illusion. We know over the years the mighty few who believed themselves above the Law were taken down not by the Law at first, but rather by an inquisitive press. I know, there are lots of muckrakers who care about the byline and not the veracity of the story. The celebrity news industry, a 24/7 monster consumes more garbage than a pen of hungry goats. Then it pumps out foolish and brain numbing excrement about everyone from a prepubescent kid with an average voice who ends up a star for now, to weeping about a has-been singer known, let’s face it, more for her excesses than her talents, to the latest divorce of 2 narcissistic mega stars, and so on. All that isn’t journalism – it’s rather creepy entertainment. I’m talking about the real thing and the real practitioners. People like Anthony Shadid, who died yesterday.
Jill Abramson, the executive editor of the New York Times, wrote to the newspaper’s staff Thursday evening in an e-mail. “Anthony died as he lived – determined to bear witness to the transformation sweeping the Middle East and to testify to the suffering of people caught between government oppression and opposition forces,” she wrote. Amen, Jill. If journalists shed light in dark places, then Shadid used a spotlight. As I said last week, “A hero is a person who does something above and beyond the call of duty. A hero is a person who stands up and demands that justice be served, even in the face of daunting odds.” Shadid was truly a hero, risking his life all over the world to give us a clearer story, and a shot at the truth.
Of course, the side story for this sad loss is that my hero died on the Turkey – Syria border, not by bullets or mines or an IED. Shadid, an asthmatic, apparently died due to his asthma brought on by an allergy to horses that were being used to help him sneak in and out of Syria. Oy, it breaks my heart. The bravest men and women are as vulnerable as we are, sitting at home in our sweats and reading articles by giants like Anthony Shadid. We’re all fragile creatures, prone to various ailments and aches and pains. No one is immune from tsuris. Our condolences go to his wife and children and family.
I’m going to miss Shadid and his insights into the Middle East. I’ve lost a set of trustworthy eyes in a very complicated part of the world. Shadid was one of my most important go-to guys for the real truth of the Arab Spring. His writing was not only incisive, it was from the heart. One could always identify an Anthony Shadid piece. It always evidenced his singular combination of authority, acumen and style as well as reflecting the humanity of those whom he was covering. Always. His obituary gives a deeper sense of his talent and heart.
We need journalists – heroes – like Anthony Shadid. We need men and women who dare to follow the truth and then expose it, even when it is at great personal risk. May his soul rest in peace. May his work inspire all of us to reach out of our comfort zones to shed the light of truth and peace.
Shabbat Shalom

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