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University of Wisconsin–Madison

The Truths We Tell About War

soldier patrols Baghdad alley

No conflict, no war, occurs without a simultaneous battle for hearts and minds at home and abroad. War and ideology travel together.

In a conflict zone, a perfect storm of obstacles converge to limit the reporting that occurs before, during, and after the guns have gone silent and the dead have been buried.

Reporters on the ground struggle with the chaos of conflict, access to dangerous areas, conflicting facts and claims, and the limits of their own knowledge and perspective.

This week, one of America’s leading foreign reporters comes to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to speak on reporting war – the war in Iraq.

Anthony Shadid will deliver the first journalism ethics lecture, entitled “The Truths We Tell: Reporting on Faith, War and the Fate of Iraq.”  The lecture is at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 2, in the Alumni Lounge of the Pyle Center, 702 Langdon St. on the UW-Madison campus.

Shadid is foreign correspondent and deputy bureau chief for the New York Times in Baghdad and Beirut. Until December 2009, he was Baghdad bureau chief of the Washington Post. Over a 15-year career, he has reported from most countries in the Middle East.

The ethics lecture is co-sponsored by the UW Center for Journalism Ethics and the Lubar Institute for the Study of Abrahamic Religions, with additional support from the UW Lectures Committee, the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and the Middle East Studies Program.

Telling ‘truths’

Note Shadid’s phrase, “The truths we tell.”  We tell truths about war. But what sort of truths are they, how do they become truths, and are they really truths at all?

There are few journalists in a better position to speak on the intersection of war, religion, and journalism. He has not one but two Pulitzer Prizes for his journalism on the Iraq War.

Here is how Shadid begins his description of the lecture:

From the first salvo of what the United States boasted would be “shock and awe,” the narratives that have defined Iraq, and for that matter, much of the Middle East, have relied on perspective. Like Vietnam, winning and losing were notions of argument more than observation, and lost in the cacophony was the simple measure of what can done with journalism.


Yet, Shadid wants to do more than talk about the difficulties of war reporting. He also wants to explore methods by which journalists can seek truth. He writes:

In the talk, I want to explore two events, seemingly unconnected, both playing out over the seven years of war in Iraq, that suggest larger truths start small. Far from being conclusive, we can begin to understand the intersections of invasion, religion, occupation and death through even the most forgettable of these small events. Relying on journalism’s most credible tool – observation – those moments possibly get us closer to the legacy of a war – 100,000 dead, $75 billion spent, a society wrecked – that we cannot define otherwise.

Risks and Awards

Shadid graduated from UW-Madison in 1990 with bachelor’s degrees in journalism and political science; he also studied Arabic.

Shadid earned a Pulitzer Prize for international reporting in 2004 for his coverage from Iraq during and after the U.S. invasion in March 2003, and he was a finalist for the prize in 2007.

In awarding Shadid his second Pulitzer Prize in 2010, the judges recognized “his rich, beautifully written series on Iraq as the United States departs and its people and leaders struggle to deal with the legacy of war and to shape the nation’s future.”

His assignments often carry great risk. In March 2002, Shadid was shot in the shoulder while covering fighting in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Shortly afterward, he was honored with the journalism school’s Ralph O. Nafziger Award, honoring achievements by young alumni, and in 2005 received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the Wisconsin Alumni Association.

Shadid is the author of two books:  Legacy of the Prophet: Despots, Democrats and the New Politics of Islam, published in 2000 by Westview Press. His second book, Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War, was published in 2005 by Henry Holt. He is currently working on a third book, still untitled, set in his family’s ancestral village in southern Lebanon.

This web site will cover the lecture and the visit by Anthony Shadid to UW-Madison. For further information, return to this site or contact Wendy Swanberg by email at

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