Nate Thayer discussing Pol Pot's trial, July 1997.
April 21, 1960 |
|Education||University of Massachusetts, Boston|
Nate Thayer (born April 21, 1960) is a freelance journalist, whose journalism has focused on international organized crime, narcotics trafficking, human rights, and areas of military conflict. He is notable for having interviewed Pol Pot, in his capacity as Cambodia correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review, a respected investigative publication that published from 1946 to 2009.
Publications, honors and awards
Thayer has written for Jane's Defence Weekly, Soldier of Fortune, Associated Press and for more than 40 other publications, including The Cambodia Daily and The Phnom Penh Post. Thayer’s reporting earned him the 1998 Francis Frost Wood Award for Courage in Journalism, given by Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York to a journalist "judged to best exemplify physical or moral courage in the practice of his or her craft." He was a visiting scholar at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University as well as the first recipient of the Center for Public Integrity's ICIJ (International Consortium of Investigative Journalists) Award for Outstanding International Investigative Reporting in November, 1998. Upon awarding Thayer the ICIJ Award, the judges noted:
- "He illuminated a page of history that would have been lost to the world had he not spent years in the Cambodian jungle, in a truly extraordinary quest for first-hand knowledge of the Khmer Rouge and their murderous leader. His investigations of the Cambodian political world required not only great risk and physical hardship but also mastery of an ever-changing cast of factional characters."
According to Vaudine England of the BBC, "Many of the region's greatest names in reporting made their mark in the pages of the Review, from the legendary Richard Hughes of Korean War fame, to Nate Thayer, the journalist who found Cambodia's Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot."
Thayer was also the first person in 57 years to turn down a prestigious Peabody Award, because he did not want to share it with ABC News' Nightline whom he believed stole his story and deprived him and the Far Eastern Economic Review of income.
Since 1999 Hofstra University's Department of Journalism and Mass Media Studies in the School of Communication has awarded the Nate Thayer Scholarship to a qualified student with the best foreign story idea. Winners are selected on the basis of scholastic achievement or potential as well as economic need.
Thayer was born in 1960 in Massachusetts, the son of Harry E. T. Thayer who was United States Ambassador to Singapore from 1980 to 1985. He studied at the University of Massachusetts Boston. From 1980 to 1982 he was involved with the Boston-based Clamshell Alliance, acting as spokesman during protest events at the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant as well as anti-draft protests.
He began his career in Southeast Asia on the Thai-Cambodian border, taking part in an academic research project in which he interviewed 50 Cham survivors of Khmer Rouge atrocities at Nong Samet Refugee Camp in 1984. He then returned to Massachusetts where he worked briefly as the Transportation Director for the state Office of Handicapped Affairs. Thayer himself noted, "I got fired. I was a really bad bureaucrat."
He later worked for Soldier of Fortune magazine reporting on guerrilla combat in Burma, and in 1989 he began reporting for the Associated Press from the Thai-Cambodian border. In October 1989 he was nearly killed when an anti-tank mine exploded under a truck he was riding in. In 1991 he moved to Cambodia where he began writing for the Far Eastern Economic Review.
In August 1992 Thayer traveled to Mondulkiri Province and visited the last of the FULRO Montagnard guerrillas who had remained loyal to their former American commanders. Thayer informed the group that FULRO's president Y Bham Enuol had been executed by the Khmer Rouge seventeen years previously. The FULRO troops surrendered their weapons in October 1992; many of this group were given asylum in the United States.
In April 1994 Thayer participated in (and funded) the Cambodian Kouprey Research Project, a $30,000, two-week, 150 km field survey to find the rare Cambodian bovine known as the kouprey. Thayer later wrote: "After compiling a team of expert jungle trackers, scientists, security troops, elephant mahouts and one of the most motley and ridiculous looking groups of armed journalists in recent memory, we marched cluelessly into Khmer Rouge-controlled jungles along the old Ho Chi Minh trail."
On July 3, 1994 Thayer was asked help negotiate Prince Norodom Chakrapong's release and safe passage to the airport after the prince had been accused by Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh of plotting a coup d'état. Thayer was subsequently expelled from Cambodia by Prince Ranariddh, but he returned anyway.
In early 1997 he was again expelled from Cambodia for exposing connections between Prime Minister Hun Sen and heroin traffickers. Thayer then decided to pursue a fellowship at Johns Hopkins University.
Thayer at Pol Pot's Trial
Nate Thayer became world famous in July 1997 when he and Asiaworks Television cameraman David McKaige managed to visit the Anlong Veng Khmer Rouge jungle camp inside Cambodia where Pol Pot was being tried for treason. Thayer had hoped for an interview but was disappointed:
- "Pol Pot said nothing. They made it clear and I believed them, that I was to interview Pol Pot after the trial. Pol Pot literally had to be carried away from the trial—he was unable to walk—and I was not able to talk to him. I did try to talk to him... he did not answer any questions, and he did not speak during the trial. "
Thayer noted, "Every ounce of his being was struggling to maintain some last vestige of dignity."
Thayer believed that the trial had been staged by the Khmer Rouge for him and McKaige:
- "It was put on specifically for us, to take the message to the world that Pol Pot has been denounced. They had reported on their radio, on June 19, that Pol Pot had been purged. No one believed them. After five years of lying over their radio, there was no reason anyone should take what they say credibly. It was clear to them that they needed an independent, credible witness to show what was happening."
- "[Koppel] returned home with a copy of my videotape. I gave it to him in exchange for his strict promise that its only use would be on Nightline. However, once he had the copy of the tape, ABC News released video, still pictures, and even transcripts of my interviews to news organizations throughout the world. Protected by its formidable legal and public relations department, ABC News made still photographs from the video, slapped the “ABC News Exclusive” logo on them, and hand delivered them to newspapers, wire services, and television...All of these pictures demanded that photo credit be given to ABC News... The story won a British Press Award for “Scoop of the Year” for a British paper I didn’t even know had published it...I even won a Peabody Award as a “correspondent for Nightline." But I turned it down—-the first time anyone had rejected a Peabody in its 57-year history."
ABC News responded that they had "agreed to pay Nate Thayer the sizable sum of $350,000 for the rights to use his footage of former Cambodian dictator Pol Pot. Despite the fact that ABC provided prominent and repeated credit and generous remuneration for his work, Mr. Thayer initiated a five-year barrage of complaints coupled with repeated demands for more money." In 2002 Thayer sued Koppel and ABC News for $30 million in punitive damages and unspecified compensatory damages.
Interview with Pol Pot
In October 1997, Thayer returned to Anlong Veng and became only the second western journalist (after Elizabeth Becker in 1978) ever to be granted an interview with the former dictator and, along with McKaige, was certainly the last outsider to see him alive. Thayer recounted the story of his interview with Pol Pot in his unpublished book Sympathy for the Devil: Living Dangerously in Cambodia – A Foreign Correspondent's Story. Pol Pot told Thayer:
- "First, I want to let you know that I came to join the revolution, not to kill the Cambodian people. Look at me now. Do you think ... am I a violent person? No. So, as far as my conscience and my mission were concerned, there was no problem. This needs to be clarified...My experience was the same as that of my movement. We were new and inexperienced and events kept occurring one after the other which we had to deal with. In doing that, we made mistakes as I told you. I admit it now and I admitted it in the notes I have written. Whoever wishes to blame or attack me is entitled to do so. I regret I didn't have enough experience to totally control the movement. On the other hand, with our constant struggle, this had to be done together with others in the communist world to stop Kampuchea becoming Vietnamese. For the love of the nation and the people it was the right thing to do but in the course of our actions we made mistakes. "
Thayer and the death of Pol Pot
Thayer visited Anlong Veng again on April 16, 1998, only a day after Pol Pot had died. After photographing the corpse he briefly interviewed Ta Mok and Pol Pot's second wife Muon, who told Thayer, "What I would like the world to know is that he was a good man, a patriot, a good father." Thayer was then asked to transport Pol Pot's body in his pickup truck to the site a short distance away where it was later cremated.
Thayer later speculated that Pol Pot committed suicide because of his belief that the Khmer Rouge were planning to "hand him over to the Americans".
Interview with Kang Kek Iew
In April 1999 Thayer, alongside photojournalist Nic Dunlop, interviewed Kang Kek Iew (Comrade Duch) for the Far Eastern Economic Review after Dunlop had tracked Duch to Samlaut and suspected strongly that he was the former director of the notorious S-21 security prison. Dunlop wanted Duch to provide clues that would reveal his identity, and Thayer began probing Duch's story that he was Hang Pin, an aid worker and a born-again Christian:
- "Then Nate said, 'I believe that you also worked with the security services during the Khmer Rouge Period?' Duch appeared startled and avoided our eyes...Again Nate put the question to him...He looked unsettled and his eyes darted about...He then glanced at Nate's business card...'I believe, Nic, that your friend has interviewed Monsieur Ta Mok and Monsieur Pol Pot?'...He sat back down...and inhaled deeply. 'It is God's will that you are here,' he said."
Duch surrendered to the authorities in Phnom Penh following the publication of this interview. Dunlop and Thayer were first runners-up for the 1999 SAIS-Novartis Prize for Excellence in International Journalism, presented by the The Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, for "exposing the inside story of the Khmer Rouge killing machine."
Nate Thayer has also covered Albania, Indonesia, Mongolia and the Philippines. In 2003 he reported on the Iraq War in a five-part series for Slate Magazine. He also covered the Bangkok 2010 Redshirt riots. During 2011 he worked for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists' Center for Public Integrity writing a three-month investigation on North Korea as a rogue state financed by criminal activity. In December 2011 he came out in opposition to the International Treaty to Ban Landmines.
Blogger Jeremy Duns accused Thayer of plagiarism on March 7, 2013., a claim that was echoed in New York Magazine  However, Mark Ziegler, author of the article in question told the Columbia Journalism Review that he was "not ready to accuse Thayer of plagiarism," and said "I have no reason not to respect him as a fellow journalist." However, Ziegler said he was "not completely satisfied with the way [his article] was ultimately attributed" even in the corrected version of "25 Years of Slam Dunk Diplomacy".
The Columbia Journalism Review concluded that Thayer's "attribution was sloppy and he represented quotes that were said in other places as if they were said to him" but that it did not appear to be a case of plagiarism. The CJR interviewed Thayer's sources, at least one of whom confirmed he was interviewed extensively by Thayer.
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- Randy Shipp, "Antinuclear coalition set for fresh assault on Seabrook," The Christian Science Monitor, May 22, 1980, p. 7.
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- "Joe Ferson, "Handicapped Criticize MBTA on Van Service: Frequent Delays, Faulty Equipment Cited." ''Boston Globe,'' Sep 16, 1988, p. 82". Pqasb.pqarchiver.com. September 16, 1988. Retrieved January 12, 2012.
- "Nate Thayer, "Finding Pol Pot: Nate Thayer's Story-Behind-the-Story." ''The Public i: Newsletter of the Center for Public Integrity,'' Vol 7, no. 2, Mar 1999." (PDF). Retrieved January 12, 2012.
- "Cambodian Border Massacre American Crosses the Line to Save Lives" Text and Photos by George Jones (aka Nate Thayer), Soldier of Fortune Magazine, October 1989
- Thayer, "Finding Pol Pot," 1999.
- Nate Thayer, "Aid Workers Flee as Cambodia Fighting Intensifies," The Associated Press, September 13, 1989.
- "U.S. Reporter Injured, One Killed by Mine in Cambodia," October 16, 1989, Reuters.
- Nate Thayer, "Rubies are Rouge." Far Eastern Economic Review, Feb 7, 1991, pp. 29–30.
- Andrew Sherry, "Nate Thayer vs. Pol Pot," April 5, 2005
- Nate Thayer, “Montagnard Army Seeks UN Help,” Phnom Penh Post, Sept. 12, 1992.
- Nate Thayer, "Forgotten Army: The Rebels Time Forgot," Far Eastern Economic Review, Sept 10, 1992, pp. 16–22.
- Nate Thayer and Leo Dobbs, “Tribal Fighters Head for Refuge in USA,” Phnom Penh Post, October 23, 1992.
- Nate Thayer, "Trail of tears: 'Lost' Montagnard Army Vows to Fight On," Far Eastern Economic Review, Sept 10 1992, pp. 18–22.
- "Search for the kouprey: trail runs cold for Cambodia’s national animal". Phnom Penh Post, April 2006.
- Nate Thayer, "Motley crew moves out on jungle mission impossible," Phnom Penh Post, April 22, 1994.
- Nate Thayer, "Frantic calls from Regent's Rm 406," Phnom Penh Post, National News, Jul 15, 1994.
- Nate Thayer, "As It happened..." Far Eastern Economic Review, July 14, 1994, pp. 15–16.
- Philip Gourevitch, "Guns 'N Deadlines," HQ Magazine, Nov/Dec 1997, pp. 116–119.
- Nate Thayer, "Narco-nexus." Far Eastern Economic Review, April 24, 1997, Vol. 160 Issue 17, p. 20.
- Nate Thayer, “Drug Suspects Bankroll Cambodian Coup Leader,” Washington Post, July 22, 1997.
- Nate Thayer, “Pol Pot, I Presume,”. Wall Street Journal, August 1, 1997.
- *"Cambodia: Trial of Pol Pot," interview with Gareth Evans and Tep Kunnal.
- "Journalist Nate Thayer was on the scene in Cambodia recently when Pol Pot, the leader of the guerrilla force, the Khmer Rouge, was sentenced to life imprisonment in a show trial," NPR Interview, August 7, 1997
- Keiger, 1997.
- "Kelly Heyboer, "A Journalistic Coup Turns Sour," ''American Journalism Review,'' September 1997, pp. 10–11". Ajr.org. Retrieved January 12, 2012.
- Thayer, Nate (September 11, 2011). "Nate Thayer, "Freelancers’ Vital Role in International Reporting With the rise of media conglomerates, foreign news has been shoved aside." ''Nieman Reports,'' Dec 2001". Nieman.harvard.edu. Retrieved January 12, 2012.
- Jeffrey Schneider, VP, ABC News, quoted in Richard Linnett and Wayne Friedman, "Marketing the news: the selling of Pol Pot." Advertising Age, November 18, 2002, Vol. 73, Issue 46; Section: Briefs.
- Becker E. When the War was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution. 1st PublicAffairs ed. New York: PublicAffairs, 1998, ISBN 978-1-891620-00-3, p. 516.
- Nate Thayer, "Dying Breath The inside story of Pol Pot's last days and the disintegration of the movement he created," Far Eastern Economic Review, April 30, 1998
- Dirck Halstead, "Rewind: Wars and Memories (PART I)" October 17, 1997
- "Sympathy for the Devil"
- Nate Thayer, Sympathy for the Devil: Living Dangerously in Cambodia – A Foreign Correspondent's Story. Penguin Putnam Inc., New York 1999, ISBN 978-0-670-88576-3
- Nate Thayer, "Day of Reckoning." Far Eastern Economic Review, October 30, 1997: pp. 14–20.
- Thayer, "Dying Breath," April 30, 1998.
- "Gordon Sharpless "Anlong Veng: Normalcy returns to the former Khmer Rouge stronghold," ''Tales of Asia,'' July 2000". Talesofasia.com. Retrieved January 12, 2012.
- "Nury Vittachi, "A brief history of FEER," October 1, 2009". Mrjam.typepad.com. October 1, 2009. Retrieved January 12, 2012.
- "Killing Fields Leader 'killed himself'," BBC News, January 21, 1999
- Nic Dunlop, The Lost Executioner: A Journey to the Heart of the Killing Fields. New York: Walker & Company, 2006.
- Dunlop, 2006, pp. 271–72.
- "70's Torturer in Cambodia Now 'Doing God's Work'," The New York Times, May 2, 1999
- McLellan, Trina (September 9, 2009). "Stan Alcorn, "Photography in the Killing Fields," DART Center for Journalism and Trauma, March 2008". Dartcenter.org. Retrieved January 12, 2012.
- Nic Dunlop and Nate Thayer, "Duch Confesses," Far Eastern Economic Review, May 6, 1999; vol 170, no. 3:, p. 76.
- ""Associated Press Team Wins ’99 SAIS-Novartis Prize," ''SAIS Reports,'' Johns Hopkins University, April/May 2000, p. 2." (PDF). Retrieved January 12, 2012.
- S. Jayasankaran, Nate Thayer, "From Logs to Lotus," Far Eastern Economic Review, December 12, 1996, cover story.
- Syamsul Indrapatra, Nate Thayer, Bertil Lintner, John McBeth, "Worse to come," Far Eastern Economic Review, 162.30 (Jul 29, 1999): 16–18.
- Nate Thayer, “Forward Steppes,” Far Eastern Economic Review, March 27, 1997, p. 20.
- Rigoberto Tiglao, Andrew Sherry, Nate Thayer, Michael Vatikoitis, "'Tis the season," Far Eastern Economic Review, 161:52, Dec 24, 1998: 18–20.
- Thayer, Nate (March 19, 2003). ""Live From Baghdad," ''Slate'',". Slate.com. Retrieved January 12, 2012.
- Thayer, Nate (March 22, 2003). ""The Bombing of Baghdad," ''Slate,''". Slate.com. Retrieved January 12, 2012.
- Thayer, Nate (March 24, 2003). ""Baghdad Gets Scarier," ''Slate,''". Slate.com. Retrieved January 12, 2012.
- Thayer, Nate (March 24, 2003). ""More American Bombs, and More Iraqi Defiance," ''Slate,''". Slate.com. Retrieved January 12, 2012.
- Thayer, Nate (March 28, 2003). ""The Road From Baghdad," ''Slate,''". Slate.com. Retrieved January 12, 2012.
- "Thai crisis : CTV News Channel: Nate Thayer in Bangkok.". Videos.apnicommunity.com. Retrieved January 12, 2012.
- Post. "Michael Sheridan and Nate Thayer, "Vengeful redshirts threaten tourism: The Thai protest has spawned an underground militant wing in Bangkok," ''The Sunday Times,'' May 23, 2010". The Times (UK). Retrieved January 12, 2012.
- Nate Thayer, "North Korea: A Glimpse at a Simple Criminal Syndicate Posing as a Government," December 21, 2011; (Excerpts from an unpublished study of the criminal syndicates run by Kim Jong Il as central State policy) Retrieved January 12, 2012.
- Nate Thayer, "North Korea: The World's Only Mafia Crime State: How North Korea Funds their Army, Nuclear Weapons Programme, and Small Group of Elite Cadre in Control," December 19, 2011 (Excerpts from an unpublished study of the criminal syndicates run by Kim Jong Il as central State policy) Retrieved January 12, 2012.
- "Arrest for "Insufficient" Grief at Kim Jong Il Death?: Unlikely Media Hype." January 16, 2012.
- "All of Kim Jong-eun's men," April 03, 2012.
- Nate Thayer, "Why Landmines Should not be Banned." Retrieved January 12, 2012.
- Jeremy Duns, "Nate Thayer is a Plagiarist."
- Joe Coscarelli, "Did Nate Thayer Plagiarize in the Article The Atlantic Wanted for Free?"
- Nate Thayer, "25 Years of Slam Dunk Diplomacy", NKNews, March 4 2013.
- Morrison, Sara (7 March 2013). "Nate Thayer: Freelance Plagiarist?". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved 11 March 2013.