January 30, 2023

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Asian Food and Travel Chronicles

Nate Thayer, Bold Reporter Who Interviewed Pol Pot, Dies at 62

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“‘Crush! Crush! Crush Pol Pot and his clique!’ shouted the crowd,” Mr. Thayer reported. “There, slumped in a simple wooden chair, grasping a long bamboo cane and a rattan fan, an anguished old man, frail and struggling to maintain his dignity, was watching his vision crumble in utter defeat.”

Just under six months later, in April 1998, an ailing Pol Pot died at 73.

The jungle meeting produced a minor drama of its own when Mr. Thayer gave Ted Koppel of the ABC News program “Nightline” the American broadcast rights to his video.

The network immediately distributed both still pictures and the video around the world with credit to ABC, which Mr. Thayer said violated their agreement and scooped his own article. ABC News said it had followed standard practice, paying him for the material, giving him credit but presenting it as its own.

He declined to share a Peabody award with the network and brought suit, winning an out-of-court settlement after years of litigation.

He also won a cluster of awards for his investigative reporting.

Mr. Thayer spent many months writing a book about the Khmer Rouge titled “Sympathy for the Devil: A Journalist’s Memoir From Inside Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge,” which offered vivid descriptions of the trial and interview. The book was advertised online, but for unclear reasons it was never published, and Mr. Thayer carried the manuscript with him for years afterward.

People who knew him described him as a courageous reporter who was determined to dig for truth while cultivating a rugged, Heart-of-Darkness image and sometimes exaggerating his exploits.

Writing on his Facebook page on Wednesday, Robert Brown, the founder and publisher of Soldier of Fortune magazine, said: “Goodbye to one of the most colorful, gutsy, by some standards certifiable mad genius journalists I have ever encountered.”