Nate Thayer, journalist who scooped world with Pol Pot interview, dies at 62

Nate Thayer, an American journalist who chased tales of battle throughout the jungles of Southeast Asia and was the final Western correspondent to interview the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal chief Pol Pot, has died at his residence in Falmouth, Mass. He was 62.

Robert Thayer mentioned his brother’s physique was discovered Jan. 3, nevertheless it was not instantly clear when he died. Mr. Thayer wrote final 12 months that he was in declining well being, together with growing sepsis after foot surgical procedure and was instructed by medical doctors he “won’t ever stroll once more.”

Throughout many years of reporting starting within the late Eighties, Mr. Thayer cultivated a fame as a freelancer prepared to endure hardships and dangers to trace down far-flung tales for retailers together with Soldier of Fortune journal, the Far Jap Financial Evaluation, the Related Press and The Washington Post.

Along with his shaved head and enamel stained by chewing tobacco, he evoked a throwback-style correspondent picture and delighted in regaling others with tales from the sector. They included close to misses, together with struggling serious injuries when the Cambodian guerrilla transport truck he was aboard triggered an antitank mine in October 1989.

In later years, he used social media to relentlessly burnish his hard-charging picture and push his claims that he was wronged by ABC’s “Nightline” over rights points to make use of video from Pol Pot’s July 1997 kangaroo-court “trial” by disgruntled former followers at a Khmer Rouge camp in northern Cambodia.

His reporting on Pol Pot’s last months remained the journalistic centerpiece of Mr. Thayer’s profession — a serious journalistic coup that drew worldwide consideration. His work additionally added vital historic particulars to the “killing fields” legacy of the Khmer Rouge’s 1975-1979 rule. An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians — intellectuals, medical doctors, dissidents and lots of others — misplaced their lives because the regime tried to impose a radical agrarian Communist order.

“He illuminated a web page of historical past that will have been misplaced to the world had he not spent years within the Cambodian jungle,” famous an award bestowed by the Worldwide Consortium of Investigative Journalists in 1998.

A 12 months earlier, Mr. Thayer satisfied members of the surviving Khmer Rouge factions that worldwide protection was wanted for Pol Pot’s reckoning earlier than these former guerrillas who had turned in opposition to him. “Crush, crush, crush Pol Pot and his clique,” some chanted as Mr. Thayer and a cameraman from Asiaworks Tv, David McKaige, reached the distant Anlong Veng camp.

Writing within the Far Jap Financial Evaluation, Mr. Thayer described how Pol Pot was sentenced to life imprisonment and led away to a Toyota Land Cruiser with tinted home windows.

“Some individuals respectfully bowed, as if to royalty,” he wrote. Mr. Thayer didn’t have the prospect to ask Pol Pot any questions.

Mr. Thayer struck a verbal take care of ABC to permit the video to be broadcast on the ABC Information program “Nightline.” Throughout the section, Mr. Thayer described the occasion as if Adolf Hitler had survived and was discovered later in a bunker in South America.

“Bear in mind, I’ve lived in Cambodia,” he instructed “Nightline” host Ted Koppel. “Most of my associates have had their lives destroyed by Pol Pot. So it was a profoundly transferring second. … I cried many instances for everyone I knew.”

The community mentioned Mr. Thayer acquired $350,000 and was given correct credit score. However ABC additionally contended that Mr. Thayer failed to know that the clips would even be posted on the web and go into the general public area.

Mr. Thayer lengthy insisted that ABC reneged on guarantees to offer him management of the fabric. He later turned down a Peabody Award for the “Nightline” broadcast, which cited his reporting as “vital and meritorious.”

“I didn’t have a penny per week in the past, and if I don’t have a penny per week from now, I nonetheless have my integrity,” he was quoted as saying within the American Journalism Review.

Mr. Thayer was allowed to return to the camp in October 1997 with a promise to interview Pol Pot. The final Western journalists to take action, in 1978, had been The Publish’s Elizabeth Becker and Richard Dudman of the St. Louis Publish-Dispatch. Mr. Thayer was instructed to attend close to a small hut.

Mr. Thayer wrote within the Far Jap Financial Evaluation about how the previous dictator, then 72, wanted to seize his arm to stroll a brief distance to the hut.

“The person who presided over the Cambodian holocaust is about to offer his first interview in 18 years,” Mr. Thayer wrote. “It is his likelihood to make some sort of peace along with his bloodstained previous.”

Pol Pot appeared incongruously soft-spoken, making his factors calmly and in measured tones.

“Have been you accountable?” requested Mr. Thayer in regards to the mass killings.

“I solely made selections in regards to the crucial individuals,” Pol Pot replied. “I didn’t supervise the decrease ranks.”

Mr. Thayer had another unique regarding Pol Pot: He was again on the Anlong Veng camp a day after Pol Pot died in April 1998 and took pictures of the physique earlier than it was cremated.

His reporting turned the one unbiased affirmation of Pol Pot’s loss of life. “He’s lifeless,” Thayer instructed The Publish in a phone interview on the time. “That was Pol Pot. There was no query that was Pol Pot.”

But Mr. Thayer discovered the loss of life extra of an open wound than a closure.

“And together with Pol Pot’s loss of life, sadly, goes the prospect of discovering out actually what occurred and why,” Mr. Thayer instructed NPR’s “All Things Considered.” “There’s so many unanswered questions of why so many individuals suffered so unspeakably and so unfairly. And this man was in sole management.”

Illustrious household pedigree

Nathaniel Talbott Thayer was born in Washington on April 21, 1960. His household had deep ties in Southeast Asia by way of his father, Harry E.T. Thayer, who had served in diplomatic postings in Hong Kong, Taipei and elsewhere earlier than returning to a State Division position. (He was U.S. ambassador to Singapore from 1980 to 1985.)

Mr. Thayer’s different main level of reference was the Boston space, the place his Brahmin household tree was marked by locations resembling Harvard’s Thayer Corridor.

When requested about his illustrious household pedigree, Mr. Thayer wryly pointed to Choose Webster Thayer, who sentenced Italian immigrant anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti to loss of life after their homicide convictions in 1921. They had been electrocuted in 1927, regardless of robust proof of their innocence. Fifty years later, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis (D) mentioned they’d been unfairly tried in an period “permeated by prejudice.”

Deploying an epithet, Mr. Thayer instructed the New Yorker that he cited the decide “every time they name me the black sheep of the household.”

Mr. Thayer studied on the College of Massachusetts in Boston however didn’t graduate. His first work in Southeast Asia was a part of 1984 tutorial analysis undertaking on refugees from the Khmer Rouge regime earlier than touchdown freelance assignments for Soldier of Fortune on guerrilla uprisings in Myanmar, then extensively often known as Burma.

In 1992, Mr. Thayer adopted the Vietnam Warfare-era Ho Chi Minh Path and encountered a misplaced group of the U.S.-allied Montagnard militia that didn’t know the battle had been lengthy over. Two years later, Mr. Thayer mounted an elephant as a part of an expedition to hunt a probably extinct Southeast Asian bovine referred to as a kouprey. They discovered none.

He described it as a “staff of professional jungle trackers, scientists, safety troops, elephant mahouts and probably the most motley and ridiculous wanting teams of armed journalists in latest reminiscence.”

Mr. Thayer was expelled from Cambodia in 1994. He returned and was booted out once more for tales that purported to point out hyperlinks between Prime Minister Hun Sen and heroin traffickers.

After a fellowship in worldwide research at Johns Hopkins College, he and photojournalist Nic Dunlop tracked down a Khmer Rouge torturer, Kang Kek Iev, also referred to as Brother Duch, who agreed to speak after studying Mr. Thayer had interviewed Pol Pot. Duch surrendered to authorities after Mr. Thayer’s piece ran within the Far Jap Financial Evaluation.

Mr. Thayer later coated the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq for Slate and did web-based tales on rising white nationalist actions in the US.

Along with his brother, Mr. Thayer is survived by his mom, Joan Leclerc of Washington; and two sisters.

Regardless of his prolific workload, Mr. Thayer by no means managed to place the ending touches on his memoir, with a proposed title of “Sympathy for the Satan: Dwelling Dangerously in Cambodia.” What pushed him on was private: his deep empathy for the nation and its previous horrors underneath the Khmer Rouge.

Then when he heard in June 1997 that Pol Pot had been imprisoned, Mr. Thayer noticed an opportunity for a serious skilled break. “The final nice interview in Asia,” he instructed the New Yorker.

He ultimately returned to the States — first getting a farmhouse in 2000 on the Chesapeake Bay shores in Maryland — however mentioned he may really feel extra comfortable in Cambodia than large American cities resembling New York.

“Man, I can’t management my perimeter there,” he mentioned. “It’s the crazies that I can’t take care of.”

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