By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Nate Thayer blasts ABC over Pol Pot dispute

220px-FEER-1997Many years ago I met the journalist Nate Thayer at a party. I congratulated him on his reporting on the trial of Pol Pot, one of history’s great monsters. The trial — apparently something of a sham, as it was conducted by Cambodia’s murderous Khmer Rouge movement, which Pol Pot led for many years — was the subject of a special report on ABC News’ “Nightline.”

Thayer told me he’d been having trouble with ABC, which approached him after he broke the story for the Far Eastern Economic Review. I have no memory of the details of what he told me, and I certainly had no idea his dispute with the network had dragged on all these years. But he has now posted a scorching entry on his blog, accusing the network and anchor Ted Koppel of wrongdoing in its dealings with him and daring ABC to come after him for violating a confidentiality agreement.

You might recall that earlier this year Thayer launched a rocket at The Atlantic after a Web editor asked him to contribute something for free — for the “exposure.” The resulting exchange set off a wide-ranging debate over free content and the difficulty that freelance journalists have finding paid work. It also led to an accusation of plagiarism against Thayer, which he vehemently denied.

Image via Wikipedia.

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  1. Aaron Read

    Here’s the one thing from Thayer’s own story that gives me pause:

    Nine months later, I won the Peabody award as a “correspondent for ABC Nightline.” Ted Koppel called me up, nervous, to congratulate me. I said “Fuck you! Where is my fucking money? I am going to go to the Peabody awards ceremony and refuse the award and tell the planet what unethical thieves ABC are and how you, Ted Koppel, acted as their pimp.” I was then banned from attending the award ceremony, escorted out of the Waldorf Astoria hotel banquet room by security guards.

    Thayer is, by all accounts, a good journalist. Good at getting the story. So why was he dumb enough to announce, in advance, that he was going to be so disruptive at the awards ceremony? I mean, c’mon Nate, you wonder why you were banned and escorted out by guards? You should’ve grit your teeth, smiled, and told Koppel “thanks very much and I look forward to hanging out with you at the awards ceremony.” THEN when you were up on stage, is when you reveal the full-on broadside attack…when it’s a lot harder for them to shut you up because the spotlight’s already on you.

    I can’t reconcile someone smart enough to “get the story” with someone dumb enough to do that. I mean, even Stephen Colbert was smart enough to not let anyone know in advance how nasty he was gonna get at the White House Correspondent’s dinner. The only difference was that the Peabody people were smart enough to recognize what they were dealing with.

  2. Can you reconcile it with someone who hands over a tape without a written contract? Sounds consistent to me.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Don: Kind of odd, yes. I hope ABC responds.

  3. I.G. Farben

    he signed contracts but all contracts signed with anyone with an army of lawyers is worthless. i admire mr. thayer’s restraint. i would have found that lowlife red headed fuck and crushed his legs with a tire iron. the jail time would have been worth it.

  4. Matt Kelly

    I dunno, I see why Thayer would be unhappy, but upon reading his latest screed he strikes me as way to much brilliant reporter and way to little savvy businessman. You need to be both to be a freelance journalist. Everything he wrote about Pol Pot gave me a chill; everything he writes about being a journalist gives me a headache.

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