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Nate Thayer on the Pol Pot Frame Grab, Being “Just a Freelancer” and the Very Worst of Big Media Companies

December 8, 2013 — Published by

nate thayer Nate Thayer on the Pol Pot Frame Grab, Being “Just a Freelancer” and the Very Worst of Big Media Companies

Nate Thayer

By NATE THAYER

On July 25, 1997, I was the first outsider to meet Pol Pot since he killed 1.8 million people 20 years before. It was, for a couple of days, the biggest story in the world. I, as a freelance journalist, had the the only photographs and video and eyewitness account that existed since he did what he did. It was a tumultuous few days of dealing with the very worst of what the big media companies represented.

Ted Koppel, of ABC Nightline, flew to Bangkok to view the video and signed a written contract for “North American video rights only for seven days.” ABC America — owned by Disney — told Koppel to sign whatever Thayer asks for — our lawyers will deal with it later. “He is just a freelancer. Give him whatever he wants. Our lawyers will deal with him. We can bankrupt him if he objects.”

nate thayer pol pot just freelance journalist worst big media companies 1 Nate Thayer on the Pol Pot Frame Grab, Being “Just a Freelancer” and the Very Worst of Big Media Companies

One of ABC’s frame grabs of Nate Thayer’s still pictures, taken after 15 years of work, which they distributed to the planet and took credit for. | Nate Thayer

As soon as ABC, which had exactly zero correspondents in Southeast Asia, got a hold of a copy of the tape, they created the frame grab on the right from the video, distributed it personally to numerous news outfits crediting themselves with having taken the image, including the Associated Press, the New York Times, and placed it on their website.

ABC’s still picture frame grab from the video and distributed to the world voided scores of contracts I had sold for my stills for exclusive rights.

Below left is my original still photograph, which became worthless overnight because it was available for free from the ABC website.

ABC distributed transcripts of the trial of Pol Pot I had made and allowed other news organizations to view the video tape with strict instructions to credit ABC for the images and story, and then refused to pay me anything unless I signed a release they did nothing wrong and promised not to take legal action against them.

nate thayer pol pot just freelance journalist worst big media companies 2 Nate Thayer on the Pol Pot Frame Grab, Being “Just a Freelancer” and the Very Worst of Big Media Companies

Pol Pot on trial | Nate Thayer

I refused.

Nine months later, I won the Peabody Award as a “correspondent for ABC Nightline.” 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, 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.

I spent seven years in court fighting ABC. I won, sort of. It sucked the life out of me. They tried to bankrupt me and ruin my reputation. But ABC will never fuck with Nate Thayer again. It was worth it.

They thought I would back down in the face of their team of hundreds of staff lawyers and corporate power. I refused.

Such is the life of freelance journalism. ABC tried to take credit for 15 years of my life work.

Nate Thayer spent a good part of his life in Cambodia’s war-torn and malaria-infested jungles.

Risking his life, he got access to the Khmer Rouge like no other outsider. His long work culminated in the only independent eyewitness account of Pol Pot’s trial and death in 1998.

Today Nate mainly reports on North Korean affairs.

Posted by on December 8, 2013. Filed under News/Rumor. A word on our own regarding comments: Please practice mutual respect and nice grammar is never wrong. And why not support THEME. We love what we do and hope you enjoy our takes on photography. If you get new gear — or anything else for that matter —, please do so by clicking our AMAZON affiliate link — or shop via our trusted partners. Doesn't cost a cent more. Appreciate!
  • Thate Nayer

    You’ve just stolen this from Thayer’s blog, no doubt without his permission. I wouldn’t like to be in your shoes when he finds out. Best call your lawyer… In the meantime, the original is here http://natethayer.wordpress.com/2013/12/08/how-ted-koppel-and-abc-tv-tried-to-steal-my-life-work/

    • http://the.me/ DanTHEME

      We don’t steal content on THEME. This is republished with explicit written permission by my good friend Nate — or in his words, asked if we can republish his article:

      “Nate Thayer

      Sure you can, Daniel”

      Why don’t you check with your lawyer.

  • nate

    To “Thate Nayer”: Daniel had and has my full permission. He did the right thing and asked me beforehand whether he could re-post my story on his blog. And the last thing he needs is to get a lawyer. I couldn’t afford to hire one even if I wanted, which I don’t. Daniel is a man of integrity. If you are going to sugggest otherwise, you should provide evidence. Here is a portion of our conversation before he posted:

    Daniel Kestenholz

    Nate, this Pol Pot ABC News story, can I use it for an article on my photography site THEME?

    12/8, 12:47am

    Nate Thayer

    Sure you can, Daniel

    Sunday

    12/8, 10:25am

    Daniel Kestenholz

    Let
    me know if I should add or correct anything Nate. Remember those days
    as clearly as if it happened yesterday. Drove with my wife to the border
    opposite the funeral. Didn’t see any smoke…

    http://www.the.me/nate-thayer-on-the-pol-pot-frame-grab-being-just-a-freelancer-and-the-very-worst-of-big-media-companies/

    Nate Thayer on the Pol Pot Frame Grab, Being “Just a Freelancer” and the Very Worst of Big Media… http://www.the.me

    On
    July 25, 1997, I was the first outsider to meet Pol Pot since he killed
    1.8 million people 20 years before. It was, for a couple of days, the
    biggest

  • Max Hodges

    ““He is just a freelancer. Give him whatever he wants. Our lawyers will deal with him. We can bankrupt him if he objects.”
    who are you quoting her mr. professional journalist. your source of this quote is very ambigious