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No More Creampuff Journalism: Readers React in Letters to the Editor

1 Feb

No More Creampuff Journalism

Sometime public commentary on the published writings of a journalist can get nasty, sometimes snarky, and sometimes downright witty.

Here, readers react with a series of letters to the editor to an interview I did with Khmer Rouge Prime Minister Khieu Samphan published in the Phnom Penh Post. It wasn’t pretty, but it was witty (mostly).

No More Creampuff Journalism

Phnom Penh Post

Letter to the Editor

No More Creampuff Journalism

Friday, 29 January 1993

I was spending some vacation time in Phnom Penh when I picked up your paper and read the “interview” with Khieu Samphan. What’s going on? This guy is a mass murderer and is single-handedly blocking a U.S. $2 billion international peace effort.

Yet your “reporter” Nate Thayer treats Samphan like he was some kind of elder statesman, asking him what he thinks of the current political situation.

Why didn’t he ask him what it feels like to kill 1,000,000 Cambodians? I’ve read PR handouts that hit harder than this piece of marshmallow.

Do your readers a favor-next time you interview the Khmer Rouge, send a real professional reporter-not a cream puff like this Thayer guy.

Bill Shuller, United States

I responded to that missive with the following: Continue reading

One Can Never be too Vigilant in the Defence of a Free Press

14 Jan

The Tools of the Trade–Journalism Cambodia Style–1990’s

The Free Press Preparing for another Day Keeping the People Well Informed Without Fear or Favour. Me and my closet of goodies Phnom Penh, Cambodias Photo-Ira Chaplain

The Free Press Preparing for another Day Keeping the People Well Informed Without Fear or Favour. Me and my closet of goodies Phnom Penh, Cambodia Photo-Ira Chaplain

Covering the Cambodia debacle in the 1980’s and 1990’s was an assignment fraught with danger and intrigue. The Khmer Rouge had executed more than 4 dozen foreigners–the vast majority journalists. Their primary opposition, the Vietnamese backed and installed government of Hun Sen, has summarily targeted and murdered dozens more, in addition to burning their offices after they were ransacked by government mobs, jailing dozens more, and scores received regular death threats. Scores more fled the country. This is in addition to the pervasive organized crime figures, who held powerful sway over the entire government leadership.

This photograph, by freelance shooter Ira Chaplain, shows me in front of my closet, which was equipped for pretty much any contingency, at my office and residence at the Phnom Penh Post, a fearless advocate, purveyor and defender of a free press which I remain proud to have been its senior correspondent. No better paper existed, in my mind, in the world in the 1990’s.

The assortment of Russian, Chinese, U.S., and other weapons, along with enough kit to equip a platoon at a moments notice if we were required by events to go to the bush, shows one can never be too careful or unprepared when defending the ability of a free press to carry out its duties. Plus it was fun……

One can never be too vigilant in defending the right of a free press to carry out their duties without fear or favour. Superior firepower often is a useful tool toward that end.

‘See Angkor and die’

4 Dec

‘See Angkor and die’

Fri, 3 December 1993

(This story, one of my favorites, was published 20 years ago today in the Phnom Penh Post)

Renée Grass died happy here in Cambodia a few days ago after travelling across the world to have her last dream come true.

The 83-year-old Belgian woman, frail from the passage of time, knew that she had entered the autumn of her life, several people who were on the tour to Angkor last weekend said. She travelled alone to Cambodia because her dying wish was to see the temples of Angkor.

“She told everybody ‘ I want to see Angkor before I die’ “, said Dr. Xavier Baranger, who was called to treat her after she collapsed and died on November 25 in Phnom Penh.

She arrived in the capital last week and was booked on a tour to visit Angkor over the weekend. Several other travellers and the tour guides suggested that perhaps the trip to Siem Riep and the difficult walk through the temple complex was too strenuous for her, ” but she refused their advice because she had this goal,” Dr. Baranger said.

Hours after she visited the temples, she became ill, and a special airplane from Aviation Sans Frontier evacuated her to Phnom Penh.

She died the next day in her room at the Hotel Cambodiana, with the doctor and hotel staff by her side.

” I’ve seen situations like this before, when old people have one last goal in life, and when they have achieved it, they pass away content,” said the doctor.

Madam Grass probably didn’t know that King Sihanouk completed shooting of his latest film “Voir Angkor Et Mourir” (See Angkor and Die) at the temple complex only months ago.

Renée Grass travelled widely up until her last days. Her passport was full of visas from Argentina to Italy in recent months. She told others on the tour that she had no children and was a widow.

” She told people ‘ If I die travelling, just cremate me where I am,” according to the doctor. Her body was cremated at Wat Lanka here in Phnom Penh on Monday.

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