American Journalist Defends Coverage of KR

An American journalist who interviewed Pol Pot while visiting Cambodia defended himself at the Khmer Rouge tribunal Monday over articles he wrote suggesting stories of mass murder by the regime were exaggerated, but conceded that his coverage was inaccurate in hindsight.

Richard Dudman—who is 96 and appeared via video link from the U.S.—traveled with journalist Elizabeth Becker and scholar Malcolm Caldwell on a highly orchestrated trip around the country in 1978, during which Malcolm Caldwell was shot dead in their lodgings in Phnom Penh.

While appearing at the tribunal as an expert witness last month, Ms. Becker criticized some of Mr. Dudman’s coverage of the Khmer Rouge, in particular a 1990 opinion piece for The New York Times entitled “Pol Pot: Brutal, Yes, But No Mass Murderer,” which she described as a dated example of “single-source reporting.” In the article, Mr. Dudman claims evidence of widespread killings was based upon “statistically inconclusive anecdotes and extrapolation from accounts of mass executions in a few villages.”

Mr. Dudman argued that he was attempting to maintain journalistic skepticism, but conceded that the 1990 article was factually inaccurate.

“What should I say? Who likes to be criticized? Nobody. I wrote what I saw on that trip and I was writing with normal journalistic skepticism and looking for myself, and I wrote what I saw. I resent it when I’m told I was doing single-source reporting, I don’t know what single source she’s talking about,” Mr. Dudman said.

“For everything I read since and…sources I have consulted, I think there was a genocide under the Pol Pot regime, so I wouldn’t now write this article,” he added.

Mr. Dudman, who gave evidence for just two hours due to his age, went on to explain the events leading up to the murder of Malcolm Caldwell a leftist academic and Khmer Rouge sympathizer.

“I remember being awakened and hearing shots. And I was on a second-story room and I went across the hall to Malcolm Caldwell’s room and I discussed with him what he thought was going on,” Mr. Dudman said.

“We decided we didn’t know and would stay in our rooms and hope that it blew over. A young man came in heavily armed…and at some point, I think he pointed his pistol at me and fired a shot and it missed me. I ducked inside my room, slammed the door, stood to one side and some shots came through the door,” he said.

“After maybe two hours, I heard some other shots too and then…there was a knock of the door and the Cambodian diplomat Thiounn Prasith was there,” he added, referring to the then-Khmer Rouge Ambassador to the U.N., who informed him of Malcolm Caldwell’s murder.

Mr. Dudman described walking into the dead scholar’s room to see him lying with a “gaping wound” in his chest alongside the body of a Khmer Rouge soldier. He said that theorizing on the reasons behind the killing would be “guesswork.”

Mr. Dudman’s testimony at the trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan continues Tuesday.

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