Sydney Schanberg

Sydney Hillel Schanberg (January 17, 1934  July 9, 2016) was an American journalist who was best known for his coverage of the war in Cambodia. He was the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize, two George Polk awards, two Overseas Press Club awards, and the Sigma Delta Chi prize for distinguished journalism.[2] Schanberg was played by Sam Waterston in the 1984 film The Killing Fields based on the experiences of Schanberg and the Cambodian journalist Dith Pran in Cambodia.

Sydney Schanberg
Sydney Hillel Schanberg

(1934-01-17)January 17, 1934
DiedJuly 9, 2016(2016-07-09) (aged 82)
Spouse(s)Jane Freiman[1]
ChildrenJessica and Rebecca

Early life and career

Sydney Schanberg was born to a Jewish family[3][4] in Clinton, Massachusetts, the son of Freda (Feinberg) and Louis Schanberg, a grocery store owner.[5] He studied at Clinton High School in 1951 before receiving a B.A. in Government from Harvard University in 1955.[6] After initially enrolling at Harvard Law School, he requested to be moved up the draft list and undertook basic military training at Fort Hood in Texas.[7]

Schanberg joined The New York Times as a journalist in 1959. He spent much of the early 1970s in Southeast Asia as a correspondent for the Times. For his reporting, he won the George Polk Award for excellence in journalism twice, in 1971 and 1974. In 1971, he wrote about the Pakistani genocide in then-East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) as New Delhi bureau chief (1969–1973). Upon becoming Southeast Asia correspondent (1973–1975), he covered the Vietnam War.[8]

Following years of combat, Schanberg wrote in The New York Times about the departure of the Americans and the coming regime change, writing about the Cambodians that "it is difficult to imagine how their lives could be anything but better with the Americans gone." A dispatch he wrote on April 13, 1975, written from Phnom Penh, ran with the headline "Indochina without Americans: for most, a better life."[9]

Writing about his experiences following the Khmer Rouge takeover, Schanberg acknowledged that "I watched many Cambodian friends being herded out of Phnom Penh. Most of them I never saw again. All of us felt like betrayers, like people who were protected and didn't do enough to save our friends. We felt shame. We still do.", and utterly condemned the "maniacal Khmer Rouge guerrillas".[10] He was one of the few American journalists to remain behind in Phnom Penh after the city fell. He and his assistant were threatened with death, and took sanctuary in the French embassy. Two weeks later, he evacuated to Thailand by truck.[11]

Later life

Schanberg won the 1976 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for his Cambodia coverage. The citation reads, "For his coverage of the Communist takeover in Cambodia, carried out at great risk when he elected to stay at his post after the fall of Phnom Penh."[12] His 1980 book The Death and Life of Dith Pran was about the struggle for survival of his colleague Dith Pran in the Khmer Rouge regime. The book inspired the 1984 film The Killing Fields in which Schanberg was played by Sam Waterston.[11]

Schanberg served as the Times metropolitan editor (1977–1980) before he joined the editorial pages as a columnist specializing in metropolitan New York in 1981.[13] Although he was initially considered to be a leading candidate to succeed executive editor A.M. Rosenthal after receiving his Pulitzer Prize, their relationship was soon strained by Schanberg's innovative approach to local coverage (including a proposed 1977 series on upper middle class gay professionals that was ultimately suppressed by Rosenthal) and increasingly vitriolic critiques of New York's real estate industry. In September 1985, Schanberg's column was cancelled by Rosenthal after he criticized the paper's coverage of the Westway Highway development. He refused a proposed writer-at-large post at The New York Times Magazine and resigned from the Times.[14]

Between 1986 and 1995, he was an associate editor and columnist for New York Newsday. He covered the United States Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs hearings and became engrossed in the Vietnam War POW/MIA issue; writing for Penthouse and later The Village Voice and The Nation, Schanberg became a leading advocate of the "live prisoners left behind" belief in that matter. He published many articles on the subject and outlined reasons why no POWs were never found, alleging that government officials never seriously investigated reports of live POWs to save embarrassment and prevent damage to their reputations and careers. He further said in his articles that the Vietnamese never admitted to holding prisoners in order to be accepted by the international community and that they'd initially tried to ransom them for reparations once the war ended.[15]

On September 14, 1987 Schanberg published a Newsday editorial entitled "Donald Trump-Public-relations master" in which he wrote, sarcastically, "The part I like best about Donald Trump is his deep and abiding concern for the homeless and the poor". He called Trump a "public-relations virtuoso", described an ongoing feud with Koch who Trump called a "moron" and "a jerk", provided numerous instances of Trump's claims of superior intellect ("It would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles. I think I know most of it anyway"), and he warned "He can deny all he wants any designs on the White House, but Trump has the kind of instincts that are perfect for the age we live in-the age of stage smoke and magic mirrors and imagery...In short, he sees the kind of men we admire and elect these days and he naturally asks: Why not me?" Schanberg ended the piece with, "In an age where smoke is everything, Donald Trump can blow it with the best of them". (from: Schanberg, S. Donald Trump-public-relations master. Finger Lakes Times (from Newsday). September 14, 1987 page 4.)

In 1992, Schanberg received the Elijah Parish Lovejoy Award as well as an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Colby College. He worked as head of investigations for that won a 1999 Investigative Reporters and Editors award.[16] He settled in exurban New Paltz, New York after serving as the inaugural James H. Ottaway Sr. Visiting Professor of Journalism at the State University of New York at New Paltz in 2001.[17]

In 2006, Schanberg resigned from The Village Voice (where he had served as a staff writer and Press Clips columnist since 2002) in protest over the editorial, political and personnel changes made by the new publisher, New Times Media.[18]

In the July 1, 2010, issue of American Conservative, Schanberg wrote an article about his struggle to advance his position that the United States government left behind hundreds of POWs being held by North Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam War.[19] He died on July 9, 2016, after suffering a heart attack in the previous week.[5]


  • Schanberg, Sydney (1980). The Death and Life of Dith Pran. Penguin. ISBN 0-14-008457-6.
  • Schanberg, Sydney (1984). The Killing Fields: The Facts Behind The Film. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 0297785370.
  • Schanberg, Sydney (2010). Beyond the Killing Fields. Potomac Books. ISBN 978-1-59797-505-6.


  1. "About the Author — Sydney Schanberg". Beyond the Killing Fields.
  2. "Sydney H. Schanberg". April 2, 2010. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  3. "'Killing Fields' reporter Sydney Schanberg dead at 82". Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  4. Whitfield, Stephen J. "The American Jew as Journalist" (PDF). PolicyArchive.
  5. "Sydney H. Schanberg Is Dead at 82; Former Times Correspondent Chronicled Terror of 1970s Cambodia". The New York Times. July 10, 2016. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  6. "Sydney Schanberg Biography, Pictures, Images, Videos, Relationships". Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  7. "Interview  Sydney Schanberg, author of Beyond the Killing Fields". December 13, 2010. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  8. Schumacher, Elizabeth (July 9, 2016). "Sydney Schanberg, reporter of 'Killing Fields' fame, dead at 82". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  9. Jacoby, Jeff (April 30, 1998). "American leftists were Pol Pot's cheerleaders". Boston Globe. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  10. "Crimes of War  Cambodia". Archived from the original on July 16, 2016. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  11. McFadden, Robert D. (July 9, 2016). "Sydney H. Schanberg Is Dead at 82; Former Times Correspondent Chronicled Terror of 1970s Cambodia". The New York Times. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  12. "Explore Winners and Finalists by Category". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  13. Schanberg, Sydney H. "Sydney H. Schanberg". The New York Times. Retrieved August 14, 2010.
  14. Post, from the Washington (September 26, 1985). "Schanberg Resigns After N.Y. Times Cancels His Column". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  15. "McCain and the POW Cover-Up". The American Conservative. July 1, 2010. Archived from the original on June 2, 2010. Retrieved August 14, 2010.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  16. "The Official Website of Beyond the Killing Fields". Retrieved August 14, 2010.
  17. "Sydney Schanberg, exposed Vietnam horrors, dies in Poughkeepsie". Retrieved October 15, 2018.
  18. "Village Voice Shakeup: Top Investigative Journalist Fired, Prize-Winning Writers Resign Following Merger with New Times Media", Democracy Now, April 13, 2006
  19. "Silent Treatment". The American Conservative. Retrieved January 6, 2017.
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