Sydney Schanberg

Sydney Schanberg
Born Sydney Hillel Schanberg
(1934-01-17)January 17, 1934
Clinton, Massachusetts, U.S.
Died July 9, 2016(2016-07-09) (aged 82)
Poughkeepsie, New York, U.S.
Occupation Journalist
Spouse(s) Jane Freiman[1]
Children Jessica and Rebecca

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.

Early life and career

Sydney Schanberg was born in Clinton, Massachusetts, the son of Freda (Feinberg) and Louis Schanberg, a grocery store owner.[3] He was Jewish.[4] He studied at Clinton High School in 1951 before receiving a B.A. in Government from Harvard University in 1955.[5] 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.[6]

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). Upon being transferred to Southeast Asia, he covered the Vietnam War.[7]

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."[8]

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".[9] 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.[10]

After the war in Cambodia

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."[11] 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.[10]

Schanberg was The New York Times Metropolitan Editor, and Op-Ed columnist.[12] In September 1985, Schanberg resigned from The New York Times following cancellation of his column, after he criticised the paper's coverage of the Westway Highway development.[13]

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" belief in that matter.[14]

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.[15]

In 2006, Schanberg resigned as the Press Clips columnist for The Village Voice in protest over the editorial, political and personnel changes made by the new publisher, New Times Media.[16]

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.[17] He died on July 9, 2016, after suffering a heart attack in the previous week.[3]



  1. "About the Author — Sydney Schanberg". Beyond the Killing Fields.
  2. "Sydney H. Schanberg". April 2, 2010. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  3. 1 2 "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.
  5. "Sydney Schanberg Biography, Pictures, Images, Videos, Relationships – FamousWhy". Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  6. "Interview – Sydney Schanberg, author of Beyond the Killing Fields – HistoryNet". December 13, 2010. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  7. Schumacher, Elizabeth (July 9, 2016). "Sydney Schanberg, reporter of 'Killing Fields' fame, dead at 82". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  8. Jacoby, Jeff (April 30, 1998). "American leftists were Pol Pot's cheerleaders". Boston Globe. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  9. "Crimes of War – Cambodia". Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  10. 1 2 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.
  11. "Explore Winners and Finalists by Category". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  12. Schanberg, Sydney H. "Sydney H. Schanberg – The New York Times". The New York Times. Retrieved August 14, 2010.
  13. Post, from the Washington (September 26, 1985). "Schanberg Resigns After N.Y. Times Cancels His Column". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
  14. "McCain and the POW Cover-Up". The American Conservative. July 1, 2010. Retrieved August 14, 2010.
  15. "The Official Website of Beyond the Killing Fields". Retrieved August 14, 2010.
  16. "Village Voice Shakeup: Top Investigative Journalist Fired, Prize-Winning Writers Resign Following Merger with New Times Media", Democracy Now, April 13, 2006
  17. "Silent Treatment". The American Conservative. Retrieved July 10, 2016.
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