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One of the world's great journalists has died. On the morning of June, 11, 1963, Malcolm Browne was a correspondent for the Associated Press, based in Saigon. Following a tip, he brought his camera to a pagoda near a busy Saigon intersection. An elderly Buddhist monk sat down in the middle of the street, then two younger monks doused him with gasoline, as Browne describes in this 1995 BBC interview.
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MALCOLM BROWNE: He had a packet of matches in his lap. He struck one of them and instantly he was enveloped in flame. I just kept shooting and shooting and shooting. And that protected me from the horror of the thing, the smell of the burning flesh, the expression of anguish. He never cried out, but his face did become anguished. Eventually, of course, he just, he flopped over and twitched a few times and that was it.
CORNISH: Malcolm Browne's photo of the monk's self-immolation gave America, and the world, a chilling view into a then little understood conflict. Browne went on to report for the New York Times, where he spent three decades of his career. He died Monday at the age of 81. For more we're joined by Richard Pile, who ran the AP Saigon bureau after Malcolm Browne. Richard Pile, welcome to the program.
RICHARD PILE: Thank you.
CORNISH: And I'd like to start by offering my condolences for the loss of your friend.
PILE: A lot of people share this grief, and I thank you for that.
CORNISH: Browne is best known for the photo we mentioned, but he wasn't strictly a photo journalist. And I read that he happened to have been carrying a camera that day.
PILE: Well, we all carried cameras because Horst Faas, our great photo mentor, insisted that we do that. And as I have been told by Malcolm himself, that Horst told him that day to take a camera, and he was the only journalist there, as far as anybody knows, who had a camera.
CORNISH: Tell us a little bit about Malcolm Browne as a person. What was his personality like?
PILE: Well, he was always known as a kind of an eccentric character, kind of spooky in a way. He was a brilliant, intellectual type fellow. It's like he always had some mysterious secrets that nobody else could know. But he was a brilliant journalist and courageous. He was all the things that a war correspondent needed to be.
CORNISH: I also read that he actually left behind a guide to new reporters in Vietnam. What was in it?
PILE: That's right. He wrote a manual for new reporters, anybody coming into the bureau. Things like, be careful when you talk in public because there are police spies in the restaurants who like to eavesdrop on conversations. And keep your head down in combat, don't stick your head up to see where the bullets come from because the next one will be yours. These are all, you know, sort of like seemingly obvious, and they might make it sound as if reporters were paranoid about spooks and spies and that sort of thing. But in fact, the old rule that even paranoids are allowed to have enemies, applied there. And it was good advice that he gave us on all these things.
CORNISH: One thing that struck me about his background was that he was the son of an architect and got a degree in chemistry. He had a sort of science background. Is that right?
PILE: Yeah. As a matter of fact, I didn't really know a lot of that about him until one day I was covering the Three Mile Island nuclear disaster in Pennsylvania, and there he was. I said, Malcolm what are you doing here? He looked at me like I was crazy. He said, well, I've got a degree in nuclear energy. I didn't know that until he told me that.
CORNISH: When you look back now on your friend and his legacy, what do you think that legacy is? Especially to photo journalists or people doing wartime coverage.
PILE: He's not alone in this, but he's one of those who showed how it should be done. And how to get around obfuscation, how to get around bureaucracy that tries to prevent things from being said and done. He was confrontational with officials and people who tried to shut him up, and that sort of thing. He was an enemy of those who would obscure the truth.
CORNISH: Richard Pile, thank you so much for talking with us.
PILE: You're very welcome.
CORNISH: Richard Pile, a longtime reporter with the Associated Press, remembering his colleague, journalist Malcolm Browne. Browne died Monday at the age of 81.
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