Martin Smith

In his 40 years producing and reporting, Martin Smith has covered the world: from revolution in Central America and the fall of communism in Russia, to the rise of Al Qaeda and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the inside story of the global financial meltdown. Smith has often been ahead of the news curve. He was among the first journalists to investigate Col. Oliver North’s clandestine Contra arms network and one of the first western reporters to investigate the emergence of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network.

Smith began his career in 1976 as a film editor at CBS News and worked his way up through the ranks. His first documentary, Guatemala, (1982) won both a George Polk Award for Investigative Journalism and an Emmy from the Academy of Television Art & Sciences. In 1983, Smith moved to PBS where he produced for the PBS science series NOVA and for FRONTLINE. In 1986, he produced Who’s Running This War? for FRONTLINE and won his second George Polk award. In 1989, he served as executive producer of Inside Gorbachev’s USSR with Hedrick Smith, winning a third Polk award and DuPont Columbia Gold Baton. In 1990, he joined FRONTLINE as a senior producer at FRONTLINE responsible for editorial supervision of scores of documentaries.

Between 1994 and 1998, Smith worked with ABC News anchor Peter Jennings as a senior producer and oversaw a series of documentary specials for ABC’s Peter Jennings Reporting unit, including Hiroshima: Why the Bomb was Dropped, recipient of the Edward R. Murrow Award in 1995 and the George Foster Peabody award.

In 1998, Smith left ABC News and founded RAIN Media, an independent production company that has produced over 50 hours of award-winning programming for ABC News and for FRONTLINE, including The Terrorist and the Superpower (aka Hunting bin Laden), which was produced three years before 9/11. A copy of the film was requested by Vice President Dick Cheney’s office immediately after the attacks.

In the three months following 9/11, Smith produced two seminal films on the genesis of the attacks—Looking for Answers (2001) and Saudi Time Bomb? (2001). Along with other FRONTLINE films produced in the wake of 9/11, the Alfred I. duPont jurors awarded Smith and his colleagues another Gold Baton and said of the work: “The series never flinches from showing why terrorist groups harbor such hate for America and includes people whose attitudes toward the United States are undoubtedly offensive to many viewers. Yet all of the programs are balanced and never sensationalized.”

Smith continued reporting on Al Qaeda in subsequent years. In the trilogy, In Search of Al Qaeda (2002), Return of the Taliban (2006) and Obama’s War (2009), Smith investigated Pakistan’s duplicitous policy toward Afghanistan and confronted top Pakistani officials—including, on two occasions, President Pervez Musharraf. This work had a major impact on the direction of U.S. policy towards Pakistan. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry showed excerpts from Return of the Taliban in high-level briefings with Bush administration officials.

Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Smith has covered the conflict for FRONTLINE with a series of films, including Truth, War and Consequences (2003), which established Smith’s presence as an on-camera correspondent, Beyond Baghdad (2004), Private Warriors (2005), and Gangs of Iraq (2007). His film The Rise of ISIS (2014) investigated the circumstances and context leading to ISIS’s emergence. He followed that in 2016 with Confronting ISIS, a film that was the recipient of the prestigious Peabody Award.

In 2018, he produced Bitter Rivals, a three-hour documentary that examined the regional struggle for power between Iran and Saudi Arabia. That film was one of six FRONTLINE films cited when the series received the 2019 duPont Columbia Gold Baton, the highest honor in broadcast journalism.

His latest films from the Middle East are The Crown Prince (2019), which investigates the rise and rule of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia (MBS) and The Jihadist (2021), an exclusive portrait of the Syrian rebel Abu Mohammad al Jolani.

Smith has also done extensive reporting on business and financial issues. He collaborated on a landmark series on the global economic crisis, Money, Power and Wall Street (2012), which was awarded a 2013 George Polk Award, Smith’s fourth. The jury cited the series for the way it “dissected and distilled down the complicated subject of the modern credit derivative market and provided a sober look inside the struggle to rescue and repair this country’s battered economy.”

Smith’s The Untouchables (2013) examined the Justice Department’s failure to hold Wall Street bankers accountable for mortgage fraud in the run up to the 2008 collapse. The report sparked an enormous reaction after its initial airing. Two U.S. Senators, citing Smith’s interview with a senior Justice Department official, demanded that Attorney General Eric Holder explain whether his department’s failure to investigate big banks stems from fear of collateral consequences. Several US attorneys’ offices have screened the film and re-committed publicly to bringing cases related to Wall Street fraud.

Smith’s business reporting also includes Dot Con, about the internet bubble; Heat about how business leaders have reacted to calls for carbon reduction in the face of climate change; The Madoff Affair (2009), an investigation into the world’s largest Ponzi scheme; College Inc. (2010) and Educating Sergeant Pantzke (2011), two examinations of for-profit education that significantly influenced debate on Capitol Hill and at the Department of Veteran Affairs; The Retirement Gamble (2013), about the 401(k) industry and America’s impending retirement crisis; To Catch a Trader (2014), a film about Steven A. Cohen and insider trading; and The Pension Crisis (2018), on the role of state governments and Wall Street in driving America’s public pensions into a multi-trillion-dollar hole.

Smith has won every major award in broadcast television, including four duPont Columbia Gold Batons, five Peabody Awards, and eight Emmys. In 2014 he received the John Chancellor Award, presented by Columbia University to a reporter with courage and integrity for cumulative professional accomplishments.

Smith was born Jan. 28, 1949, and raised on a citrus farm in Riverside, CA, and later in Los Angeles. He studied Comparative Literature at Brown University and has a BFA from the Institute of Film and Television at New York University. He is on the board of the Overseas Press Club and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He lives in New York City with his wife and producing partner Marcela Gaviria. He is the father of five children.

America and the Taliban
How America's 20-year investment in Afghanistan culminated in Taliban victory.
April 4, 2023
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The Jihadist
Designated a terrorist by the United States, the powerful Syrian militant Abu Mohammad al-Jolani now seeks a new relationship with the West.
June 1, 2021
1h 24m
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The Virus: What Went Wrong?
As COVID-19 spread from Asia to the Middle East to Europe, why was the U.S. caught so unprepared?
June 16, 2020
The Frontline Interview: Britta Jewell and Nicholas P. Jewell
An interview with epidemiologists Britta and Nicholas Jewell, who have been tracking COVID-19 since the beginning.
April 9, 2020
The Frontline Interview: J. Stephen Morrison
An interview with global health expert J. Stephen Morrison, who warned of a pandemic like the novel coronavirus in 2019.
April 9, 2020
Targeting El Paso
How El Paso became the Trump administration’s immigration policy testing ground and then the target of a white supremacist.
January 7, 2020
1h 54m
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The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia
FRONTLINE investigates the rise of Saudi Arabia's crown prince, his vision for the future, his handling of dissent, and the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
October 1, 2019
The Pension Gamble
How state governments and Wall Street led America’s public pensions into a multi-trillion-dollar hole.
October 23, 2018
Separated: Children at the Border
The inside story of what happened to immigrant children separated from their parents at the border.
July 31, 2018
2h 51m
Bitter Rivals: Iran and Saudi Arabia
FRONTLINE investigates how a dangerous rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia has plunged the Middle East into sectarian war.
February 20, 2018
Notes From An Invisible War
FRONTLINE filmmaker Martin Smith witnesses chaos and suffering on a rare trip to Yemen – a closer look inside a largely invisible war.
October 26, 2017
Inside Yemen
An up-close look at how Yemen’s humanitarian crisis was worsened by a brutal war.
October 18, 2017