Listen to the Top 5 ‘FRONTLINE Dispatch’ Podcast Episodes of 2020
An American mom who says she’s trapped in ISIS territory. Racial disparities in policing and the pandemic. Conspiracy theories at the highest levels of American politics.
Throughout 2020, FRONTLINE’s podcast series The FRONTLINE Dispatch released more episodes than ever before. Through sharp and compelling conversations with journalists in the field, as well as rigorous original reporting, the podcast uncovered new dimensions of 2020’s defining moments. It also elevated stories that otherwise might have flown under the radar and previewed new audio journalism endeavors from FRONTLINE and our partners.
As 2020 draws to a close, we’ve collected the five most-downloaded podcast episodes released in our FRONTLINE Dispatch feed* this year. You can listen to them all in one place, below. And if you haven’t already, subscribe to The FRONTLINE Dispatch on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. There’s lots more audio journalism to come in 2021.
Spurred by a powerful photograph, reporter Sasha Achilli made an emotional journey back to her homeland of Italy. It was March; as the country became the global epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, hospitals were overrun. Achilli filmed inside one of them for what would become the documentary Inside Italy’s COVID War.
Speaking with FRONTLINE’s executive producer, Raney Aronson-Rath, Achilli conveyed a warning from health-care workers in Italy to listeners in America: “Doctors [here] are saying, ‘Absolutely self-isolate, and do it in the interest of yourself, but also in the interest of everybody else around you, and who you love. Because this is very, very real.'”
As COVID-19 spread, so, too, did misinformation and conspiracy theories about the virus — amplified by figures like Alex Jones and proliferated on social media and at the highest levels of government. Veteran filmmaker Michael Kirk was already making a documentary about the rise of conspiracy theories in American politics when the pandemic hit.
In this May episode of The FRONTLINE Dispatch, he told Aronson-Rath what he’s learned about how such theories have become central to understanding the nation’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. “There’s been a concerted effort, now that everything is moved from the fringe to the center, to knock down knowledge-based information,” said Kirk, whose documentary on the rise of conspiracy theories aired in July. “And all of a sudden, a large number of Americans simply do not believe what they’re being told. And that’s where we find ourselves now.”
In March, the veteran science reporter and FRONTLINE correspondent Miles O’Brien traveled to Washington, the state where COVID-19 was first identified in a U.S. patient, to make FRONTLINE’s first broadcast documentary on the pandemic. In a conversation with Aronson-Rath, he described what he had learned about how doctors treated that patient and about the state’s overall approach to combating the coronavirus: “They’ve put science at the center of their policy, and they’ve let the data drive the decisions,” O’Brien said.
Against the backdrop of a pandemic that is disproportionately killing Black and Latino Americans, the police killing of George Floyd in late May sparked widespread outrage and protests across the country. The historian and writer Jelani Cobb joined Aronson-Rath in early June to put the moment in context and to share what he said needed to happen next.
“We really need a kind of gigantic systemic overhaul in so much of the country, things that are seemingly unrelated, but from our educational system, our healthcare system, the number of people who didn’t have health care coverage in the midst of a pandemic — all these things that that ultimately culminate in the explosions that we’ve seen in the past week,” said Cobb, the correspondent on FRONTLINE’s 2016 and 2020 documentaries on police reform in Newark, New Jersey. “Until we’re able to address things in a much broader spectrum of ways, we won’t be able to get policing to where it needs to be, either.”
Sam Sally claimed she had been tricked into taking her children into ISIS territory. But where does her account end and the truth begin? In I’m Not A Monster, a multi-part investigative series from FRONTLINE, BBC Sounds and BBC Panorama, reporter Josh Baker unspools the case of Sally, an American woman who was ultimately convicted of financing terrorism. The first several episodes were released on The FRONTLINE Dispatch feed; to hear all 10 as they are available, subscribe to I’m Not A Monster on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Pocket Casts or wherever you get your podcasts.
*Based on total downloads of episodes released on The FRONTLINE Dispatch feed from all podcast players, excluding YouTube. This list does not include FRONTLINE’s Film Audio Tracks.