We Will ‘Hold the Line’: A Year-End Message from FRONTLINE’s Executive Producer

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December 30, 2021

Earlier this month, Maria Ressa shared something with me that I’ve been thinking about ever since.

Ressa, the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize this year alongside Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, was talking with me on The FRONTLINE Dispatch podcast about how this is the first time since 1935 that a journalist has won the award — and how she feels conditions are similar today in terms of what she calls “a global rise in fascism, a word I don’t use lightly.”

Carl von Ossietzky never got to accept his award, because he was languishing in a Nazi concentration camp…,” she said. “The more I read about Carl, about the last time a journalist won this, the more I realized that: yes, it could get better, but it could also get much worse.”

“We are at a point where — just like the conditions that led to World War II — we have no idea what the facts are,” said Ressa, who was the subject of our documentary directed by Ramona S. Diaz, A Thousand Cuts. With her news organization Rappler, Ressa has been at the forefront of reporting on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war and the spread of disinformation on social media. “And, you know, living in a world without facts — again, we saw this in A Thousand Cuts, when you live in a world without facts, you can’t have truth. You can’t have trust. And when you don’t have that, your shared reality is torn apart.”

Over the past year, in the shadow of the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and under the continuing fog of the coronavirus pandemic, FRONTLINE has worked to cut through “a world without facts” by bringing you journalism that’s tough, fair and trustworthy, and that we hope helps to maintain and rebuild a shared reality.

We’ve taken a particular tack over these past 12 months: In many cases, we’ve chosen to document and open up the process of investigative newsgathering itself, following journalists both around the world and in U.S. cities and towns in their pursuit of the truth.

We’ve done this at a time when independent reporting is under threat: More journalists were jailed worldwide in 2021 than in any other year on record, according to a recent report from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

In our documentaries this past year, you’ve watched as Maria Ressa and her team fought for press freedom in the Philippines.

You’ve watched as we investigated rising tides of far-right violence, with ProPublica’s A.C. Thompson tracing the path to the Capitol attack here in the U.S., and Evan Williams examining a string of terror plots and attacks on Jews and migrants in Germany.

You’ve seen us join with reporters around the world, as part of a collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, to sort through the Pandora Papers, a massive leak of financial documents that revealed the global entanglement of political power and secretive offshore finance, and how U.S. trusts are sheltering millions in controversial assets.

You’ve watched Michael Kirk and his team’s investigations of the continuing legacy of 9/11, the crises that shaped Joe Biden’s approach to life and governing, and the drumbeat that led to the Capitol insurrection — and you’ve explored their source material in dozens of interviews published through our FRONTLINE Transparency Project.

You’ve seen Ramita Navai expose both a rape scandal in India and violence by Shia militias in Iraq, and you’ve come along with Nawal al-Maghafi as she investigated a COVID cover-up in Yemen.

You’ve watched us and RetroReport work with journalists from the U.S. and El Salvador to examine the horrors of what happened 40 years ago in El Mozote, when U.S.-trained and -equipped Salvadoran soldiers killed some 1,000 civilians, many of them children. You’ve followed our partnership with the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, on a months-long journey to try to understand when and why police shoot. And you’ve come along with us and New York Timesjournalists as we pieced together what went wrong in the runup to two Boeing 737 Max crashes that killed 346 people.

In our Un(re)solved podcast, you followed reporter James Edwards as he uncovered a story of civil rights-era cold cases and families still searching for justice. In I’m Not a Monster, a partnership with the BBC, you listened to reporter Josh Baker’s quest to understand how an American mom and her son ended up in the heart of ISIS territory in Syria. And in interviews on our FRONTLINE Dispatch podcast, we’ve taken you behind the scenes of the reporting process with filmmakers and journalists like Mike Shum, Jelani Cobb and Maria Ressa herself.

Our work goes on. So will our commitment to documenting the act of journalism at a time where it’s imperiled across the globe. 

Whatever 2022 may bring, all of us at FRONTLINE will work to do what Ressa calls “holding the line”: bringing you independent journalism that is fair, trustworthy and unbowed.

It all begins next week, Jan. 4, with an updated version of our documentary with ProPublica and UC Berkeley, American Insurrection. One year after the attack on the Capitol, with support from the WNET Group’s Exploring Hate initiative, we investigate the evolving threat of far-right violence in America, examining the latest developments and where the movement may be headed.

Thank you for your support and for your belief in journalism. We hope that you and your loved ones are safe and healthy as a new year begins.


Raney Aronson-Rath, Editor-in-Chief and Executive Producer, FRONTLINE

Twitter:

@raneyaronson

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