‘Whose Vote Counts’ Wins FRONTLINE’s Second Peabody Award of 2021

"Whose Vote Counts" has been honored with a Peabody Award.

"Whose Vote Counts" has been honored with a Peabody Award.

June 22, 2021

The documentary Whose Vote Counts won a 2021 George Foster Peabody Award on Tuesday, the second FRONTLINE film to win the prestigious award this year.

The October 2020 film, a joint investigation with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and reporters from the USA TODAY Network, examined allegations of voter disenfranchisement in the lead-up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election through the lens of the battleground state of Wisconsin. From FRONTLINE correspondent and New Yorker writer Jelani Cobb, producer Tom Jennings and director June Cross, the investigation examined how unfounded claims of extensive voter fraud entered the political mainstream, and ultimately whose vote counted and whose was endangered. It was honored by the Peabody Awards in the News category.

Calling the documentary “a probing investigation into the simple question the piece’s title poses,” the Peabody jurors said in an award citation that Whose Vote Counts presents a clear breakdown of the way racial inequities, COVID-19, and voter suppression became interlinked crises, contributing to a long legacy of inequality.”

“As a journalist, this piece resonated with me because it was an example of us performing what I consider to be the core responsibility of our job,” Peabody Awards presenter and writer for The Atlantic Jemele Hill said in a video from the Peabody Awards announcing the honor. “Our job is to cause and create disruption. Our other job is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. This piece did that, as well as tackle a key issue at the heart of modern U.S. politics. It also showed us what the fight for voting rights looks like in the 21st century.”

“Thank you to the Peabody committee and jurors,” Cross, the Fred W. Friendly Professor of Media and Society at Columbia, said in the Peabody video, going on to thank the film and reporting team, including Jennings for having “one of the sharpest reporter’s minds I’ve ever worked with” and Cobb for the way his “towering intellect just allowed us to frame the entire story so well historically.” Cross said she was grateful for the chance to “tell this story about how restrictive voter access laws are undermining democracy in our country.”

In the same video, after thanking the Peabody Awards, Cobb noted that when the project took root in 2018, the team had no way of predicting the pandemic, the recession, the efforts to overturn the presidential election results or the January 6 Capitol attack.

“What we did know, though, is that the past tends to operate as a prologue, and that racism has consistently been the Achilles heel of American democracy,” said Cobb, the Ira A. Lipman Professor of Journalism at Columbia University. “The project was truly a collaborative effort to highlight a problem whose implications have only grown more grave since it first aired. Our hope is that by shedding light on these concerns, we may help shore up the democracy — the besieged democracy — that makes our work possible in the first place.”

“We weren’t riding a wave of history as much as drowning in it,” Jennings said. “What kept us afloat was our team, in the field, at Columbia, and especially at FRONTLINE. Because the Peabody goes to a project, not a person, this is a recognition of them, our doggedly brilliant, credited but unheralded colleagues who make the best documentary journalism anywhere. I’m just so honored to be in their company, and thrilled we all can honestly say, ‘I received a Peabody.'”

“We’re so pleased that this collaborative team’s critical reporting on voting rights, voter suppression and election integrity has been named a Peabody Award recipient,” said FRONTLINE’s executive producer, Raney Aronson-Rath. “It’s an honor to have worked on this project with our partners at Columbia Journalism School and now to share this award with them. Thank you to the Peabody board of jurors, this diligent film team, our loyal viewers, and to GBH, PBS and CPB for championing our journalism.”

“I’m deeply grateful to FRONTLINE for their partnership on this highly collaborative project, and to everyone on the Columbia team,” said Steve Coll, dean of Columbia Journalism School. “They did extraordinary work in the very difficult conditions of the pandemic.”

FRONTLINE won its first Peabody Award of 2021, also in the News category, on June 21 for China Undercover, an investigation of the Chinese government’s crackdown on Muslims. 

Since 1940, the prestigious George Foster Peabody Awards have honored excellence in broadcasting; they have evolved to recognize excellence in digital storytelling as well. Three other FRONTLINE documentaries, Battle for Hong Kong, COVID’s Hidden Toll and Policing the Police 2020, were nominated for 2021 Peabody Awards. This year’s Peabody Award winners are being announced by celebrity presenters via videos on social media from June 21 to June 24.

Including this year’s wins for Whose Vote Counts and China Undercover, FRONTLINE, which is produced at GBH in Boston and airs nationwide on PBS, has garnered 26 Peabody Awards. Stream this year’s winning films below or on the PBS app.

Whose Vote Counts is a FRONTLINE production with 2over10 Media in association with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The correspondent is Jelani Cobb. The writers are June Cross, Jelani Cobb and Thomas Jennings. The producer is Thomas Jennings. The director is June Cross. The senior producer is Frank Koughan. The executive producer is Raney Aronson-Rath. See full credits here.

China Undercover is a Hardcash production for GBH/FRONTLINE and ITV in association with Entertainment One. It was produced by Robin Barnwell and Gesbeen Mohammad and directed by Robin Barnwell. The senior producer is Dan Edge. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath. See full credits here.

Patrice Taddonio

Patrice Taddonio, Digital Writer & Audience Development Strategist, FRONTLINE



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