The quiet force of Frontline

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By G.W. Schulz

So I’ve been watching older episodes of Frontline lately, the longtime investigative journalism program produced by PBS. You can download each of their past shows in pieces here. Sure, it doesn’t sound like the most exciting way to spend your free time, and it may even say something disturbing about my personal life.

Maybe it helps that as I watch Frontline, I swill whiskey and crank the volume on the computer’s speakers – neighbors be damned – while spitting a beer chaser at the screen when a voiceover lists the show’s nonprofit benefactors. Okay, that’s a lie.

Anyway, the show has three big new episodes scheduled for October and all of them return to some of the subjects that have lately put Frontline in high demand.

“Return of the Taliban” is scheduled for Oct. 3, and covers the lawless tribal areas of Pakistan from which insurgent fighters have recently launched attacks on Afghanistan putting the former ruling party back into a position of power.

“The Enemy Within” is scheduled for Oct. 10, and was reported by Pulitzer Prize-winning badass Lowell Bergman who focuses here on how interagency rivalries inside the federal government have impaired America’s ability to become truly fortified against a terrorist attack. Bergman was a visiting professor for a time at Berkeley’s school of journalism and famously helped put together one of Frontline’s most in-depth and raw investigations ever: an intense look at the Alabama-based industrial manufacturer McWane and its countless alleged workplace safety and environmental-hazard violations. 2003’s “A Dangerous Business” earned the journalistic team involved in the project, which included The New York Times and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, two major awards.

“The Lost Year in Iraq” is scheduled for Oct. 17 and takes a look back at some of the first reconstruction administrators, led by L. Paul Bremer, sent to Iraq to put the country back together again. From the show’s synopsis: “Frontline Producer Michael Kirk follows the early efforts and ideals of this group as they tried to seize control and disband the Iraqi police, army and Baathist government – and how they became hardened along the way to the realities of postwar Iraq.” My alternative synopsis: “Frontline Producer Michael Kirk flies to Iraq, waves a camera around like an out-of-control machine gunner, and scares the living crap out of a bunch of hapless bureaucrats.”

For a while now, Frontline has produced some of the best documentary television around. They’ve always succeeded at making their subject matter compelling without completely sensationalizing everything they touched into oblivion as the network news outlets tend to do.

I was going to mention some of my favorite past episodes, but I’ll save it for a new post tomorrow. Keep an eye out for the upcoming episodes. I haven’t checked KQED’s schedule, but I suspect they’ll be airing all three episodes on those nights that the shows are released by PBS.

Also, if you haven't read Marke B.'s take on last week's opening symphony gala in San Francisco, it's fucking hilarious.

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