The Choice Quotes

I spent the past couple of weeks working with PBS Frontline to add another 47 interactive interviews to their growing ecosystem of source interviews from Frontline documentaries.

We’ve been building this store of interactive interviews, starting with The Putin Files, as part of PBS Frontline’s Transparency project. The latest batch of interviews is from The Choice 2020, which aired on Tuesday and looks into how the 2020 presidential candidates respond to crises.

You can select any sentence in any of the source interviews to get a direct link to that sentence in the context of the full interview transcript. Many of the interviews are also connected to video, so when you click on a quote link you’ll get right to the quote in the full context of both the interview transcript and the video.

Here’s a video example – try clicking the link to hear and see the quote in the context of the full transcript and video. You may have to start the video to see the quote highlighted, depending on your settings:

Understand, when I got to the Senate, there had never been anybody that looked anything like me there, said Carol Moseley Braun.


Here’s a text-only example – click the link to see the quote in the context of the full transcript:

It didn’t matter how many fact-checks we did. It didn’t matter that in the third sentence of the article we said, “Actually, this whole thing is a lie and made up,” right, because Donald Trump got his headline over and over and over again. And … if he can get the headline, he wins the debate, said Wesley Lowery.


It’s great to be able to look through the source interviews for documentaries like The Choice 2020 for a couple of reasons.

First, it gives you a sense of the large amount of material – 47 new interviews and 13 archival interviews – that the documentary makers generated and pulled from to make the documentary. You can take a look at all these in-depth interviews and judge for yourself how thorough the journalists were in investigating and how accurate they were in sifting through the material to put together the documentary.

Second, the subject of the documentary – crisis response – is only one aspect of the candidates. During the process of gathering material to understand this aspect, a great deal of interesting information is invariably unearthed that doesn’t make it into this particular two-hour documentary.

There’s fascinating stuff, for instance, in the full interviews of several family members of the candidates and of people who have worked closely with them at key moments of their lives.

These interviewees include Biden’s sister Valerie Biden Owens, who’s also his long-time campaign manager, Richard Smith, a friend Biden worked with as a teenager who, like Biden, had a stutter, and Angela Wright, who was subpoenaed but wasn’t called to testify by the Senate Judiciary Committee that Biden chaired during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings.

Here are quotes from a couple of those interviews:

Joe decided, again, early on, that he was not—because he stuttered, it wasn’t a crutch. He had to figure out a way to handle it, that it wasn’t somebody else’s fault, said Valerie Biden Owens.


So what motivated me was seeing her just standing there by herself and knowing that I knew [Thomas] said exactly what she said he said because I’d seen him behave that way to me, said Angela Wright.


There are also long interviews with a cousin of Trump’s late, long-time lawyer Roy Cohn, a contestant from the Apprentice, and Trump’s niece Mary Trump.

Here are quotes from a couple of those interviews:

And [Roy Cohn] would be asked questions, straightforward questions, about all kinds of cases he had been involved in, and he would—he would dodge them, and he would change the narrative, and he would make up things, and he would distract and divide. And that’s pure Trump. That’s what Trump does so well. That came from Roy, said David Marcus.


The Apprentice is a perfect projection. I mean, it’s a projection of a job interview. It’s a projection of success. Trump himself is not what he appears to be on the screen… said Surya Yalamanchili.


Hearing in detail what former administration officials say about the current president is also fascinating:

I think he has a very difficult time distinguishing between his own interests, whether they’re political or economic, and the interests of the country, said John Bolton


But that’s an effect Trump has on people. You find yourself, if you’re not careful, justifying things he’s done that if you were an observer you would have criticized, said John Bolton.


The problem, though, because he lacks attention to detail, when things are going well, he gets a little bit too hyperbolic, and he’s not able to control the situation, which is why he’s had so many bankruptcies and he’s had the failure of the Plaza Hotel, the airline, the casino… said Anthony Scaramucci.


The documentary touched on the Central Park Five, and quoted one of the five who was jailed for years and later exonerated. It’s illuminating to be able to hear at length from someone who went through such an extraordinary experience.

Here’s a taste of that:

I used to go to LaGuardia High School. I actually was in high school since I was about 12 years old. I started high school early… That’s a more affluent, more wealthy type of neighborhood. And you would check yourself, you know? You would make sure, OK, if I have a hoodie on, I take the hood off… it was the expectation of you fitting in to that space as opposed to you being accepted as an individual who is valued in those spaces as well, said Yusef Salaam.


The interviews with authors and historians are also instructive – it’s useful to see today’s events in a wider context.

Here are a couple of interesting quotes:

And so that’s the backdrop, then, so that when he runs for the presidency—keep in mind he’s had 11 years on NBC coming into Americans’ living rooms as someone who is successful, largely due to editing… said Christina Greer.


In many, many cases, [Trump’s] deals are a failure. In many cases, customers or buyers or associates or partners lose. But he wins. And so long as he wins, he’s able to keep going to the next deal, said Andrea Bernstein.


You can peruse the full set of interviews at The Frontline interviews: The Choice 2020.
And you can construct your own quote list – select or double-click a sentence to get the direct link.

There’s more on interactive interviews at