Frontline investigates the only bank to be indicted due to 2008 mortgage crisis



TED SIMONS: THAT IS JUST A SAMPLE OF THE INVESTIGATIVE WORK THAT'S MADE "FRONTLINE," WHICH AIRS HERE ON PBS, A LEADER IN DOCUMENARY-STYLE, IN-DEPTH JOURNALISM. RANEY ARONSON-RATH IS THE EXECUTIVE PRODUCER OF PBS FRONTLINE. SHE JOINS US NOW. WELCOME TO "ARIZONA HORIZON." IT'S GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE. JUST SEEING THAT LITTLE BIT OF A STORY, THAT’S A LOT OF WORK, ISN’T IT?

RANEY ARONSON-RATH: THAT STORY WAS YEARS IN THE MAKING BY A REALLY DECORATED AND TERRIFIC DIRECTOR BY THE NAME OF STEVE JAMES. THEY SPENT YEARS GAINING ACCESS TO THE STORY, ESPECIALLY FROM THE BANK PERSPECTIVE. GETTING ACCESS TO A BANK AS THEY’RE GETTING LITIGATED AND ACTUALLY GOING THROUGH A COURT CASE IS ONE OF THE MOST DIFFICULT THINGS YOU CAN GET ACCESS TO IS THE PERSONAL STORIES AND ALSO INSIDE THE DEBATE OF WHAT WAS HAPPENING.

TED SIMONS: TAKE US THROUGH THE PROCESS. WHEN DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE STORY IDEA? AND HOW DID THAT STORY IDEA MAKE IT OPPOSED TO THE MANY THAT DON'T?

RANEY ARONSON-RATH: I LOVE THAT QUESTION BECAUSE CERTAINLY, WE ARE PITCHED ON A VARIETY OF STORIES. WE SAY NO MORE THAN WE SAY YES. IN THIS CASE, STEVE JAMES IS A TRUSTED DIRECTOR. HE WORKED FOR FRONTLINE BEFORE. HE BROUGHT US THE STORY ABOUT A BANK THAT WAS THE ONLY BANK TO BE INDICTED AFTER THE MORTGAGE CRISIS OF 2008, AND IMMEDIATELY WE WERE INTERESTED. WE WANTED TO KNOW WHY IS IT THAT THIS SMALL CHINATOWN BANK WAS INDICTED AND IF THERE WAS CREDIBILITY TO THE INDICTMENT. AND IF YOU THINK ABOUT THE BANKS AT LARGE THAT WE’VE BEEN REPORTING ON, WE WERE SURPRISED THAT THIS WAS THE BANK THAT HAD ACTUALLY BEEN CHOSEN. WE FOUND THAT INSIDE THE STORY THERE WAS A MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE INSIDE IT. WE GOT INSIDE THE STORY INVESTIGATIVELY AND UNCOVERED QUITE A BIT.

TED SIMONS: I BET YOU DID. WHAT MAKES A GOOD NARRATIVE STORY? WHAT MAKES A GOOD VISUAL STORY? THE TWO DON'T NECESSARILY MEET.

RANEY ARONSON-RATH: RIGHT. WE SAY INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM IS USUALLY GREAT FOR TEXT AND PRINT, HARDER IN FILM TERMS. A GREAT NARRATIVE IS REALLY, TRULY ONCE UPON A TIME, SO CAN YOU TELL A STORY. FOR FRONTLINE, WHAT REALLY DIFFERENTIATES US FROM NEWS, WHICH WE MUCH APPRECIATE, IS THE IDEA THAT YOU ARE BEING TOLD A STORY. IT'S NOT JUST A TOPIC. WE ARE LOOKING FOR WHAT IS THE COMPELLING STORY SO THAT WE CAN THEN TELL YOU ALL THE IMPORTANT DETAILS THAT WE DELIVER INSIDE OF FRONTLINE. A GREAT EXAMPLE IS THE ABACUS BANK WAS LED BY A FATHER AND HE HAD THESE INCREDIBLE DAUGHTERS WHO WERE ALL LAWYERS AND THEY REALLY FOUGHT ON BEHALF OF THEIR FATHER, ON BEHALF OF THE BANK. IT'S THE UNUSUAL STORY ABOUT THE CHINESE AMERICAN FAMILY AND HOW THEY REALLY FOUGHT AGAINST THE PROSECUTION. IT WAS A STORY INSIDE A STORY ABOUT THE MORTGAGE CRISIS.

TED SIMONS: IT WAS ALSO SOMETHING THAT I IMAGINE, WOULD BE DIFFICULT IN TERMS OF ACCESS. THAT HAS TO BE A MAJOR FACTOR IN THE STORIES YOU DO.

RANEY ARONSON-RATH: TRUST IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING, ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU ARE DOING CORPORATE ACCOUNTABILITY REPORTING. IT'S VERY DIFFICULT TO GET INSIDE CORPORATIONS. IT’S ACTUALLY NEXT TO IMPOSSIBLE. FRANKLY, FRONTLINE DOESN'T USUALLY DO FRIENDLY STORIES ABOUT BANKS, SO BEING INSIDE THE STORY WAS REALLY SOMETHING THAT TOOK A LOT OF PATIENCE, A LOT OF TIME AND FRANKLY TOOK THE PRODUCERS AND DIRECTORS TO BE IN NEW YORK WITH THE FAMILY TIME AND TIME AGAIN BEFORE THEY EVEN ALLOWED THEM TO FILM. THAT'S WHY SOMETIMES FRONTLINES TAKES A LONG TIME WHEN DONE RIGHT.

TED SIMONS: AS FAR AS THE NARRATIVE AGAIN, IS IT BETTER TO HAVE A STORY WHERE MAYBE YOU’RE NOT SO SURE AND YOU’RE MAYBE GOING BACK AND FORTH OR WHEN YOU’RE JUST FACING THE DRAGON, YOU’RE BEATING DOWN THE DRAGON FOR THE FULL.

RANEY ARONSON-RATH: I THINK BOTH ARE GREAT, I THINK IN THE CASE OF THE ABOUT ABACUS PHONE, WE DID NOT KNOW THE OUTCOME OF THE CASE. SO, WE SAID YES TO THIS BY VIRTUE OF THE STRENGTH OF CHARACTERS AND THE STORY ITSELF, THE NARRATIVE WAS STRONG. WE ALSO SAID YES BECAUSE WE WANTED TO UNDERSTAND WHAT WOULD IT BE LIKE TO BE INDICTED AFTER THE MORTGAGE CRISIS, WHAT WOULD THE RAMIFICATIONS OF THAT BE FOR OTHER BANKS. IN THE CASE OF ABACUS, THEY WERE ACTUALLY COMPLETELY EXONERATED IN THIS CASE AND BY THE END OF IT, WE SEE WHAT HAPPENS. SO IT DIDN’T LEAD TO OTHER BANK INDICTMENTS, BUT WE DIDN’T KNOW WHERE IS WAS GOING TO GO IN THE BEGINNING.

TED SIMONS: AND THAT’S IMPORTANT BECAUSE IF YOU GO IN TRYING TO BE A CRUSADING JOURNALIST TRYING TO FIND TRUTH AND LIGHT AND THE WHOLE NINE YARDS, SOMETHING THE TRUTH AND LIGHT COME RIGHT BACK AT YOU IN THE FACE, YOU’VE GOT TO BE WILLING TO ACCEPT THAT.

RANEY ARONSON-RATH: SO WE DIDN’T KNOW THE OUTCOME OF THIS CASE AND WE WERE WILLING TO SAY WHATEVER HAPPENS, OF COURSE. WE WEREN’T IN ANY BODY’S CAMP. AND I THINK THAT ALSO DIFFERENTIATES FRONTLINE AND PUBLIC MEDIA IN GENERAL, IS THAT WE’RE NOT SIDING WITH ANYONE IN OUR FILMS. WE’RE SHOWING YOU HOW WE FIND IT TO BE AND WHAT OUR REPORTING SHOWS. AND IN THIS CASE, IT HAPPENED TO BE THAT THEY WERE EXONERATED IN THIS CASE. THEY WERE FOUND TO BE INNOCENT, BUT IN OTHER CASES, IT’S NOT ALWAYS TRUE. AND IT’S SO IMPORTANT TO TELL.

TED SIMONS: THERE ARE OTHER STORIES THAT I MENTIONED WHERE YOU DO FACE THE DRAGON AND SOMETIMES THEY DO LOOK LIKE HOLLYWOOD PRODUCERS AND SUCH. WE HAVE A PROMO OF SOMETHING WE’LL BE SEEING SHORTLY ON FRONTLINE.

VIDEO: HE GRIPPED MY ARM…AND HE STARTED TO MASSAGE MY SHOULDERS IN A VERY FORCEFUL WAY. THERE ARE THESE STORIES WITH UNCANNY SIMILARITY.

HE CAME BACK. IN A ROBE, JUST LIKE AN OPEN ROBE.

IF YOU WERE IN HIS MOVIE, YOU HAD A SHOT AT AN ACADEMY AWARD. HE USES NON-DISCLOSURE AGREEMENTS. IT WAS A SHOW OF POWER. I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE TURNED A BLIND EYE. AND CONTROL. I THINK HIS CAREER IS OVER, BUT WHO KNOWS? ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN.

TED SIMONS: HOW DO YOU TAKE A STORY ABOUT HARVEY WEINSTEIN, JUST THE THE ME-TOO MOVEMENT, ALL OF IT, ANY ASPECT OF IT, MAKE IT NEW, MAKE IT FRESH, TEACH ME SOMETHING I DIDN'T KNOW.

RANEY ARONSON-RATH: SO ONE RULE AT FRONTLINE IS WE DON'T JUST DO FILMS AND DOCUMENTARIES ABOUT SOMETHING BASED ON WHAT IS INTERESTING. WE ONLY PUT SOMETHING OUT ON THE AIR IF WE HAVE SOMETHING NEW AND FRESH TO SAY. SO BEFORE WE SAY YES WE HAVE TOTALLY CONVINCED, THAT WE’RE ADDING TO THE CONVERSATION AS OPPOSED TO JUST BEING IN THE LOUD MEDIA LANDSCAPE. SO THAT’S WHAT REALLY SETS US APART. WE’RE NOT REALLY COMPETING WITH THE NEWS, BUT WE SAY DO WE HAVE ANYTHING FRESH TO ADD. IN THE CASE OF WEINSTEIN, WHAT WE WANTED TO DO, AND WHAT WE WILL DO IS FOCUS ON THE COLLUSION AROUND HIM, THE COMPLICITY AROUND HIM. RATHER THAN WEINSTEIN HIMSELF WELL COVERED AND WELL REPORTED AND PART OF THE FILM. WE WANTED TO UNCOVER THE PEOPLE AROUND HIM OF THE PEOPLE THAT PROTECTED HIM, AND THEN YOU COULD UNDERSTAND BETTER HOW A MANY LIKE WEINSTEIN COULD HAVE ALLEGEDLY RAPED AND ASSAULTED AND THESE ARE THE STORIES THAT WE NEED TO TELL.

TED SIMONS: PAINTING THE LANDSCAPE AROUND HARVEY WEINSTEIN.

RANEY ARONSON-RATH: THAT'S THE PART OF THE STORY LESS TOLD. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? AND ACTUALLY, WE TELL THE STORY GOING ALL THE WAY BACK TO THE EARLY DAYS IN HIS PROFESSION IN BUFFALO, NEW YORK, IN WHICH WE FOUND A COUPLE OF WOMEN TO SHARE THEIR STORIES ABOUT VERY EARLY INDICATIONS OF SIMILAR BEHAVIOR. WE TRACED IT FROM THE VERY BEGINNING DAYS OF HOW HE WAS ABLE TO SURROUND HIMSELF WITH OTHER POWERFUL PEOPLE TO PROTECT HIMSELF FROM HIS ACTIONS. AND THAT REALLY AT THE END OF THE DAY IS WHAT FRONTLINE DOES BEST. YOU SHOW SYSTEMATICALLY, WITH A NARRATIVE IN MIND, HOW SOMETHING HAPPENS.
TED SIMONS: FRONTLINE VERY SUCCESSFUL, AWARD WINNING, LEGENDARY AS FAR AS INVESTIGATIVE WORK IS CONCERNED. BUT INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM, DIFFICULT TO DO ON ALL PLATFORMS ALL LEVELS. ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT THE FUTURE OF INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM?

RANEY ARONSON-RATH: ACTUALLY, I AM REALLY REINVIGORATED ABOUT THE FUTURE OF INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM. THERE IS AN APPRECIATION IN THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS THAT I HADN’T BEEN FEELING IN YEARS BEFORE THAT HAS BEEN SAYING TO US FROM BOTH THE PUBLIC AND AUDIENCE AND PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT US SAYING THAT INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM HAS TO SURVIVE. OF ALL JOURNALISM, WE HAVE TO PROTECT INVESTIGATIVE WORK BECAUSE CORRUPTION DOESN’T SHOW IT’S FACE. IF THERE ARE NOT JOURNALISTS BOTH AT THE LOCAL LEVEL THE NATIONAL LEVEL REPORTING, THEN WE DON'T KNOW THE TRUTH OF WHAT IS HAPPENING. SO WE’VE ACTUALLY HAVE BEEN REINVIGORATED THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS.
TED SIMONS: HOW DO YOU REACH SOME OF THESE NEW VIEWERS? HOW DO YOU CONVINCE PEOPLE WHAT YOU ARE DOING AND WHAT INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISTS ARE DOING IS IMPORTANT?

RANEY ARONSON-RATH: WELL, WHAT I THINK IS REMARKABLE IS THAT PBS AND FRONTLINE AND A LOT OF THE STATIONS ARE NOW COMING TOGETHER TO SAY OUR BROADCAST MATTERS THE MOST, SO WATCHING US ON TELEVISION BUT ALSO WE HAVE NEW AUDIENCES ONLINE. A LOT OF PEOPLE NOW, TALKING MILLIONS OF PEOPLE NOW EXPERIENCE FRONTLINE ON TELEVISION AND ALSO ONLINE. WE HAVE A GREAT PRESENCE ONLINE. WE PUBLISH ON SOCIAL MEDIA, SO WE ACTIVELY PUBLISH ON FACEBOOK AND YOUTUBE. OUR AUDIENCE FIGURES ARE UP FROM WHERE WE WERE A YEAR AGO BY VIRTUE OF OUR CROSS PLATFORM PUBLISHING. AND PBS IS REALLY SUPPORTIVE OF THIS, BECAUSE THIS IS THE WAY A LOT OF PEOPLE FIND THEIR NEWS AND STORIES. WHAT IS ENCOURAGING FOR US, THIS NEW GENERATIONS, PEOPLE COMING TO US, THEY ARE THEN COMING TO OUR WEBSITES AND TO OUR FILMS. THEY ARE NOT JUST SEEING US ON FACEBOOK AND WANDERING OFF. THEY’RE GOING FROM FACEBOOK ONTO OUR WEBSITE WHICH IS A PBS.ORG WEBSITE.

TED SIMONS: DOES IT MAKE YOU CHANGE AT ALL WHAT YOU THINK WOULD MAKE A GOOD STORY ON FRONTLINE? DO YOU LOOK AT IT ON DIFFERENT PLATFORMS AND SAY, I DON’T KNOW THAT MAY NOT LOOK SO GOOD ON A CELLPHONE.

RANEY ARONSON-RATH: WE DON’T DO THAT, BUT WHAT WE DO DO, WHEN WE’RE PUBLISHING ON A CELLPHONE WE PRODUCE FOR MOBILE. WE’RE REALLY CLEVER. WE HAVE A DIGITAL TEAM THAT KNOWS HOW TO PUBLISH MOBILE FRIENDLY WORK FOR EXAMPLE. IT'S A WHOLE DIFFERENT LOOK AND FEEL. IT'S ABOUT SIMILAR JOURNALISM. WE HAVE REALLY GREAT DIGITAL PRODUCERS NOW THAT KNOW HOW TO DO THAT WORK. THEY ARE PART OF THE TEAM. WE REALLY REALLY WELCOME THEM INTO THE CONVERSATION. THAT'S MY BIGGEST MESSAGE. WELCOME NEW PEOPLE TO THE CONVERSATION. YOU START TELLING NEW STORIES.

TED SIMONS: WE HAVE A MINUTE LEFT HERE. HOW DID YOU GET INTO IT? HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE CONVERSATION? HOW DID YOU BECOME A JOURNALIST.
RANEY ARONSON-RATH: ALWAYS, I GREW UP IN A SMALL RURAL TOWN AND I WAS PART OF MY HIGH SCHOOL NEWSPAPER AND I KNEW THAT I WANTED TO BE A JOURNALIST FROM ABOUT THE AGE OF 14. AND SO FROM THAT MOMENT ON MY EYES WERE SET ON HOW CAN I BE THE BEST JOURNALIST POSSIBLE.
TED SIMONS: AND HOW DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU WERE A PRETTY GOD JOURNALIST, A LOT OF KIDS WANT BUT A LOT OF THEM DON’T GET THERE.
RANEY ARONSON-RATH: I THINK JOURNALISM IS A STORY BY STORY PROCESS. AND SO I BELIEVE THAT EVERY SINGLE TIME FRONTLINE, FOR EXAMPLE, IS TELLING A STORY WE HAVE TO MAKE IT BETTER. AND SO I HAVEN’T DECIDED ANYTHING YET, I’M WORKING EVERY DAY TO MAKE SURE THE WORK WE DO IS THE BEST IT CAN BE.
TED SIMONS: WELL, OBVIOUSLY CONGRATULATIONS ON GREAT WORK AND A GREAT CAREER AND A GREAT PROGRAM, IT’S GOT A LOT OF BIG FANS. GOOD TO MEET YOU AND THANKS FOR JOINING US.

RANEY ARONSON-RATH: GOOD TO MEET YOU TOO.

TED SIMONS: TUESDAY, ON ARIZONA HORIZON WE TALK ABOUT HOW PRESIDENT TRUMP'S TARIFFS ON SOLAR EQUIPMENT COULD IMPACT ARIZONA AND WE LOOK AT HOW THE CLOSING OF A GENERATING STATION COULD AFFECT THE PRICE OF CAP WATER. THAT'S TUESDAY ON ARIZONA HORIZON. THAT'S IT FOR NOW. I’M TED SIMONS. THANK YOU FOR JOINING US. YOU HAVE A GREAT EVENING. ¶ ¶

After years of investigating, Frontline was able to release a documentary, “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail,” on the small Chinatown bank that ended up being the only bank indicted following the 2008 mortgage crisis.

“We were surprised that this was actually the bank that had been chosen,” Executive Producer Raney Aronson-Rath says. “We found that inside this story there was really a miscarriage of justice inside it. We got inside the story investigatively and uncovered quite a bit.”

With director Steve James, the team was able to get perspectives from everyone involved, including the bank which was no easy task. Aronson-Rath says the documentary isn’t about telling the news, it’s about telling a story. It’s a story inside a story that deals with the mortgage crisis, she says.

“Trust is the most important thing,” Aronson-Rath says. “It’s very hard to get inside corporations. To be inside the story took a lot of patience, a lot of time. The producers and directors had to be in New York with the family time and time again before they even allowed them to film.”

The goal of the film was to uncover what it was like for a bank to be indicted, what the ramifications were and what it would mean for other banks.

This story is just one of many that has Aronson-Rath believing in the power of investigative journalism. She says she has had a greater appreciation for the field than ever before. It has to survive, she says, because “corruption doesn’t show its face.”

Frontline is currently working on a film about Harvey Weinstein and his numerous scandals. Before the show could say yes to the story, Aronson-Rath says the show has to be convinced that they are adding to the conversation and not just repeating the news.

Rather than focusing on Weinstein himself, the film will focus on those around him who protected him. It will give insight into why he was able to get away with what he was doing for as long as he did. Frontline went back to his early days in Buffalo, New York, to uncover how this happened.

You can watch “Abacus: Small Enough to Jail” and other Frontline specials here.

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Raney Aronson-Rath: Executive Producer, Frontline

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