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FRONTLINE: The Choice 2012

Mashup of images: President Barack Obama, 2012/ Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, 2012.
Courtesy of AP Photo/Columbus Dispatch, Brooke LaValley/ Courtesy of AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
Mashup of images: President Barack Obama, 2012/ Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, 2012.

Airs Friday, October 26, 2012 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Rarely in American politics have voters been offered two presidential candidates more different than Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Just how different is the subject of "The Choice 2012," FRONTLINE’s quadrennial biography of the two presidential candidates, which debuts on October 9, 2012. The film will also be available the night of the broadcast debut at, and on YouTube, in both English and Spanish.

As the candidates spend hundreds of millions of dollars to tell their own stories, FRONTLINE’s top political reporting team spent the last year gathering the rest of the story. More than 100 in-depth interviews with friends, family, authors, and journalists contribute to the most ambitious television biographies of the candidates ever created.

“We’re trying to get to the core of these men—their life’s method—creating a richer view of them both personally and professionally.” - FRONTLINE producer Michael Kirk

To get the whole story, veteran FRONTLINE producer Michael Kirk and his award-winning team take a fresh, contemporary look at the candidates’ lives and their political histories.


"The Choice 2012" intimately follows the odyssey of young Barry Obama from near-poverty in Indonesia to his marijuana-smoking “Choom Gang” days in Hawaii, then to college in California and New York, where he moved inexorably toward finding a home in Chicago’s black community.

Consumed by youthful angst, Obama’s own journals and letters reveal a confused young man on an identity quest. By the end of his journey, Barry becomes Barack, and a political method is born.

“He comes from a multicultural background. He has a black father and a white mother and the experiences of Indonesia and Pakistan and California, New York, all of that,” says Obama’s college friend Phil Boerner. “At that time that I knew him, he was trying to say let’s unite around what we share, not what’s different about us.”

Mitt Romney grew up in an entirely different milieu, in a childhood defined by stability. The son of a powerful automobile executive and moderate Republican governor, young Mitt lived a privileged life of private schools and carefully guarded ideas.

A Mormon, Romney spent more than two years as a missionary in France, fulfilling his obligation to the church while trying to complete the Sisyphean task of making abstinence from alcohol palatable in Bordeaux, of all places.


While Mitt didn’t make many converts on his mission, friends and family say that after almost dying in an automobile accident, he was reborn as a more serious man with a strong faith and a belief in his own life’s purpose.

“He made a commitment to himself to work hard,” says his brother Scott Romney. “And I think part of that comes from that experience of going overseas and seeing other people, and having life-threatening experiences and deciding what you’re going to make out of your life. “

Despite his success in business, Romney believed his destiny was in politics. He would eventually sell himself and his evolving political identity to voters. Lengthy interviews with family, close friends, colleagues, and political associates reveal a fuller picture of the real Mitt Romney.

“It sort of mirrored what his dad had done. His dad had become a successful executive in American business and then served in public service as governor. So there was definitely a parallel there,” Romney’s political adviser Charley Manning tells FRONTLINE.

"The Choice 2012" also probes the divergent leadership styles of Obama and Romney, focusing on the signature achievement of both men: health care reform. FRONTLINE investigates their approaches to this hot-button issue and what those approaches tell us about how they govern.

The film also explores how, while in office, both men were confronted with a reluctant legislature dominated by political opponents. How they each handled that situation reveals much about their distinct political styles.

“Every four years, we always hear from politicians that this is one of the most important elections in our lifetime. In 2012, it really is,” says The New Yorker’s Washington correspondent Ryan Lizza.

More than 100 interviews, hundreds of hours of historical footage, and the complete archives of both candidates contribute to FRONTLINE’S meticulous reporting during this eye-opening, provocative two-hour documentary.

The film is produced by the investigative team that delivered two hours of the epic economy miniseries "Money, Power and Wall Street" (2012), "The Anthrax Files" (2011), "Top Secret America" (2011) and "Death by Fire" (2010), as well as "The Choice 2008" and "The Choice 2000."

Past episodes of FRONTLINE are available for online viewing. FRONTLINE is on Facebook, and follow @frontlinepbs on Twitter.

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Watch The Choice 2012 on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

FRONTLINE "The Choice 2012" - A journey into the places, people, and decisive moments that made the men who are competing for the presidency.
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