Commentary: Published Elsewhere

On Newspapering and Journalism

Nightcops

Following is an excerpt from a new compendium of essays about the life and history of my alma mater, the old Baltimore Sun. “The Life of Kings” is edited by my former colleagues Frederic B. Hill, Stephens Broening and is being released by Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. This essay is reprinted here with permission of Steve, Fred and the publishing house. Available to purchase online. *            *            * Nightcops Behold, a prince of my city, or so I imagine myself, resting next to Ettlin and before the algae-green glow of the Harris terminal, dialing through the long-call list of Maryland State Police barracks and city districts, hunting down the brutalities and miscalculations of a reckless, teeming metropolis. “State Police, Glen Burnie barracks . . .” “Hey, how’re ya? Simon from the Sun. Anything going on?” “Nope. Quiet.” Right then. Next call. “State Police, Waterloo . . .” “Afternoon. Simon from the Sun. Anything up?” “Quiet today.” Quiet. Okay, next...

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Drug War Journalism On Newspapering and Journalism On the Drug War Policy & Law

Ain’t no justice. It’s just us.

In light of the frustration that many feel in the wake of this week’s mistrial in the first Freddy Gray prosecution, I thought I’d dig out an old newspaper clip. Written by veteran police reporter Roger Twigg and myself, it is an account of another Baltimorean who died in the back of a police wagon, and the early stages of an investigation that went nowhere once prosecutors, a city grand jury and police union lawyers did their business. In this instance, now nearly a quarter century old, the sustained injuries were not to the victim’s spinal cord, but to his spleen and his ribs. In this instance, the prisoner was also clearly in distress and ignored.  In this case, the wagon man rode the victim around Baltimore not for 45 minutes without medical assistance, but for a full hour. In this instance, the wagon man actually told other prisoners not to step on the prone victim, because, he said, the man had AIDS. And in this case, too, as with Mr. Gray, there was...

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Baseball On the Orioles

The frauds of memory, the limits of penitence. And baseball.

The following article was published in the Sports Illustrated of October 12, 2015.  It is reprinted here by the kind permission of those who not only commissioned the article, but helped with the logistics of getting Mike Epstein back to Washington so as to wash the sin from my hands. So, hey, when Judgment Day comes, they at least have this going for them.  Thanks, guys. *      *      * THE STATIC of the broadcast, the AM-band crackle that the cheap transistor spit up every time it swung or bounced—even this I remember. Just as I recall the heat from the water in the hallway fountain, its cooling mechanism never quite functional. And the godawful smell of the secondary wing boys’ room. It is 1971, and I am new to the fifth grade at Rock Creek Forest Elementary School, a few hundred yards north of the D.C. line in suburban Maryland, where everything is perfectly Proustian, perfectly preserved in memory. I have been on the playground, playing strikeout with Firestone and Bjellos...

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On Newspapering and Journalism Politics

Kirby Delauter is a putz

The smaller the political stakes, the more minor the authority, and the Kirby Delauters of the world always manage to reveal themselves. You could google it. He’s become famous.  As a putz, of course.  But famous. Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter. Share this:FacebookTwitterLinkedInRedditEmailPrint

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Drug War Film and Television On Television On the Drug War

The Wire and Baltimore

It seems that despite the most temperate reply possible, I’ve been drawn into another absurdist debate about whether The Wire, or Homicide, or perhaps even The Corner is good or bad for Baltimore.  This time, the righteous indignation about the tarnish applied to my city’s reputation is from a gentleman named Mike Rowe.  A Baltimore native, he is employed elsewhere in this great diaspora of television and he has now assumed the mantle of defender of my city’s reputation. Mr. Rowe marks his displeasure with our work by reductively describing it as a depiction of “drug dealers” and “pimps” that is sufficient to convince anyone that Baltimore is a mere cesspool, certain and fixed.  In this simplicity, he joins, by late count, a few business leaders, several political aspirants and at least two police commissioners in decrying narratives that don’t provide the imagery with which Baltimore wishes to adorn itself. Having been specifically...

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On the Orioles

A quantum of Oriole

This essay appears in the July 21, 2014 issue of Sports Illustrated.  It appears on this site with the gracious permission of the magazine’s editors.    To the beaten dog, every sudden movement is another impending brutality in a lifetime of such. Eventually, even the most modest and trivial move in the mutt’s direction induces a simpering cower. Tell me on June 16 that Matt Wieters, after playing only 26 games, will cross into the valley of the shadow of Tommy John, and I am supposed to mark that date as the moment when the Baltimore Orioles of 2014 ceased to matter. Flay me with the knowledge that Chris Davis—he of the 53 jacks a year ago—will be hitting a buck-ninety-nine at the All-Star break, and I am supposed to lower my head to your rolled-up newspaper. Push my cold little nose into the mess that has come of Ubaldo Jimenez’s first Baltimore season on a four-year, $50 million contract—he’s 3–8 and now disabled—and I ought to accept the rain of blows that surely follows...

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Journalism On Newspapering and Journalism Writing

Libel per se – UPDATED TWICE

UPDATE:  12 p.m., July 4 I am informed that the Huff Post piece has now removed the reference to my having been fired.  Instead, apparently, my revenge was had upon editors who spiked one of my articles because my writing wasn’t “Dickensian” enough.  They never said anything of the sort to me or anyone else, and that is not actually the reason that particular article was spiked.  I carefully related the actual sequence of events to Dr. Williams in my April memo as a discussion of  that particular article and its fate features throughout her manuscript, but no matter.  With regard to the Huff Post essay at least, I am libeled no more and I thank the author for her apology at the bottom of the essay. A brief word on the non-performance of the Huffington Post in this matter, on their publishing ethic, and on the manner in which this institution conducts its business: The abdication of editorial responsibility in the case of aggregated sites such as Wikipedia or barely...

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Admired Work Introductions/Liner Notes

Liner notes essay – Steve Earle’s new boxed set

I had the distinct honor of being asked to write an essay for the recent release of Steve Earle’s extraordinary post-1995 songbook, when he came roaring back from addiction and a brief incarceration to reassert himself as one of our most relevant songwriters.  Yes, Steve is at this point a friend and colleague, having worked with us on “The Wire” and “Treme” both.  But I’d’ve written what follows if I had only the music itself on which to rely.  For those who have not yet savored Mr. Earle and his work, the new boxed set, “Steve Earle: The Warner Brothers Years,” which includes audio and video live performances from that period as well as three essential studio recordings, is a perfect entry point into what has become an extraordinary canon of American roots music. *        *        * I am generally down on the idea of heroes.  We have enough of them in American culture, certainly, yet we are always in the process of tearing some...

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On the Orioles Published Elsewhere

Fear the Bird: The Sports Illustrated reprise.

Last fall, when the revived Baltimore Orioles made their first journey to the playoffs in fifteen years, I was contacted by Sports Illustrated and asked if I had anything in the way of an essay.  As a matter of fact, in the closing days of season, with the O’s on the heels of the hated Yankees for the division title, I was about ready to open a vein.  What follows appeared in the October 1, 2012 edition of the magazine, which featured a cover shot of the Oriole outfielders jump-bumping in celebration of a victory.  I was a proud fan indeed, though terrified as well that I had provoked the dreaded SI cover jinx. In any event, the deep-seated fear in the hearts of all Baltimoreans — that 2012 was a one-off and the O’s would transform back into pumpkins and mice the following spring — seems at this point to be unwarranted.  They are again contending in the AL East and still playing a smart, fresh brand of baseball.  Therefore, this essay is no longer curse...

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Published Elsewhere Treme

Pickles and Cream

The following is reprinted with permission from Lucky Peach #4, published by McSweeney’s.  It is on sale now.  And, yes, payment for this essay will require co-publisher David Chang slaving over a hot stove.   *      *      * I want to embrace the best of the kitchen. But if DNA is destiny, and genetics holds any sway at all over the human palate, then I have much—probably too much—to overcome. The Simons come from peasant stock, and by that I don’t mean the countryside of Alsace or Tuscany or any other place where cuisine makes the days true and beautiful, where gardens and orchards and farms and village butchers conspire for a cuisine both purposeful and ingeniously simple. We are not the progeny of any agrarian ideal worthy of Impressionist paintings. No, my father’s people were kicked-to-the-ground-by-Cossacks peasants, wandering Pale of Settlement Yids who lived with one or two bags always packed and spent the early moments of the last century running ahead of whatever...

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On Police/Crime On the Drug War The Wire

Mr. Bealefeld’s Come-To-Jesus Moment

Embedded in a recently published interview of former Baltimore commissioner Fred Bealefeld is an extraordinary utterance — something that would and should be a lot more heralded if America were paying sufficient attention to the growing costs and failings of its drug prohibition: “Professionally,” declares Mr. Bealefeld in a brief interview with the Baltimore Sun Magazine,  “I think our war on drugs has failed…We invested a lot of this country’s blood and resources and didn’t achieve the results. Developing real educational and job opportunities for somebody would have been much more meaningful in neighborhoods than some of the work we built into putting people in jail. That’s why I think it was so misguided. We wound up alienating a lot of folks in building this gigantic jail system in our country.” The former commissioner also credited a strategic de-emphasis of the drug war with enabling his department to focus on violent crime:  “I always...

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On the Drug War

A Fight To The Last Mexican

“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it the superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.” So wrote Thomas Paine against monarchy, the morally bankrupt ethos of his day.  But then, it was a less fearful time, and the political leaders of Paine’s moment were scarcely risk-adverse.  Indeed, they were willing to address the moral questions before them to the point of treason. Not so today, when we can hold a national political contest and neither candidate — nor their respective parties — can find the courage to speak a word about the policy disaster and dishonorable fraud that is the American drug war. So here, for the hell of it – and because it can never happen in American political discourse – let’s take a solitary moment to be honest with ourselves about why we remain addicted to drug prohibition. Addicted is the precise word, too...

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Journalism On Newspapering and Journalism

Columbia Journalism Review: Free For All

For the last few days, I’ve been heartily engaged in the comments section of a couple CJR items that originated from the New Orleans Times–Picayune‘s travails.  I advocate for the industry-wide adoption of online pay walls to sustain high-end journalism. Others regard this as a disastrous suggestion. As the comments began to pile up, I saw some insight and a lot of argumentative fallacy.  People do love to call names. But I kept at it, hoping to draw others into the fray.  Maybe even get CJR to use their publication to revisit at this moment the idea of news as a product and whether that product can — in any environment, and under any conditions, not merely today’s dystopic newspaper dynamic — command a price commensurate with its cost, or much of its cost  (residual advertising revenue still being present  both on- and offline).  The New York Times just reported that Wall Street analysts are saying subscription revenue from the paywall adopted by...

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Commencement Addresses

Graduation Remarks, Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School

They don’t usually vote on the graduating senior least likely to be invited back as the commencement speaker, or for any other reason. But if they had, I was certainly a favorite for the class of 1978.  Nonetheless, the powers-that-be at my old school inquired, and because one of my great childhood friends, Gary Zinkgraf, was going to be there to celebrate his daughter Molly’s graduation, I took the gig : First off, I imagine some of you out there – if you’re familiar with my writing, my rhetoric or my general demeanor – are wondering, can he do a high school graduation? I mean, on an occasion such as this, a certain decorum is required, right? Well, truth is I am under contract at HBO, and the network requires me to use at least one profanity every ten minutes in every possible venue. So those of you expecting pristine commencement remarks, well, you’re shit out of luck. But I’ll try to hold it down as best I can. On the other hand, anyone out there worried that I’ll take into...

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Commencement Addresses

Commencement Address, Georgetown University

The greatest commencement address ever is now more than three decades old. And it’s safe to say it will never be surpassed or even equaled. It belongs to the ages. In 1979, its author summed up the condition of modern man by noting that, quote, more than at any other time in history, humanity is at the crossroads: one path leads to despair and utter hopelessness; the other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly. Unquote. Bang. That’s all she wrote. With that one paragraph, Woody Allen, filmmaker and philosopher-king, made Graduation Day his bitch for all time. No point in any of us trying to bring anything new to this game; Woody has killed it dead. That he never actually gave the remark at any commencement is beside the point. True, it appeared only as a column in the New York Times, but so what? Linked as it is to no actual college or university, Allen’s address is now the preserve of graduates everywhere. It was mine when I slipped the surly bonds...

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On Newspapering and Journalism Published Elsewhere

Sweetheart, Get Me Rewrite

My alma mater, the Baltimore Sun—though something of a fraile grey lady in this internet age—is nonetheless celebrating her 175th birthday this year. Sun alumni and other Baltimoreans were invited to contribute essays to a special edition to be published this weekend. My offering is an homage of sorts to one of the metro desk veterans who raised me from a pup. www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/sun-magazine/bs-sm-david-simon-20120513,0,5336130.story Thanks, Dave.  And no, I will never forget the First Rule of Rewrite:  “Shoot It Down.”  Or as you once sagely argued: “There are always salmonella outbreaks.  I don’t see why we have to write about this one.” Share this:FacebookTwitterLinkedInRedditEmailPrint

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On Police/Crime Published Elsewhere

Welcome to Florida. Beware of gunmen standing their ground

The Miami Herald, March 25, 2012 Reprinted with permission. Almost a quarter-century ago — in the halcyon days when human life was seen as more precious than property and people were regarded as something more than impoverished and non-influential corporations — I happened to be present at the tragic and needless shooting death of a black teenager.It was 1988 in Baltimore, Maryland and I was a journalist embedded in the city’s homicide unit, a bystander to a particular tragedy involving an elderly white homeowner and a black kid shot in the head while trying to steal a dirt bike. As the kid crept from the homeowner’s rear yard with the bike, the old man stood in his rear window, raised a rifle, and shot the juvenile dead. He readily acknowledged that he had done so, noting that he had been a victim of prior thefts and that given his age, he saw no other way to stop the crime.After all, it was his son’s bike. And it was his home. And in shooting the teenager to death, he was protecting...

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On Newspapering and Journalism Published Elsewhere

“Homicide” cop battling life on the streets once again

Former Sun writer tells how a character in his book faces another reckoning with the bullets he survived 25 years ago From The Baltimore Sun, March 11, 2012 Reprinted with permission. Photo by Gene Sweeney for the Baltimore Sun. Seven-baker-twenty-four unit turns at Mosher and rumbles past that stretch of Appleton Street where Gene Cassidy took two in the head for the company, the first one stealing his eyesight, the second lodging in his brain beyond the skill of a surgeon’s knife. Cassidy was 27 then, not even four years on the job, strong and lucky and hard-headed Irish enough that he refused to do the obvious and inevitable thing. He did not die. At University Hospital that night, the other patrol officers and detectives were told it was certain, that their friend would not make it. But Cassidy breathes still, and Appleton and Mosher looks much as it did in October 1987, when Cassidy tumbled out of his radio car to jack up a man wanted on an assault warrant. The same...

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Admired/Reviewed

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, by James Agee and Walker Evans

This came in response for a request to write on a book that was an essential influence. Thank you, Bob Benjamin, for stuffing it into my hand way back in 1982. FROM GENTLEMEN’S QUARTERLY Reprinted with permission. A suburban boy’s father marks up his English essays, explaining both the wit and weaknesses of leading sentences with gerunds. He tells stories of fierce heroes, word warriors: Broun, who loved the street parade, and Pegler, who sat next to him all those years, despising the common man; Bigart, selfless and understated, or Mencken, who believed in only Mencken. But all of them so gifted, so deft, so able to trick a phrase. Here, says the father, read this transition. Here, look what he does with the second graf… The father takes the son to a Front Page revival at a D.C. theater. The boy is oversold. He will be a newspaperman, a journalist. Years later, he is on the metro desk at an old gray rag, Mencken’s old paper, the youngest and last-hired...

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On Television Published Elsewhere

A forced move, actually

It had been three years since The Wire stopped airing on HBO, and in Baltimore, a certain settled tolerance for the drama had become the norm.  So I was surprised when the current police commissioner asked a question about The Wire at a public forum, vented openly.  This was a sleeping dog; let it lie, brother.  Instead, the commissioner insisted that we had smeared the city and that the slander would “take decades to overcome.”  He said those of us who worked on the drama owed Baltimore an apology. The comments hit the internet, but at first weren’t picked up anywhere and seemed to slip below the waves.  Just as well, I thought, because I haven’t been in a rush to tell Baltimore officials what they need to think about Homicide, The Corner or The Wire.  They’re entitled to dislike the work if they do.  My battles with city officials were always contained within the argument that they could express any opinion they liked, so long as they didn’t try...

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Admired/Reviewed

Introduction: Paths of Glory by Humphrey Cobb

I was honored to be asked to write an introduction to the Penguin Classic edition of a reissued “Paths of Glory,” one of the great literary legacies of the First World War and a novel that remains essential reading, I believe, in this new century.  I also had the chance to meet and shake the hand of Mr. Cobb’s lovely grand-daughter.  What follows is reprinted with the permission of Penguin’s editors. —DS [hr] Humphrey Cobb gave us our last, failed century in a single, basic narrative. He told us of men devoured by the very institutions they served, without recourse, and for purposes petty, mechanical, and abstract. Indeed, given how little mankind truly learned from the charnel house that was the twentieth century, Cobb may have given us a blueprint for human suffering that will carry us through the next hundred years as well. To say that Paths of Glory is a novel ahead of its time is problematic, however. Cobb’s careful representations of the state of...

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On Television Published Elsewhere

“Treme” primer: Curtain-raiser, New Orleans Times-Picayune

From The Times-Picayune Sunday, April 11, 2010 Reprinted with permission. In the first episode of “Treme,” to be broadcast tonight on HBO, a character will reach into her purse and produce an apple-flavored Hubig’s pie. She will do this in late November 2005. With the rest of her dessert menu no longer available, the character, a local chef, will then serve the local delicacy to a patron of her restaurant. We offer this bit of information freely, as Exhibit A in what will surely become a long list of cited inaccuracies, anachronisms and equivocations through which New Orleanians reassure themselves that not only is our little drama a fiction, but that those who have perpetrated this fiction are indifferent to facts, chronologies, historical possibilities. True, the Hubig’s bakery in the Marigny did not reopen until February 2006, and true therefore, any such pastry found in a woman’s purse should by rights be a pre-Katrina artifact and therefore...

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Obits, Appreciations

Obituary: David Eugene Mills

From the Times-Picayune, Reprinted with permission. David Simon, co-creator of HBO’s “Treme,” first worked with David Mills, a “Treme” writer and co-executive producer who died Tuesday (March 30) at age 48, when they both wrote for the student newspaper at the University of Maryland.  With “Treme” aiming for an April 11 premiere on HBO and the production aiming to wrap its 10-episode first season in late April, Simon wrote his friend’s obituary Wednesday.  It was distributed, unsigned, by the network.  Here’s the complete text: David E. Mills, an Emmy-award winning television writer who worked on dramas as varied as “Homicide,” “NYPD Blue,” “E.R.” and “The Wire,” died suddenly Tuesday after collapsing on the New Orleans set of his new HBO drama, “Treme.” He was 48. A former journalist who worked for the Washington Post, the Washington Times and the Wall Street Journal, Mills was on the set of the post-Katrina drama as it filmed a scene at Café du Monde in the French Quarter when...

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On Newspapering and Journalism Published Elsewhere

Build the Wall

Note the date that this ran in CJR – and even that was late for the industry to come to a reckoning.  The New York Times has now embraced a pay model as its future and is beginning to see a profit from its subscription base.  True, the NYT is a unique entity, in terms of content, but that’s why it needed to jump first.  The next step is for other papers with a national presence  – The Washington Post, the L.A. Times – to follow suit.  What they are waiting for, I have no clue.  If you can’t charge for your product, you have no product – a freshman marketing major can tell you as much.  And again, content and copyright have value.  They matter. –DS/em> [hr] The Columbia Journalism Review, July 2009 Reprinted with permission. Most readers won’t pay for news, but if we move quickly, maybe enough of them will. One man’s bold blueprint. To all of the bystanders reading this, pardon us. The true audience for this essay narrows necessarily to a pair of notables who have it in...

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On Newspapering and Journalism

Testimony, U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, Hearing on The Future of Newspapers

David Simon, former Baltimore Sun reporter and creator of the HBO series The Wire, testified before the Senate Commerce Committee during a hearing on the future of journalism. These are his prepared comments. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet Hearing on the Future of Journalism, May 6, 2009 [hr] Thank you all for the invitation and opportunity to speak on this issue today, but I start by confessing reluctance. My name is David Simon and I used to be a newspaperman in Baltimore. Head and heart, I was a newspaperman from the day I signed up at my high school paper until the day, eighteen years later, when I took a buyout from the Baltimore Sun and left for the fleshpots of Hollywood. To those colleagues who remain at newspapers, I am therefore an apostate, and my direct connection to newspapering –having ended in 1995 – means that as a witness today, my experiences are attenuated. Ideally, rather than...

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On Newspapering and Journalism Published Elsewhere

In Baltimore, No One Left to Press the Police

By David Simon Sunday, March 1, 2009  Reprinted with Permission, The Washington Post BALTIMORE In the halcyon days when American newspapers were feared rather than pitied, I had the pleasure of reporting on crime in the prodigiously criminal environs of Baltimore. The city was a wonderland of chaos, dirt and miscalculation, and loyal adversaries were many. Among them, I could count police commanders who felt it was their duty to demonstrate that crime never occurred in their precincts, desk sergeants who believed that they had a right to arrest and detain citizens without reporting it and, of course, homicide detectives and patrolmen who, when it suited them, argued convincingly that to provide the basic details of any incident might lead to the escape of some heinous felon. Everyone had very good reasons for why nearly every fact about a crime should go unreported. In response to such flummery, I had in my wallet, next to my Baltimore Sun press pass, a business card for Chief Judge...

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On Police/Crime

A Municipal Moment Worthy of Orwell

Reprinted from the Baltimore City Paper February 25, 2009 (Image by MEL GUAPO) Police work, it is said, is only easy in a police state. So welcome to the city of Baltimore, where a police officer who uses lethal force and takes human life is no longer required to stand behind his or her actions and suffer the scrutiny of the public he or she serves, where the identity of those officers who use lethal force will no longer be known, where our communities are now asked to trust in the judgment of those who clearly don’t trust us. A 61-year-old Baltimorean is dead, shot by a Southeastern District Officer Feb. 17. His death may well be a reasonable, if tragic outcome. It may even be good police work, though any veteran city prosecutor will acknowledge that having a shooting ruled “justified” by the state’s attorney’s office should in no way be mistaken for such an assessment. But if we let stand Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld’s new policy of...

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On Newspapering and Journalism

A Lonesome Death

William Zantzinger’s business card says he is an equal opportunity realtor. DS [hr] From The New Yorker, January 26, 2009 Reprinted with permission.  In February of 1963, twenty-four-year-old William Zantzinger, armed with a toy carnival cane and wrecked on whiskey, made a spectacle of himself at the Spinsters’ Ball at the Emerson Hotel in Baltimore. He was a drunken country mouse in the big city, at a time when the notion of racial equality had barely shown itself in the neighborhood of his father’s tobacco farm. When the hotel’s black waitstaff was slow to serve Zantzinger another drink, he yelled racial epithets at Hattie Carroll, a barmaid and a fifty-one-year-old mother of eleven, and he rapped her on the shoulder with his cane. She became upset, then collapsed and died of a stroke. Bob Dylan read about the case in the newspaper. He wrote the magnificent “Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” with the paper splayed on the table of a Seventh Avenue luncheonette. Zantzinger was...

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On Police/Crime Published Elsewhere

Two Americas: A primer for Europeans

On the heels of The Wire becoming a hot ticket on British television, The Guardian asked me for a curtain-raiser on season five — the media season — with a Baltimore dateline in their Sunday edition.  By this point, it had become clear that The Wire was something of a phenomenon over there; American dystopia plays better the farther one travels from America, apparently.  And too, it had become clear that many viewers in the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe were content to believe that The Wire was representative of the urban U.S. in its entirety.  Moreover, some of them were expressing a good bit of schadenfreude in this. So in The Guardian, I tried to walk the line between affirming what I thought was truthful in The Wire and making clear the geographic limitations of the drama.  Not sure it worked at all, or that anyone took the point.  But in my mind, at least, it boiled down to an interior stance: We can say this shit about ourselves.  And at times, we will.  But fuck you...

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On Television

Justifiable

Published in Sports Illustrated Reprinted with permission. In their series’ five years on NBC, the producers of Homicide: Life on the Street have used police tape to cordon off  fictitious murder scenes on streets and back alleys all over Baltimore.  But the show had never tried to stage a crime at the city’s best- known setting: Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The idea that Peter Angelos, the owner of the Baltimore Orioles, and the Maryland Stadium Authority would permit Homicide to portray some grisly murder there, made-for-TV or not, seemed hopelessly far-fetched. But in what producers David Simon and Jim Yoshimura describe as a moment of  “pure, unencumbered genius,” they jiggered the plot so that the ballpark brass not only embraced the idea but also happily allowed Orioles pitchers Armando Benitez and Scott Erickson to make cameo appearances. In this season’s second episode, which is to air on Friday, the victim and the killer are both obnoxious men with thick Long Island accents...

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On Newspapering and Journalism On Television

The Wire’s Final Season and the Story Everyone Missed

From the Huffington Post, March 17, 2008 Reprinted with Permission Well now, it’s been a week since The Wire‘s final episode and a certain calm has descended, leaving a little less agita and a little more reflection. A moment for one last question: That wasn’t too vicious, was it? Sure there was a fabulist and, yeah, he snatched the big prize. Couldn’t resist, sorry. That was a bit beyond the historical reality; at the historical Baltimore Sun, he was a mere Pulitzer finalist. And okay, the city editor, the honorable fellow, the one for whom journalism was an ethos, he got slapped down and thrown to the copy desk. We did that, too, because hey, to criticize such a newsroom culture did indeed carry those risks in Baltimore. Share this:FacebookTwitterLinkedInRedditEmailPrint

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On the Drug War Published Elsewhere

From Time Magazine: End The Drug War

by Ed Burns, Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, Richard Price, David Simon and William F. Zorzi Jr. From Time Magazine, March 17, 2008 Reprinted with permission. We write a television show. Measured against more thoughtful and meaningful occupations, this is not the best seat from which to argue public policy or social justice. Still, those viewers who followed The Wire – our HBO drama that tried to portray all sides of inner-city collapse, including the drug war, with as much detail and as little judgment as we could muster – tell us they’ve invested in the fates of our characters. They worry or grieve for Bubbles, Bodie or Wallace, certain that these characters are fictional yet knowing they are rooted in the reality of the other America, the one rarely acknowledged by anything so overt as a TV drama. These viewers, admittedly a small shard of the TV universe, deluge us with one question: What can we do? If there are two Americas – separate and unequal – and if the drug war has helped...

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On Television Published Elsewhere

A Final Thank You To Those Who Watched

FROM HBO.COM On the occasion of airing The Wire’s last episode March 2008 A last thank you to those HBO subscribers who took the time and care to accompany us on this journey. The Wire arrived six years ago to little fanfare and modest expectation. It demanded from viewers a delicate, patient consideration and a ridiculous degree of attention to detail. It wasn’t for everyone. We proved that rather quickly. But episode to episode, you began to understand that we were committed to creating something careful and ornate, something that might resonate. You took Lester Freamon at his word: That we were building something here and all the pieces matter. When we took a chainsaw to the first season, choosing to begin the second-story arc with an entirely different theme and different characters, you followed us to the port and our elegy for America’s working class. When we shifted again, taking up the political culture of our mythical city in season three, you remained loyal...

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On Newspapering and Journalism

A Newspaper Can’t Love You Back

Esquire, March 2008. Reprinted with permission. To this day, I can — if I suffer to think on it — stand apart from the moment, watching as I try to slip my own skin, to disappear myself. I have hair and forty less pounds. I’d pressed my pants for the first time all semester, even worn a tie, though I took it off in the car, thinking it made me look presumptuous. Shit, I am in that newsroom looking like the college kid I am, a fifth-year senior anyway, surrounded by the battle-hardened professionals of a delicate, precise craft. They know I am ridiculous. They’ve read it, in fact. At the four o’clock meeting in the conference room, there is revelry — at my expense no doubt. From my perch on the metro desk, I hear Phelps, the state editor, say something, his words followed by a burst of laughter. Fuck, shit, fuck. That week — my first as a Baltimore Sun stringer — I had done something remarkable. I had managed to declare that oral sex was no longer a crime in Maryland...

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On Television Published Elsewhere

Down To the Wire

Almost six years after “the best show on TV” began, the man behind the series comes clean about why he did what he did. From Baltimore Magazine, Feb. 2008 Reprinted with permission. ART CREDIT: FRANK STOCKTON “We want to be out of The Wire business,” says the mayor of Baltimore, repeating the affirmation that began this call twenty minutes ago, stalling us in the Safeway parking lot on Boston Street. I am curbside at the grocery, caught between a cup of carryout coffee and an afternoon writer’s meeting, cellphone hard against my ear, playing liar’s poker with a politician. “You’re telling me a week before we begin shooting,” I explain again. “I’m happy to move the show out-of-town for season three, but I can’t do it now. You’ve waited too long to tell me.” Pelecanos stands beside me, listening to half a conversation, staring across the outer harbor toward the production office to which he can’t return. “Look,” I offer the mayor, “we’ve built our sets in the county and the...

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On Newspapering and Journalism Published Elsewhere

Does the News Matter To Anyone Anymore?

From The Washington Post Sunday, January 20, 2008 Is there a separate elegy to be written for that generation of newspapermen and women who came of age after Vietnam, after the Pentagon Papers and Watergate? For us starry-eyed acolytes of a glorious new church, all of us secular and cynical and dedicated to the notion that though we would still be stained with ink, we were no longer quite wretches? Where is our special requiem? Bright and shiny we were in the late 1970s, packed into our bursting journalism schools, dog-eared paperback copies of “All the President’s Men” and “The Powers That Be” atop our Associated Press stylebooks. No business school called to us, no engineering lab, no information-age computer degree — we had seen a future of substance in bylines and column inches. Immortality lay in a five-part series with sidebars in the Tribune, the Sun, the Register, the Post, the Express. What the hell happened? I mean, I understand the...

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On Television The Wire

Best Deleted Scene from The Wire Fifth Season

Reprinting with permission, The CityPaper, Baltimore, Sept 19, 2007 We received the below in an e-mail from The Wire co-creator/executive producer/writer David Simon on Labor Day, the Monday after shooting for the show’s fifth and final season concluded the previous Friday. It’s a four-page insert scene the writing staff intimated was coming on the penultimate day of shooting, adding more work to an already packed final production day. According to Simon, rumors of the additional pages started seeping from the production office to the set, instigating some minor grumbling about cramming yet more scenes into a final episode that Simon suggests is already about 50 percent longer than ordinary. But everybody reacted professionally to the schedule changes–assistant directors inquired about what the actors needed, production managers ordered additional film, cast members were told where they needed to be to work on dialogue. And then the pages arrived and as cast and crew...

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On Newspapering and Journalism

Michael Olesker Is A Plagiarist? Who Isn’t?

From Baltimore City Paper, Jan. 16, 2006 Reprinted with Permission IN THE SMALL NEWSROOM OF THE COLLEGE NEWSPAPER where I learned rudiments of craft, there was affixed to one wall a parody of Edgar Allan Poe, which began, “Once upon a deadline dreary . . . ” The author, an alumnus of the University of MarylandDiamondback, had butchered “The Raven,” evoking the gothic plight of a journalist trapped at a typewriter, trying to keep his work fresh as he exhausted new developments in the top few paragraphs and was reduced to recounting backstory. To conclude each stanza, the haunting voice came to him: “Rewrite the background, ever more.” “No,” wails the reporter, “I will not burden my tale with all that came before.” “Rewrite the background, ever more.” Funny enough when I first read it, but when I landed on the city desk of The Sun, that doggerel became prophetic. On the police beat, on general assignment, and especially on the rewrite desk, you were usually reacting to new developments...

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Obits, Appreciations

‘The Wire’ loses a talented, trusted set of eyes

Behind the scenes, Bob Colesberry was a showbiz giant Appreciation, from the Baltimore Sun, Feb. 15, 2004 Reprinted with permission  It was a shotgun wedding of sorts, with an HBO executive playing pastor. I was there to get a book that I had written, an account of a year on a Baltimore drug corner, made into television. I had another writer with me, a trusted college friend with experience in episodic drama. David Mills had worked a few years on NYPD Blue, just as I had a couple years under Tom Fontana on Homicide. And we had already hired a line producer who would help us put film in the can. So why was I being ushered to this New York office to meet another producer? Some studio type named Colesberry. A film producer, no less, from the world of big-budget features where everyone had a producer title, whether they did any work or not. He would probably ask for crane shots and try to rewrite scripts and screw up the casting and blow a hole in the budget. “Don’t commit to...

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On Police/Crime Published Elsewhere

Murder, I Wrote

From The New Republic, September 1997 Reprinted with permission. I used to cover crime on the late shift in Baltimore for The Sun. It was a living measured, by and large, in four-paragraph installments. You’d call the cops, ask what was going on, and then, when they emitted a handful of facts about which body fell on which corner, you’d write it up briefly and send it to the night editor. West Baltimore, East Baltimore, lower Park Heights, Cherry Hill—the rowhouses and postwar housing projects were all decidedly similar, and, assuming the casualty was poor and black, the newspaper accounts were similar as well. “A 21-year-old West Baltimore man was shot to death yesterday….” “… police say the assailant fled on foot after the stabbing. No suspects have been identified.” “A 16-year-old Pimlico youth was found murdered ….” In four years, I manufactured about a thousand of those formulaic morsels. The bodies I wrote about were, for the most part, buried in a handful of...

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On Newspapering and Journalism On Police/Crime Published Elsewhere

The Reporter I: Cops Killers and Crispy Critters

Published in the Media Studies Journal of the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center at Columbia University, this was an argument for a return to narrative as a means of humanizing crime coverage.  I’d just published my first book and contemplating the second.  At this point, though, this is a rather amusing artifact given how the argument for narrative led me, kicking and screaming, out of journalism entirely. At the moment you begin reading this, some poor bastard three years out of journalism school is sitting at a video-display terminal in a newspaper office somewhere in these United States, fingers darting on a keyboard. No doubt a cursor flashes through line after line of the same simple, tired equation: “A 17-year-old West Baltimore youth was shot to death yesterday in a murder that police say is related to drugs….” Or, perhaps: “The battered body of a 25-year-old Queens resident was found by police along the shoulder of a Long Island expressway….” ‘ Or: “A...

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On Television Published Elsewhere

Busted: Confessing to Crimes of Fashion

This ran as an essay that accompanied photographs of “Homicide,” “NYPD Blue” and “Law & Order” actors dressed magnificently.  My own attempts at the sartorial are no longer even comic to those who know me.  In fact, the only hyperbole in the piece is that I gave Terry McLarney more credit for being anything more than a kindred soul.  McLarney once confided to me that when he had to iron one of his own shirts, he only did the front:  “With a sportscoat, that’s all they’re ever gonna see anyway.” DS   FROM DETAILS MAGAZINE -1994 Reprinted with permission. Investigations Division: a cubicle containing two chairs, a couple of filing cabinets, and a government-issue desk. Behind that desk sits Colonel Richard Lanham, who is giving me official notice that the Baltimore Police Department will allow me to shadow a shift of homicide detectives for a year and then write a book about it. “With certain stipulations,”...

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