Omits and Edits

21 Sep
September 21, 2012

Read through a the transcript of a videotaped interview I gave to Reason Magazine, the libertarian periodical, that is timed for the release of Treme’s third season.  My comments seemed disjointed, unsupported.  Arguments begin and cease abruptly, unaccompanied by any supporting logic or examples.  The interviewer’s comments are highlighted as punctuation, but many fundamental ideas and contentions never progress far at all.

I emailed those guys, asked them if I could listen to the whole interview.  They kindly agreed.

Sure enough, the editing is, at points, inattentive to the task of building on or even completing a complicated argument.  I begin with an assertion — that Wall Street undid the newspaper industry, or that government is the only viable agent for the maintenance of prisons, and then all or most of the reasons for making such an argument are gone from the edited interview.  Seems I spoke with this crew for about an hour and twenty minutes.  An hour or so of that is missing from the edited version.

Not that the full interview is worth anyone’s time.  Unedited interviews seldom are.  But rare are the occasions when I’ve come through such a process and found it so hard to convey anything more than simple, unsupported assertions before the interviewer interposes or the subject changes, either in real time or through later redaction.  It’s just a mess.  Looking at the comments on Reason.com, a number of those who read or viewed the interview thought my comments were notably fractured, if not incoherent.  I quite agree.

If you are interested in any of the issues that are broached in this piece, there are other interviews, essays and public appearances on this website that provide cogent and more complete arguments on the subjects.   Specifically, the Senate testimony on the future of newspapers makes clear my contentions about what befell that industry as the Reason interview never does.  The venality that underlies the privatization of the prison industry is more fully addressed in the UNC lecture that has a video link, and elsewhere as well.

I’m not going to suggest that the evisceration of my answers resulted from my antipathy to certain libertarian arguments, or even a conscious effort to prevent an opposing argument to fully form.  I think it’s just an edit by folks who found more favor in banter and quick riposte than in actually surrounding stuff.  Nonetheless, to anyone who watches it expecting me to keep the train of thought on the tracks, I’ll apologize in advance.  Again, the full interview has much fat that is deservedly cut down and the  tangle of interjections by Mr. Gillespie and my own asides in response didn’t make for the most directed encounter.  I am as guilty as anyone for some what resulted, and I can see why an editor was challenged.  But lost in the edit that ensued is a good bit of connective tissue that could, at points, make portions of the exercise sensical, I think.

To Reason readers who are convinced that I stand clueless before the all-encompassing logic of the libertarian ideal, I can only say that perhaps in a better and more coherent venue, some deeper exchange will ensue.  I am as willing to take a kick in the ass as to deliver one, of course, depending on the merits.  But it’s always better if that ass is my own familiar flesh rather than some straw-filled substitute.  Again, I claim nothing sinister on the magazine’s part; they would not have given me the whole interview to review if they had shanked it for ideological reasons; but shank it they did, in my opinion.

As I often have said, I value argument for its own sake, as well as divergent views in a discussion.  So, here, listening to so many issues stutter-step without going forward to any corroborative detail or to any sustained elaboration or debate, I’m reminded of the late, great Christopher Hitchens, who once attempted to make a modestly complicated argument to an interviewer ideologically opposed to that stance.  As the Fox commentator’s questions became longer and as Mr. Hitchen’s answers were more frequently interrupted, he finally managed the following:

“You must have me on your show again so you can tell me more of what you think…”

He then attempted to elaborate on the point he had previously raised, but was, of course, interrupted.

46 replies
  1. Paulo says:

    Hello Mr. Simon. I’m a PhD History Student in Brazil and a great fan of The Wire and your other works (reading The Corner was, I think, a hard time, in the sense that we are experiencing here in Brazil a similar process).

    First of all, let me say that I’m sorry for the bad english bellow (and above). I hope that it is intelligible.

    I’m working on an academic article about what I call the methodology on The Wire, that is to say, the manner that the series uses to analyse and reconstruct a social totality. In this regard, I’m deeply interested in the way that the creative team responsible for the series was able to confront classical sociological problems as the tension between human agency and structure (or institucional, as you often say) imperative, and the relations between social spheres (economy, politics, culture) within the social totality.

    That said, I would have an incredible number of questions for you, but I’m writing this comment after listen to the full Reason interview and about a topic in specific: in that interview (as in several others) you’re always as quick as possible to say that you’re “not a marxist”. Sometimes you said that you are a moderate social-democrat, other times that you believe in socialism or that you are a socialist etc, but always with the observation that you’re not a marxist.

    I do know that this term is something of a dangerous label in the USA, but I think that socialism also is. In this regard, my question is that (and I sure don’t mean any disrespect or try to assert that your interpretation is wrong or whatsoever): what do you mean when do you talk about marxism? In the sense of what is the difference that you see between marxism and socialism (and I’m sure you aren’t talking about USSR when you use that term)? It’s obvious by your works that you’re a highly educated, but this concept of marxism comes from a contact with the material, i.e., Marx’s works?

    If possible, I would appreciate any answer on these questions. In any case, thank you very much for producing great works.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      This is a big topic and alas, I am on deadline with scriptwork currently.

      Short, short answer that will probably be insufficient. Having read Capital and much commentary on it, and having borne witness as a citizen of a republic in which the impulse toward utilitarian, representative government is so handily purchased and obscured by capital, I am ready to concede that some of the fundamental Marxist critiques of free-market capitalism have not yet been successfully answered. The Marxist arguments against the excesses of free markets — of an economic imperative that, when left untethered to any social compact, produces little other than wealth itself and guarantees no positive utilitarian effect other than wealth — remain sound.

      But if I come to some grudging respect for Marxist diagnostics, I can have little regard for Marxist therapies and prescriptions. Capitalism has the formidable advantage of actually working in creating mass wealth in a way that all practical application of Marxist theory in the past century does not actually work in any but the palest and most mediocre way.

      As an answer for how to build a just and utilitarian society and how to achieve longterm societal health, capitalism unadorned is wholly inadequate. Capitalism creates profit only. And profit is no metric for these larger questions. But profit is essential and therefore capitalism is the sharpest and most cutting tool in the toolbox economically. If we ever give it credit for what it can do, and at the same time withhold credit for what it cannot possibly achieve without a concomittant sociopolitical compact, then perhaps an American century is still to come. That we refuse to make that distinction and for the past thirty years have mistaken a mechanism for generating mass wealth as a blueprint for society as a whole has, I believe, marked an end to the American century that was.

      So in short, it is possible to accept some of the Marxist critique of capitalism and hold the Marxist solution at bay. One has merit in my mind, the other is without any plausible future in the 21st Century. And so I am a capitalist, and a democratic socialist, and they are not in any way incompatible to someone who believes that it is in the tension between those two imperatives that real progress exists.

      Reply
  2. Jerry S says:

    Hi David,

    I listened to the edited and am currently listening to the unedited versions. Actually, it’s refreshing to have this level of intellectual debate. What I mean is, any honest person knows that the blog/website/news source they are most fond of (mine is Reason) has a bias and a slant, and that they’re not going to get the best opinions of both sides. Here, we actually get to hear deeply-thought and articulated reasons behind two beliefs – and we don’t get to hear that very much. And most venues that try this are typically garbage (in my opinion) and get reduced to talking points and name calling.

    Hopefully we’ll get to see/hear more!

    Reply
  3. Dan says:

    Found the Christopher Hitchens’ quote/exchange you referenced in your post, David:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNQvoiD9mNY

    It appears that Laura Ingraham and Mr. Gillespie, unfortunately, share many of the same interviewing traits.

    Reply
  4. Andrew says:

    As someone who is considers himself left of center on most issues (can’t stand things like handgun bans) I have flirted with voting for either Ron Paul or Gary Johnson because on some issues they are the only ones that make any sense to me. Issues like the Afghanistan war where for 6 years I have not seen anyone give a reason that makes any sense on why we are still there besides conspiracy theorists. I would love to see people like Nick push left leaning people harder on this during an interview about this subject. Both agree we shouldn’t be there and it is a complete waste of Life, money,and standing in the world. But WHY are we there? Why don’t liberals give the democrats an ultimatum on unacceptable issues like this pointless war? Has Obama ever been asked a tough question on this war? He admits the deficit must come down (something economicly I disagree with in the short term) but no one asks about the occupation of a country where Al-Qaeda is now less than 50 strong and Bin Laden is dead? Every else funded with our tax dollars has to be defended (school teachers, medicare, social security, firefighters, 9-11 FIRST RESPONDERS HEALTHCARE) but a war that no one can defend besides republicans who think we are at War with Islam and conspiracy theorists goes unanswered and unasked on a daily basis?

    What about the drug war? Medical Marijuana is still being attacked by Obama (110% campaign lie) while we still give subsidies to tobacco farms,. I would love to see someone ask Obama about that. Heroin is illegal and we lock up people for the substance, but our troops guard the poppy fields in Afghanistan and our selected leader of that country’s brother was the biggest heroin dealer in the world.

    Those issues alone should force anyone to look to the party and people who are the only ones speaking clearly on those issues and at least give them a flirty smile.

    You worked in the journalism field for most of your life David, would those questions result in a journalist loosing their access? Am I a dreamer for thinking those types of questions would ever be asked let alone ever given serious answers by our president?

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      There are issues — the drug war, personal privacy rights — in which I am in agreement with libertarian arguments. There are a few issues in
      which I find that Republican positions have a point. There are many issues on which I find the Democratic Party insufficient.

      None of that makes the libertarian uber-theories of minimized government or laissez-faire economics any less absurd. If left to its own devices, the free market has amply demonstrated that it can make profit — and short-term profit — its sole metric while wrecking the economy. Wall Street has about as much interest in the long-term growth and health of the United States economy as a 10-year-old tossing a candy wrapper in the street has interest in the long-term environmental health of his neighborhood. They have proved this time and again. Free-market capitalism is a remarkable tool for generating wealth; left on its own, without a social compact, it will do nothing to create a safer or more equitable republic.

      And minimized government is a lovely abstraction for Americans weary of government’s failures to solve or even properly address problems, or for those citizens who resent taxes as a fundamental necessity of shared civic responsibility. But government is inevitable and the solution is not to pretend otherwise, or to walk away from the necessary function of representative government, but to commit more deeply to its reform.

      You are pointing to places where the libertarians get things right. You say little about the places where they quite obviously have the wrong diagnostics and the wrong clinical advice. As to Mr. Gillespie pushing people harder, being interruptive and reductive isn’t pushing much of anything in actuality. When I make the argument against privatization of prisons, knowing full well that report after report has documented how the trend has led to lobbying of legislatures and increased incarceration rates in every state where it has been implemented — and Mr. Gillespie responds with a rushed reference to the California prison guards union — I know what I am dealing with.

      Prison guard unions have been around for generations. But privatization of incarceration and its embrace by Wall Street has been a phenomenon that parallels America becoming the jailingest country in the world. I’m sure the guards union has done no good either, but they are not the fundamental sea change that has made states like Louisiana — a right-to-work state — a gulag. Mr. Gillespie is intent only on that which supports his pre-existing belief and the libertarian Prime Directive — less government, less taxes, and let the markets decide — is so simplistic and oblivious to the complexities and realities of the modern world that I can only regard its adherents as luftmenschen.

      Sorry. I find the entire thing to be empty.

      Reply
  5. Katie says:

    I’m with the above poster. It seemed like as soon as you got into something substantial with Craig Ferguson, it turned silly. I’ve noticed that some of my favorite entertainers (like Jon Stewart) are terrible interviewers. I don’t know why I think those two skills should overlap???

    In your libertarian comment above, I was reminded of what Bill Clinton said on The Daily Show this week: “The problem with any ideology is that it gives you the answer before you look at the evidence.” I thought that was eloquent. Perhaps even elegant. :)

    Reply
  6. Rich says:

    In your chosen media you have the luxury of developing coherent and reasoned arguments at length . People who do well in interviews on the other hand have learned to talk in soundbites .

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Yup. But sometimes, a good interviewer makes even a wordy, roundabout guy like me make some sense. Check out the Moyers interview on this website. Whether you agree with the politics or not, a conversation is progressing, guided by an interviewer who is a also a builder of that conversation.

      Reply
  7. Zach says:

    Hey David,
    I just went and listened to the full hour and 20 minute interview and I didn’t feel like I missed out on too much in the editing. Reason’s big miss was not fleshing out the need for paid journalists, I saw that one for sure. On the issue of whether they gave your arguments full form . . . yes and no. I got the arguments in the 20 minute clip and understood where you were coming from. It’s a video interview at a political magazine so it’s tough to really complain that they asked you political questions in a TV interview format. Written Q&As are nice but if you sign up for that format it’s expected that they follow it. Best of luck with Treme.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Well, I certainly pity you for wading through all that unedited material.

      Mileage can vary. But what I missed was allowing for a basic premise behind such topic sentences as Wall Street’s complicity in the long-term damage done to so many American industries, newspapering among them. To say that is one thing. To have a chance to explain that the Street analysts weren’t satisfied with 7 or 8 or 12 percent profit and compelled the chains to cut staff and coverage long before the internet existed, to basically put make far more short-term profit by putting out cheaper, shittier newspapers — well, now you have a full premise worth debating.

      Or, similarly, to say that you want government to operate prisons at a direct, transparent cost to taxpayers and for incarceration to be a solution of last resort is the beginning of a premise. To explain why, to note that privatization of the prison industry has led to publicly traded companies again promising Street analysts annual increases in their profitability and margins — and then using those profits to lobby state legislatures for tougher laws against the two largest growth populations in prisons and jails — non-violent drug offenders and illegal immigrants — well, now you have something worth arguing about.

      Cut it short and there’s very little there there.

      My complaint is not that the interview drifted to politics, or that they didn’t agree with my politics. My complaint is that Mr. Gillespie is so enamored of his own answers that in the real-time of an interview, and then especially, in the redaction of the editing process, he shows so little interest in anyone else’s attempt to answer anything.

      The cost isn’t particularly important in the grand scheme of things. An hour and half of everyone’s time is wasted and an interview doesn’t go anywhere important. Lots of time is wasted on lots of stuff and lots of interviews are moribund messes. But having gone through the process, you can’t very well expect me to embrace an end-product that is, to my ear, so mediocre and unrepresentative of how complex and intractable the real issues truly are. So, hey, I’ve said as much.

      Reply
      • Phil says:

        Hi David,

        As a libertarian who likes Reason magazine, I agree with you about Mr. Gillespie. While he seems like a nice guy, he is not a good interviewer. He interrupts the person he is interviewing almost on every question. It is really annoying. Anyways, I enjoyed listening to your answers even though they were interrupted almost every 3 seconds.

        Cheers!

        Reply
      • Another David says:

        Mr. Simon,

        (I actually found the 2nd half of the 20-minute cut mostly cohesive and interesting.)

        Not all libertarians support the privatization of government functions. Certainly, I feel that there is too much government functioning in our lives today, but shifting taxpayer monies into private profit, whether it’s education, justice or national security, is just another form of corporate subsidy.

        To respond to your comment above, you point to the corporatization of America’s newspapers as another example of capitalism’s shortcomings. But, it actually demonstrates that the market works – albeit in a manner that you understandably find unacceptable. You state that Wall Street has pushed publishers to produce “cheaper, shittier” newspapers. Perhaps consequently, newspaper readership has been evaporating – this is precisely how the market responds to inferior product.

        But I see your point in that the _purpose_ behind journalism is being negatively impacted, and that people are more poorly-informed (I would argue that in place of objective information, we’ve become more partisan, seeking out news outlets that reflect our own comfy little worldview.)

        Frankly, that’s a lamentable trend because a society of ill-informed citizens opens itself up to all kinds of ugliness and dangerous vulnerabilities.

        Reply
        • David Simon says:

          Well, let’s just get the chronology right.

          In the 1990s, before the internet, publicly-traded newspaper chains were discovered by Wall Street and CEOs were urged to make numbers that were extraordinary. Before going to Wall Street, family-owned newspapers were sound and staid properties gleaning between 7 and 12 percent profit a year. Wall Street said, no, you can do better. And the race to 30 percent profit or higher was on.

          How to do this? Cut costs. Costs being newshole, reporters, editors, coverage, quality. The assumption was that advertisers and readers would still pay for the monopolies that large metropolitan dailies had. This is akin to the 1970s when Wall Street urged the auto industry to embrace planned obsolescence on the promise that Americans were going to settle for Pacers, Gremlins, Vegas, et al. Where else would they go? Japan? For a complete recounting of this fiasco, I recommend Halberstam’s “The Reckoning.”

          The newspaper version had the talent ushered out of the newsroom before the internet raised its head, in the 1990s. I took the third buyout from my newspaper in 1995 and I was one of 150 people who departed in those buy-outs. And by the way, if you care about the quality of coverage, you should of course, reduce your newsroom by layoffs, reducing it through seniority. By offering voluntary buyouts, the reporters with other opportunities — hired by other papers, book contracts, Hollywood — depart, meaning you tend to lose your best people. Of course, because of tenure, those are also the more expensive reporters.

          In any event, Wall Street got its short-term haul. Profits jumped to 30 percent even as the newshole and coverage were diminished, even as the newspapers provided less to readers and advertisers. And then, after this long profit-taking, then arrives the internet, and newspapers make the additional mistake of giving away their product online, for free. That mistake was a misunderstanding of the internet and their own product to be sure, but more than that, it was a contempt for their own product. And in many respects what regional newspapers were providing was no longer as essential as before the profit-taking and cost cutting.

          Wall Street led yet another American industry into a cul de sac for the same reason it always does: The next quarterly profit report. And the CEOs and board chairmans of all those media conglomerates, they’re on the golf course at Hilton Head as we speak. They made their numbers when the Wall Street analysts gave them the numbers, they brought in the short-term gain and they got their bonuses. They weren’t providing for the long-term health of prose journalism, for the transition from newsprint to the digital age. They weren’t strengthening their product and making it something that they might charge for online — as the New York Times — one of the last remaining bulwarks of quality, is now charging on line and making significant revenue. No, they were weakening the product, passing the money to the Street, to shareholders and themselves.

          Short-term profit and the market forces that seek such are not a metric for sustained economic growth, never mind a metric for a just and viable society in which a free press is secure and funded for its necessary mission. And what happened to newspapers has happened to other industries as well — mortgage financing, banking, auto. Faith in the free market to produce, on its own, without the framework of any social compact, a better America is an embarrassing demonstration of ideological naivete.

          We can’t do without capitalism, or the markets. But neither can we make such things the sole arbiter of progress. That’s been the fool’s errand of the last thirty years and certainly, 2008 made that entirely clear.

          Reply
          • Another David says:

            Thanks for the detailed response. I almost feel as if I’m flogging a dead horse here, but clearly you have much to say on the subject and are willing to expound upon it here. I appreciate that.

            What I don’t understand is why the original owners of some of these family-owned newspapers would have sold their interests to Wall Street? Was it simply the lure of a 30% profit margin? Were they unaware of the potential consequences to their businesses? They must share some of the blame—you can’t buy what’s not for sale.

            In your view, what would be a viable solution to securing a free press? Surely not publicly-funded news outlets. Reconstructed as tax-exempt non-profits, eligible for grants and donations? Perhaps.

            But back to the other industries you mentioned—mortgage financing and automotive. The mess they created was a direct result of decades-long collusion with the our government (under the regimes of both major parties), from laws enacted in their favor to bailouts. Bureaucrats and boardrooms, not consumers, picked winners and losers. That’s been the fool’s errand for the past 30 years. Longer, really.

            And we’re the fools, the losers, subject to what what Bernie Sanders correctly decried as “the privatization of profit and the socialization of risk.” The economic engines of the country are in the grip of crony capitalism, which is anathema to a free market.

            Reply
            • David Simon says:

              Well, if I don’t display a detailed response here, you certainly weren’t going to get it through the processes at Reason Magazine. So I might as well, no?

              Of course, the newspaper owners made money hand over fist when they sold to the chains. The Sun netted the Abell and Black families well over $600 million when it was sold to Times Mirror in 1986. They made money. And then Wall Street made money. And no one was looking out for the long-term health of the newspaper industry, much less the quality of the product.

              Again, the health and viability of our republic requires more substantive metrics than mere profit. It demands more responsible governance than the mere will of the marketplace. This is where libertarian arguments go barren.

              Certainly, with mortgage financing and what it did to the world economy, there is ample evidence of a failure of government to properly regulate such shit-for-gold ponzi schemes as mortgage-backed securities, but again, what are we saying there other than that good government has a role to play, and bad government fails to play its proper role. But beyond that, the creation of these hollow securities and their promulgation around the world has to be laid directly at the foot of an unregulated free market. It was Wall Street, who when ordinary stocks and mutual funds were invested to the hilt, had to conjure a new — yet fundamentally flawed and corrupted — investment opportunity to attract ever more money to the street. In short, we had invested in the economic growth that was possible and that was reasonable. But Wall Street wanted more and they wanted it fast. So sell shit for gold and hope you aren’t the one left holding the bag. And we were all, eventually, holding the bag.

              The auto industry? You don’t think the American auto industry is complicit in marginalizing itself as they did. Again, read Halberstam and “The Reckoning.” As with the newspaper execs, the Big Three moguls listed to the Street and the wisdom of the markets was short-term profit above all. Sell shit and when it breaks down, sell the consumer more shit. Cut costs, disrespect your own product, offer a world of Pacers, Gremlins, Vegas and what’s going to happen other than a return of the consumer for a fresh piece of shit in four years. What are they gonna do, buy Japanese? Or Korean cars? Puleeze. Detroit made money hand over first in the early 1970s and mid-1970s, but indeed, Wall Street wasn’t looking past the next fiscal quarter. And Detroit would later pay the price.

              Again, to repurpose the wisdom of Citizen Kane, it’s easy to make money if all you want to do is make money.

              You view the problem as crony capitalism. But that seems to me to be simply a sales term to excuse the excesses and indifference of actual free market forces when it comes to any issue in which a social good or social need — good journalism, fuel-efficient and well-built vehicles — is also at stake. To the extent government is complicit in the outcome, it isn’t because government interposed in that free market, it is because goverment failed to interpose properly.

              You don’t want Wall Street brokers selling fake equity and calling it gold, wrecking the world economy? Empower the SEC. Look at mortgage-backed securities before they explode in your face. Investigate. Regulate. You don’t want Detroit setting itself for marginalization by making a quick buck on shoddy cars that fall apart. Establish stronger fuel and safety standards that require them to market themselves toward functionality over the long-term and away from short-term profit. Government has a role. To say that it failed to play that role is one thing. To suggest that the market alone is self-correcting is, at this point, laughable.

              Reply
              • Another David says:

                I believe we may have reached a semblance of agreement. Of sorts.

                Certainly a free market doesn’t necessarily have an interest in either upholding or degrading a social good (however defined); it simply seeks to maximize economic resources. Mutual benefit (not economically derived), cooperation, compassion, charity—these are things that the free market simply is not created for. Law that support open society do that.

                The free market is neither moral, nor amoral. Fair or unfair. It’s a utility, nothing more, by which people can use to more freely exchange goods and services. I happen to believe that it’s the best way to exchange goods and services; it tends toward efficiency. I also hope that it encourages other forms of freedom, but that’s more dreaming than fact, which can easily be perceived as ideological. That’s not where I want to go.

                The market is, however, self-correcting—and sometimes people get screwed. Badly. I don’t contend that. In all our interactions, we operate under conditions of imperfect information. We simply cannot know all things and decide on the basis of a perfectly rational calculus. That’s why transparency is vital sure, and where things like laws and regulations can help. But so is due diligence.

                I’m not going to presume to know the full facts behind the toxic assets meltdown of 2008. I didn’t participate in that market, neither as a sub-prime lender nor an investment bank. But those who did clearly got punched in the balls. Did the lenders truly understand their financial strength? Time and again, I hear of families with very limited incomes mortgaging homes that anyone could see they couldn’t afford. But in our bubble market, they willingly gambled, too, with the fallacious exuberance that their property value would continue to rise and they would be sitting on a nice nest egg.

                Certainly the lenders didn’t care that their “customers” were over-leveraged since mortgage banks had already created an intricate mechanism to quickly collect their vig and hand of the debt to someone else.

                But this is water under the bridge.

                The real question—and frankly, I’ve not found a satisfactory answer to this either way—is whether the TARP bailout (rescue, shoring up, however you want to call it) was necessary. Was ‘too big to fail’ a myth, as some have argued? Or was the myth a myth?

                The unfortunate truth is that society was forced to pay for a Wall Street malfeasance and Main Street’s irresponsibility. To me, that just reeks of wrongness on so many levels.

                I fucking wanted them to fail.

                I was angry over the utter powerlessness I felt—economic actors which had nothing to do with me were pushing our government (and the power of law) to save their asses. Was that a proper role for government?

                Reply
  8. Mike Rael says:

    Hi David:)
    I haven’t seen either the Wire or Treme yet. I just put them in queue with Netflix:)
    In your “Audacity of Despair” you complain about the editing Reason did which undercut or eliminated important arguments of yours.
    So…why don’t you write a post for reason.com or the Reason mag which talks of those arguments with all the depth which is yours??
    best wishes,
    Mike

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Well, that’s really kind of a politeness thing, is it not? Reason is devoted to libertarian political theory. And if I felt the need to contend against that theory, there are many venues in which to do so. For me to send such a piece to them and ask it to be published unedited is a little like an athiest going to a neighbors house on Christmas and asking if they’d take down their tree because Jesus Christ is a bad fable. Kind of rude, regardless of what you believe.

      If the neighbors invite me over to explain my atheism, or if everyone decides they’d like to undertake a twelve-round grudge match on issues of comparative theology, then great, I’ll bring the beer. But an invitation is required.

      I always prefer written Q-and-As because you can gather your thoughts, but I understand the need and desire for real-time interviews and I try to do my best with the format. If the interviewer is listening to the answers as well as guiding the questions, then it usually goes okay. In this instance, I was uninterested in doing the interview over political ideology, which I find abstract out of a real-world context and I told them so in advance. And also, I’m stacked up with a lot of press obligations with Treme season three coming to broadcast. I need to be talking about New Orleans, not ideology. So I had hoped the Reason thing could be more of that. No one’s fault that politics comes up; hard to talk about Treme or The Wire without it doing so organically.

      My complaint is merely that when I listed to the boiled-down edit, the Reason guys seemed way more interested in creating some disjointed back-and-forth on the ideological stuff and doing so in such a way so that I would barely state a premise before it was challenged, discarded and the conversation moved on to something else. Whatever logic I tried to offer behind any statement was consistently omitted.

      So the end result, as an interview, is mediocre to my ear. Not because I was challenged, but because little that I said was given full form before it was challenged.

      Reply
  9. WJS says:

    I thought that your response was eloquently explained. They shanked you, they have been caught doing so, and now they’ll attack the victim rather than make an honest effort to clean up their own handling of the affair.

    The Nick Gillespie interview with Ken Burns, where Burns slays his argument by saying that, in effect, when your house is on fire at 2 AM, you don’t call the marketplace stands as one of the great in-your-face refutations of his libertarian tendencies. I’m sure that you made an honest effort to do so as well. Perhaps they are afraid of having another incident like that appear. Who knows?

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      Honestly, I meant the word shanked as a golf term. Not that they cut me, but they hooked the whole interview off the fairway. It’s in the rough. It’s just a waste of time and effort on everyone’s part, given the editing.

      I didn’t know much about Mr. Gillespie before the interview. I had read enough of Reason to know its point of view, but I had inquired as to whether they wanted to talk about Treme, or about political ideology The idea of debating politics in an interview bores the hell out of me. For something as ornate and complex as political theory and practice, I’d rather write it down and read what the other fellow wrote down. And I told them that. Problem is, I guess, is that you can’t entirely discuss something like Treme or The Wire without at some point addressing political meaning.

      But the defensiveness with which they reacted to a very gentle critique, one that gave them benefit of the doubt for intention but merely criticized the outcome of the harsh edit was, I thought, rather telling. I said that in my opinion, they shanked the interview. Not me. The interview. And the twitter response: I “accuse” them of “producing a shanked interview.”

      “J’accuse!”

      How about honest language, fellas? I thought you did edited too much out and did a shitty job of it. That’s a critique of performance, not the accusation of some sort of malfeasance. In my limited encounter, I found an amazing capacity on Mr. Gillespie’s part to hear what wasn’t said, coupled with a persistent ability to ignore and redact that which was said. With a skill set such as that, he’ll go far, no doubt.

      Reply
    • Dale says:

      Hey WJS,
      I don’t want to start an off topic discussion, but I would like to do a quick answer to the ken burns comment about calling the “marketplace” if your house is on fire at 2AM. Just because the state has monopolized the services of fire extinguishing, does not mean there would not be viable market alternatives if there was no state monopoly on this service. We don’t call the “marketplace” when our house is on fire at 2AM because the marketplace has been outlawed in this service and we only have one option.
      Just off the top of my head, as there are security systems in houses that automatically contact a private security company, I could see a fire detection system that automatically detects fires and notifies a fire extinguishing service company which you have previously selected and pay for as a form of insurance. If this was truly a free market with competition, we could assume that the insurance would be quite low, and the company that had the best record at fire extinguishing, best response times, etc would have the most customers. Who knows what kind of innovation we would see.

      To be fair, having many competing fire extinguishing companies might not be as efficient in a small town of say 10,000 people, and it may make more sense to collectively pay for the fire station. As things get more local, they become more voluntary, which is good. But who knows, maybe it could be.

      Anyways, just something to think about. Just because they state has monopolized a certain service, does not mean if given the opportunity, the market wouldn’t provide it better and cheaper.

      Reply
      • David Simon says:

        My problem with libertarians is my problem with all ideologues. Wielding a favorite hammer, everything seems to be a nail.

        For whatever success has been achieved by breaking the monopoly on public education — and the success can only be called specific and limited unless the voucher/charter system can provide equality of opportunity and a meaningful public education to the society as a whole, and not merely those fortunate enough or equipped enough to get into the “right” charters — using that logic to improve prisons or law enforcement or flood control or epidemiological monitoring or statecraft or warmaking becomes an ugly, ridiculous absurdity.

        Republican government at some point must mean that the government is not some alien beast, but is in fact, our representative government. When many of its agencies perform poorly or in a non-utilitarian fashion, the practical solution is not an opting-out of the responsibilities of citizenship, but a renewed commitment to them. Bad governance is the issue and better government is the necessity. No government, or “competing” governments, or market-based government, is, for a vast array of necessary governing functions, an absurdist notion.

        Most major American cities — in fact, all of them — can scarcely afford one fire department, at this point, given the technological infrastructure required for modern firefighting. But if you want to go back to the days when cities had more than one, and the market ruled, read some about 19th Century New York and how grandly corrupt, incompetent and thoroughly political the competing fire “companies” actually were before NYFD was fully formed. In Baltimore, too, fire companies used to prevent each other from getting to fires if the house or business that was burning had been signed up by a competitor. They were thugs when profit was all.

        Capitalism is a fine tool for making money if all you want to do is make money, to repurpose some dialogue from Citizen Kane. But profit isn’t a metric for producing a just and cohesive society, and competition isn’t always a plausible guarantee of improved service or better quality. In the end, that we-the-people business becomes as important as the individualized rights that libertarians so champion. That’s my disappointment with the ideology. It thinks small, and it shuts its ears to one side of the dynamic of citizenship, even patriotism. It is all about the freedoms and liberties inherent in republican government. It has nothing to say to the responsibilities inherent in such.

        If I were to embrace a political ideology — and I never will completely; on many issues, I am to the left, and on some, libertarian or approximately so, and on a few, even conservative in a Goldwater-kinda way — it would surely have enough ambition to consider social responsibilities and social realities. Conjuring a world in which you go to the yellow-pages and call your favorite fire company — and all of them offering their billable hours and carefully maintaining their training, training facilities, trucks, equipment, arc-lights, water lines, EMT equipment, ambos, ladder companies, and all else — I have to just laugh my ass off. Is there any for-the-sake-argument stupidity that you cats won’t conjure for the sake of sheer ideology?

        How about this? How about we try our damnedest to keep as much capital as we can out of our electoral processes and we endeavor to elect the best possible people to represent us. How about we make them responsible for the fire department, among other things. How about we all kick in for the costs of the department and when whichever American’s house catches fire, the trucks come and the hoses come out and the water hits the flame. If you have money and property, they come. If you don’t have much, they come. If you have political influence, they come. If you are apolitical, they come. They don’t come faster because you paid more tax, they don’t come slower if you only owed a lesser amount. They even come if you didn’t pay, if the last pot that you had to piss in is what’s on fire.

        Good Lord, that’s how America has been fighting fires for the whole of what was known as the American Century. Somehow, without unleashing maximum market forces on our societal imperative to throw water on that which is burning, we managed to put out the occasional fire and still become the greatest economic engine that the world has ever seen. And now, you need your ideology so pure and taintless that you want to argue about how many different fire corporations might dance on the head of a pin if we only could imagine such a world? How about focusing such imaginative energies on an actual societal need, on an actual, fundamental problem?

        Seriously, brother.

        If you want to show places where the libertarian ideal is plausible, begin elsewhere. School choice has some momentum, provided the logic can become something more than a series of lifeboats in which only a plurality of children find their way to equality of opportunity. Issues of personal privacy and liberty are ripe for the libertarian imperative. You’ll pick up plenty of fellow travelers there.

        But prattle on about the glorious possibilities of competing fire departments and you reveal yourselves and the limitations of your argument. We actually had such a world once in American cities. The market did indeed prevail in matters of firefighting. It was disastrous to the point of dark comedy. Again, not everything is a nail. Sometimes, government is entirely necessary, and the solution to failures of government is something epic yet ordinary, a process that is always ongoing and never completed, seemingly exhausting and Sisyphean yet nonetheless inevitable and purposeful: It is called reform. It requires participation, not withdrawal. It demands a citizenship predicated on responsibilities as well as rights. I know all that is much messier than a Prime Ideological Directive, but hey, somewhere in America a house is burning, and it’s actually on fire — not in a the theoretical fashion of philsopher-kings imagining worlds unborn, but in the very real fashion of flames consuming the home and belongings of someone who is a neighbor and a countryman. So, Jesus, grow the fuck up with this nonsense already.

        Reply
        • Dave Taylor says:

          “So, Jesus, grow the fuck up with this nonsense already,” said the mature, thoughtful man.

          Reply
          • David Simon says:

            You’re absolutely right. I had no justification for directing that at the gentleman offering the argument. He is certainly a grown-up.

            Let me limit my frustration to the argument itself. Pretending that market competition is the solution to even non-existent problems is embarrassing and juvenile, as an argument. It is indeed nonsense, for all the reasons cited above.

            But my apologies to the individual who, for whatever purposes, offered up the nonsense. Thanks for pointing me up for that, genuinely.

            Reply
        • assman says:

          “But profit isn’t a metric for producing a just and cohesive society…In the end, that we-the-people business becomes as important as the individualized rights that libertarians so champion… It is all about the freedoms and liberties inherent in republican government. It has nothing to say to the responsibilities inherent in such.”

          You have many of the same blind spots as libertarians. You blame markets and sometimes governments. They blame only government. But there is a lot that is not discussed by either of you. Like character, morality, culture, families..the old themes of the conservatives. Lefties and liberals spent the last 200 years actively destroying all the old morality. You got what you wanted…really selfish individualistic atomic individuals who don’t give a fuck about anyone else.

          You succeeded. Now inhale deeply and enjoy the wonderful fruits of your labour. And please stop complaining. Your side won.

          Reply
          • David Simon says:

            “the responsibilities inherent in such.”

            That you could miss it is understandable. You are only looking for what you want to see. But that you could quote it directly and then still miss is actually a little bit remarkable. What part of ‘responsibilities’ do you think doesn’t directly relate to character, morality, culture…

            Arguing for the responsibilities of citizenship is arguing for character. In spades.

            Sorry.

            Reply
  10. FBH says:

    Mr. Simon, it would be very interesting to hear your thoughts (and perhaps a discourse/debate) on the merits and demerits of Voluntaryism. It seems to me that much like the co-dependency of the mainstream Left and Right, libertarianism now screams at the passing train, misses the whole point and perseveres in ideology almost solely for its own sake while we are all–left, right and middle–left standing at the station. So to speak.

    Reply
  11. Matt Clark says:

    The interview is edited as if an unpaid libertarian intern was tasked with cutting together seemingly random segments to make it seem like a conversation occurred between two robots, no offense. What were they thinking? Friend linked me to this online, great fan of your writing, but were they editing with the hope that some sort of libertarian message would come through this interview because it did nothing but shoot themselves in the foot. That guy also comes off like an ass.

    Reply
  12. Jason says:

    so much for you voting for Gary Johnson… I was really holding out hope David.

    thought you both came across pretty well. I guess I’m a little biased because 1) I’m a Libertarian and 2) I like Nick Gillespie & Reason. But all in all, it was an entertaining interview. And Reason is fair venue that analyzes the the hypocrisy of the right in this country as much as the left.

    The curious thing (as a Libertarian & devout fan of the Wire) that drove me to the show & this site is how you frame the collasal failure of the drug war that derived from government policy. I’m not sure what form of government anyone can look at and say, thank god we have those guys looking after us. They all seem to be completely inept at even the most basic things.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      As I said in the interview, there are places where I am a fellow traveler with libertarian arguments. The drug war is clearly one of them. I can name others. My critique of the interview is simply that in those places where I differed with Mr. Gillespie, he was uninterested in pursuing those differences to any meaningful degree. Either I struggled to get an explanation for those positions past his interjections and quick directional pivots during the interview, or if I did manage to eventually return to the issue and try to deepen the argument, that material was not preferred for the edit.

      Again, I found the man very likeable. And again, I am ascribing no ill motive to the outcome. But from my point view, the interview just didn’t go in any particular direction for very long. Shanked, as I used it, refers to a missed golf shot, not to anything malevolent. I think Reason could have done better. And I could have done better as well, I’m sure. But the result is, to my listen, mediocre. Your mileage may vary.

      Reply
  13. neoh says:

    As an admirer of both yourself and Gillespie, I’m selfishly glad that this post has spurred them to publish the audio of the entire interview, and I hope that comes across as the good-faith gesture it seems to me to be. I’d find it slightly saddening if this were to become a big deal between you and Reason (not that anything you’ve written above indicates that it would) partly because I like the fact that they do make an effort to engage with topics without necessarily subordinating them to “the all-encompassing logic of the libertarian ideal,” and would like to see more of that sort of thing.

    (Also, I read the linked interview around the time I first started watching The Wire, and enjoyed it greatly.)

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      I think my post is rather careful and reasonable. I’ve said I think the interview doesn’t reflect much of my arguments. That is no great tragedy. Lots of interviews don’t work, some do and all of them are, well, just interviews. But I listened to what remained of the nearly hour and half and it seemed to be a collection of fragments. A lot of Reason readers thought this as well. I said so. And I used “shank” to describe a golf shot that missed the fairway, not anything demonic or venal on anyone’s part.

      I see that Mr. Gillespie and Reason have used the verb “accused” to describe my post on their twitter feed with far more emotion than has been directed their way. Another website declares that I “blasted” Reason. The author of a previous post here genuinely thought that my mock outrage to “ball sack” was genuine. Ah, the internet.

      I do agree that printing the interview in full shows good faith and I said so to Mr. Gillespie when they told me of that plan last night. I also told him that the interview, unedited, was something that I couldn’t recommend to any viewer or reader. We did not mesh well, and perhaps neither of us were at our best because of it. And by mesh, I don’t mean agree on all points. I just think we wandered and never went deep on anything in particular. A missed opportunity, not a crime. But the edited version doesn’t do anything you might hear me say any justice one way or the other, and that more or less is what I said. If you want to know what I think — and Lord knows, you can move along just fine without it — there are better venues and better discussions around. That’s all.

      Reply
      • neoh says:

        Ha, I must confess that I read “shank” as meaning “stab” rather than anything having to do with golf or field goals, which is my error; I suppose I could have misinterpreted “hook” or “slice” with even greater ease. Anyway, missed opportunity or not – and to be honest, I thought it was worth it just for the Balzac joke – I look forward to listening to the balance of the audio, and who knows: maybe you guys will mesh better some other time.

        (The link I referred to in my comment above doesn’t appear to have shown up but, for the record, it was to this.)

        Reply
        • David Simon says:

          Oh, that shank. But I didn’t say they shanked me. I said they shanked it, meaning the interview. They stabbed the interview?

          Reply
          • neoh says:

            Certainly that would make no literal sense. But to (potentially) miss the fairway for ideological reasons?

            I still consider myself a careful reader, honest, but perhaps I was jumping too easily to “spike” (which would, admittedly, mean something else in both journalism and volleyball) — or it might have been the proximity to the discussion of the prison system. Either way, your intended meaning is more gracious and to be preferred.

            Reply
  14. Brad Hutchings says:

    Mr. Simon, Reason isn’t a hostile venue, nor is Nick a hostile interviewer. The edited discussion touched on a couple of profoundly (small-l) libertarian contemporary critiques. Private prisons… Today’s libertarians are generally pretty hostile to that game, because as you noted, they create an insatiable demand for prisoners. Nick pointing to the strength of prison guards union in CA was in support of that point about “insatiable demand”, not a pubic/private dichotomy that you seemed to interpret. The end of the edited interview, discussing the cultural dynamism that is New Orleans today… fascinating! Contemporary libertarians love how cultural things get fused together to yield new stuff.

    Most importantly, contemporary libertarianism, as explored by the current crew at Reason, isn’t partisan. Nor does it have to be fringe. It’s critiques of things that matter in the context they’re in, not a dreamy Randian universe. Nick called you a Balzacian because it is the common ground between what you do on your canvas and what Nick does on his.

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      I didn’t sense any hostility at all. I did feel that at those points in which I did venture an opinion that digressed from a libertarian viewpoint, there wasn’t sufficient interest in that viewpoint to include any of the reasoning for it. So the opinion lays there like a bagel, a provocative topic sentence that goes nowhere. That isn’t hostility, just disinterest. I thought the editing choices were weak, not necessarily mendacious.

      And, um, I know that the reference to Balzac was a compliment. I responded with mock outrage at being called a ball sack for a laugh. Mr. Gillespie seemed to get the joke. So did his crew. I’m sorry if it somehow doesn’t convey for you.

      Reply
  15. gab1138 says:

    Maybe you should have asked for “after the fact quote approval…”

    Reply
    • David Simon says:

      No can do. I respect the reportorial role too much to want to get into their process. Despite this outcome, I have to assume that others take that role and that responsibility just as seriously. Benefit of the doubt and all that.

      Reply
  16. Péter Wolf says:

    It’s not the same thing, but I felt you guesting on the Late Late Show was skipping on some real interesting subjects as well. I would have really wished to see (in a much longer segment of the show) some comparison of the current state of the US with the different point of views you guys hold, one from you, who was born an raised here and one from a man who chose to be American not so long ago and probably still has some outsider look at things going over there. (I’m referring to a similar argument you made against dismissing opposite parties with ‘where they came from’ demagoguery and how the outsider view can be just as valid as insider ones.)

    Reply

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