Drug War The Wire

I meant this, not that. But yeah, I meant it.

An unarmed black teenager was shot to death in Florida recently. You probably read about it or caught the controversy on the tube.  A lot of people are saying that the kid deserved it, that he attacked the fellow with the gun, that he was a thug, that he’d been suspended from school, that he wasn’t so innocent as people think.   Others are saying the gunman is racist, that he’s a self-appointed vigilante, that he had no business trailing the kid, that he’s kind of a nutcase.

And day after day, as the case winds toward a trial date, this beast that we have for a modern media culture will parse it  with a few more shards of information and rumor, true and false. Trayvon might have shoplifted the Skittles.  Zimmerman had no visible injuries.  Zimmerman had injuries but they didn’t show on camera. Trayvon smoked pot.

It’s what we do. It’s all that we do, really.

If we can manufacture a good guy, we can exalt him. If we can manufacture a bad guy, we can degrade him.  If we can’t decide, we can argue and call each other names.  But more than anything complicated, the dialectic is always about deciding who is the bigger asshole, in this case, dead kid or his shooter.

Is anything more at stake? And do we even care anymore?

*          *          *

Having come from the bowels of that media culture – the cop beat in Baltimore, Maryland – I find it hard to be entirely pessimistic about the dynamic.  I played the game for a long while, and that history, I suppose, makes it harder to jettison the notion that the marketplace of ideas, as unruly as it is, can actually be, well, in the idea business.

I know there’s a low end.  There’s always a low end.  And as an apostate reporter taking a check from the entertainment industry, I’m certainly not entitled to any illusions about what the low end can be.  A more calculating fellow would withdraw.  He’d make some television, take the check and tell everyone that they’re right:  Omar is the bestest.  He’d say thanks for thinking so, then go hang out by the kidney-shaped pool with the rest of the people we overpay to keep us entertained.

That guy doesn’t work on The Wire, of course.  His projects are lot more plausible, ingratiating and affirming to an audience, to be sure.   And, too, when someone from his original tribe asks him a question about the work, that guy doesn’t actually say what he thinks, but rather, he says what that audience wants to hear.   Me, I can’t help myself.  When the phone rings and it’s a newspaperman and he wants to talk about Richard Price, I give it right up.  I admire Price and want the best for his work, and I was once a newspaperman, so the conversation is an easy one. And when the reporter veers off, asking about all the recent Wire love, I answer that honestly, too.

It’s March and all of these Wire brackets have cropped up on various websites, so I think that we’re talking about all the faux tourneys and Omar versus Stringer and which season is worst and twenty-five best scenes lists and such — and I speak specifically to that mess, or at least I think I do.  Folks slathering that silly shit on the cake weren’t there when the show was struggling to survive, and now, four years later, they’re busy hacking the thing into pop-culture nuggets — which would be cool if anywhere in there an actual idea got discussed or argued or considered.  That’s my view anyway, and I let fly.

This ever-expanding drug war and what it’s doing to our society?  Boring.  The declining American commitment to public education and equality of opportunity?  Why talk about that when we can measure Namond against Dookie in the West Baltimore bracket?   The notion that an America that uses quarterly profits as its only metric is no longer a utilitarian experiment, that free market capitalism, disconnected from a social compact, has made our country coarse and unjust?  Jesus, man, you’re sucking the air out of the room.

To be clear:  I don’t think the Wire has all the right answers.  It may not even ask the right questions.  It is certainly not some flawless piece of narrative, and as many good arguments about real stuff can be made criticizing the drama as praising it.  But yes, the people who made the Wire did so to stir actual shit.  We thought some prolonged arguments about what kind of country we’ve built might be a good thing, and if such arguments and discussions ever happen, we will feel more vindicated in purpose than if someone makes an argument for why The Wire is the best show in years.  (“Buffy,” by the way, was the correct answer to that particular bracketfest.)

Yes, I do get that if you tell a story, people will acquire it on their own terms.  Yes, I do get that people value what they value and they’re no less entitled than the people who tell the story.  And yes, I do know that some things of lesser import present the opportunity for greater humor.  But when asked a question about the belated interest in The Wire, and about what that interest means to us, are the people who worked on the tale for eight years entitled to our own truths?  Or will everyone have hurt feelings if we say, no, sorry,  whether Omar is the coolest ever isn’t the salient debate for which we labored.

Because I said that much, or I tried to.  But for want of a pronoun, the New York Times seemed to think that I was critiquing ordinary viewers who got there late to The Wire, or for failing to embrace the show on my terms.  Ouch.  What I intended to criticize specifically was a media culture that, when the chips are down, values what it does and little more.  And yes, I did want to bite that hand, whether it feeds or not.

Yet I failed to answer in a complete topic sentence and the blogosphere, upon seeing the resulting offense, simply wet itself:  David Simon tells viewers he hates them.   He hates your Wire love.   He tells you how to think.  You’re watching his show wrong.  He may well be the biggest asshole since, well, since whichever asshole we were excited about a moment ago.

Seeing what I had wrought, I called the Times reporter.  Didn’t you know I was talking not about viewers in general but about all that bracketology crap that was going on?  It was clear to me what you meant, he replied, but you didn’t quite say it.  I wish, he added, I had followed up with a question that would have made it clear.  Yeah, well, maybe  so.  But hey, I’m the one who failed to convey what he meant.  Joke’s on me.

You want to go on-the-record now and talk about it?

Instead, I called a fellow who is, I’ve found, careful and nuanced in his work.  I apologized in that second forum for saying what I had no intention of saying – noting that the offending remark actually makes no sense, that it contradicts everything I’d ever said prior about how the Wire was acquired and how that allowed it to survive.  Then, I elaborated on the criticism I did intend, and answered other questions put to me.

Which of course made it worse.

More fun!  He apologizes!  What a dick.

But here’s the rub:  In the same way that  it’s largely irrelevant what anyone thinks about Omar and Bubbles, or even the individual cases of Zimmerman and Martin, it sure as hell doesn’t matter what you think of David Simon or Ed Burns.  And certainly, what they might think of you is wholly unimportant.  Yet this stuff has traction in a way that the systemic never does.  At this point, it’s easy to say that ours is a culture that no longer solves its fundamental problems, but it’s worse than that; we no longer recognize our problems for what they are.  We have no sense of perspective, of scope.

Hell, we can’t even manage an argument that matters anymore.

*          *          *

A few weeks ago, I felt so beleagured by the overall coverage of the Trayvon Martin case that I pulled up and wrote an op-ed for the Miami Herald, which argued, basically, that we’re missing the point.

Obviously the details of what happened between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman matter to the adjudication of that singular incident.   But regardless of whether Zimmerman is convicted or not, what matters far more – and requires greater attention from the media, from legislators, from the public – is that there is now a sea change in American criminal justice.

Where once it was incumbent on people who take a life to prove that they did so in self-defense, now – in Florida and nineteen other states – hundreds of years of American jurisprudence and English common law are reversed so that the burden of proof is on the state.  Now, Florida must prove that someone who takes human life did not have reasonable cause to believe they were in grave jeopardy.

Previously, this was a legal standard that we extended only to sworn and trained law officers.  If they had reason to believe that they, or fellow officers or citizens were in jeopardy – even if they were wrong in that assessment – then grand juries were routinely told not to indict. Our legal system has long understood that even good police – those not prone to excess, those fully trained in the use of lethal force – can still give you a bad shoot in a decision that is often made in a short second or two.

And now, quietly, by dint of both cash infusions from the gun lobby to legislators and scant attention from a hollowed-out press corps, this cautious standard is gone in twenty states.  Now, anyone — regardless of their role, training or ultimate purpose —  can bring a gun to an argument and take a life.  And then, if they can manufacture enough of a threat to their person, they can justify the act.  Maybe witnesses will be present to contradict their version of events; maybe not.  Maybe there will be physical evidence to invalidate their claims; maybe not.  But now, the baseline for responsibility lies not with the shooter, but with the state.

Guns don’t kill people, people do — this is the mantra that for generations has defined the prevailing ethos of the firearms lobby.  But now, the argument has moved on:  Guns don’t kill and neither do people; now, folks are just killed.  Shit happens is the new credo for this quiet, epic revolution in our country – one that has already led to many more homicides that defy prosecution in the affected states.

In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, that’s the fundamental that relatively few in the media scrum find interesting.  Legalisms have no real traction.  Rumors about Trayvon’s purported thugishness are a delight for some.  Tales of Zimmerman’s neurotic cop-wannabe behavior are a salve for the rest.  And for every article that carefully takes on the legal foundation, there are twenty or thirty more that fetishize the particulars of Zimmerman v. Martin.

A week or month or a year from now, someone else is going to walk up to a fresh victim in Florida or some other state burdened with stand-your-ground absurdity and we’ll have a new body over which to argue. Which is just fine, because does anyone really believe that our instant-assessment, instant-gratification media world  is capable of anything beyond the ad hominem?  Let them begin again and do what they do best:  Which one was the asshole?  Who is the bigger dickhead?  He deserved it.  No, he didn’t.  Which one am I rooting for?  Which one gets my vote?  Who wins?  Who loses?

Two men go in, one man comes out; may the lesser asshole win.

*          *          *

So the Trayvon Martin piece runs and on the Herald website, everyone pauses not a moment before returning immediately to argue about whether Zimmerman is a nutjob or Trayvon is a thug.  Scarcely a reader addresses himself to the transformational effect of the new law.  It’s a reaction that reflects precisely our political demeanor: Florida legislators, rather than call a special session or reopen debate on what they have wrought, have instead insisted that we should wait for more details from the Sanford shooting to come out, as if an outcome in that anecdotal case  can guide us in answering larger, more frightening questions about lethal force.

A couple weeks before writing that op-ed, I was in Baltimore, finishing a piece for the The Sun on a former officer who was shot and blinded twenty-five years ago, a good man who gave up everything but life itself trying to protect a neighborhood that is now mostly empty lots and boarded-up vacants.  From the hepatitis C he got in surgery back in 1987,  Gene Cassidy now needs a new liver, type A or O if you happen to know a donor.  And, too, what remains of West Baltimore he fought for is now a half-empty shell, a no man’s land for our relentless drug war.  The blogosphere – the second-by-second thermostat of our media culture — can’t do much with stuff like that.  They can throw up a link to a given tale or essay, sure.  They can swirl it around once or twice.  But then what?

Who is going to focus real, prolonged attention on any of the big, dry, disturbing stuff when every day, we can play with the farts and foibles of celebrity and near-celebrity.  The last twenty years has seen a great divestment in journalists who once covered issues – well-trained and committed men and women who might have, say, spent careers charting trends in criminal law and their effect, or who might be writing critical pieces about the rates of incarceration and what they’ve done to urban America.  The bodies that once did such things – or at least harbored ambitions in that direction — now don’t see the actual street.  Instead, they go to cubicles and snatch pieces of celebrity froth and mock outrage off one website, add a fresh witticism and repost.  Then they fire off another 140 characters or so alerting you to the fact that they’ve reposted.   There’s a real future in that, apparently.  Some even call it journalism.

Arguments about the taste of the bread or the look of the circuses go on forever, because, hey, Omar is cool and Bunk is funny as hell and isn’t it great when Clay Davis says the word shit.   Yes, it is nice to know that people were entertained.  It’s not that anyone begrudges an audience its pleasure; we wrote the cool stuff and the funny stuff and we enjoyed it, too.   But four years after The Wire is off the air, are we wrong for admitting aloud to other hopes and purposes for the finished work?

I know one thing:  To suggest as much, you have to choose words with a great care.  And, now, having said so again, it’s an even bet that the reaction to any of the above will be a predictable one:  Get over yourself.  It’s only TV.  Shut up.  Or on the more thoughtful side:  Just because we are having a little fun deconstructing the show into character contests or which-seasons-are-better debates doesn’t mean that we’re crowding out any serious discussion of issues.  C’mon, that’s not what this or that website is about anyway.  We’re here for fun and wit.  Someone else will fret the big stuff.  There’s a place for everything.

Well, so you say.  And somewhere else, someone might get to an idea or two, maybe in a forum that matters.  Except what got me to bleat what I did to that reporter in the first place was just such a moment, an improbable juxtaposition of a television show and Someone In Charge.  It involved a fellow, seated across from the President of the United States, interviewing him.

Now, I know that Bill Simmons is not a hard-news journalist.  He’s a sports columnist, and a good one, and at some point he apparently became enamored of The Wire.  And, too, given that my politics are somewhat to the left of the Democratic Party, it’s safe to say that Obama will have my vote in any likely contest going forward.  So god bless both fine men.

And yes, I understand that the reason for that interview – the precondition under which Obama participated, no doubt – was that it was a discussion of sports.  So, okay, no one needs to bring up a TV drama with the President of the United States for any sensible reason.  And yet at the end, Simmons chose to invoke The Wire.

If he were a hectoring asshole, an argumentative scold, a fucking killjoy, he might realize that he has The Man right there, and that he is at the end of the day acting as, well, a journalist.  So if anything is to be said about that show, well, here is a rare chance to break some ground.  He might swallow hard, seize the moment and say something along the lines of, “Mr. President.  I know you’ve said you’re a fan of The Wire.  Well, one of that show’s basic critiques is that the drug war is amoral.   More Americans are now in prison than ever before, and the percentage of violent offenders in prison is lower than ever.  We are now the jailingest society in the world, incarcerating more of each other than even totalitarian states.  How can we go on supporting this?”

Balls out like that.  Truth to power,  brah.  Get some.

Instead, to use a sportswriting cliché, Simmons choked, throwing up an ugly brick at the buzzer: “Who’s the best character in The Wire?”


Yeah, I know my question is cranky and rude.  Poor Obama, thinking he’s sitting down to talk Jeremy Lin and someone throws an actual issue at him?  The hell?

You’d have to be an asshole to do something like that.

*      *       *

A year ago, a magazine asked if I’d offer up — along with other scribblers — a brief something on a book that influenced me, that changed the way I thought or the way I wrote, or why I wrote at all.  I didn’t hesitate:  James Agee’s “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” – a book so devoted to its humanist argument that its pages made me both proud and ashamed to be a journalist in the same instant.

Agee’s classic is one of the most intimate studies of American poverty ever attempted, and at the point of publication, the author was somewhat aghast at the delicacy of the lives in the balance, the possible affront to the essential dignity of the broken, desperate world that he and Walker Evans had captured in prose and photograph.

True, the Wire was fiction, and true, too, it was operating in the medium of American television, which is premised on entertainment above all.  But concede at least that the problems depicted in The Wire are an actual dynamic in places like West Baltimore, where real people are marginalized or destroyed as a systemic function. A writer who would use such a world solely as an entertainment, or who thinks entertainment alone justifies such use – he needs to soak in “Famous Men” for at least a few chapters.

“If I could do it,” Agee declares, “I’d do no writing at all here. It would be photographs; the rest would be fragments of cloth, bits of cotton, lumps of earth, records of speech, pieces of wood and iron, phials of odors, plates of food and of excrement. Booksellers would consider it quite a novelty; critics would murmur, yes, but is it art; and I could trust a majority of you to use it as you would a parlor game… “

Is The Wire art?

Who but a professional critic gives a rat’s ass.

Is it a parlor game?

Exactly so.  With Omar as the big winner.

*         *         *


  • This is three year old, likely dead comment thread but I’m compelled to add my two cents. I’m sorry David your criticism of Simmons is pretty ridiculous and shows serious naïveté. For one, I’m sure Simmons and one of Obama’s handlers sat down prior to interview to outline the topics that were going to be discussed. It’s probably a safe assumption that “real issues” were deemed off limits or strongly discouraged. I mean, do you seriously believe Simmons was given the green light to conduct a no-holds barred interview?

    Regardless, by saying Bill choked, you are insinuating that he failed to rise to the occasion by not asking the right question. This is comical. That wasn’t the proper platform nor was Bill the right person to ask that question. Bill was interviewing the President as a means of entertaining his audience. The President participated because he’s a huge sports fan and it would be a fun way to show his “normal guy” side. If Scott Pellet had asked that question during a 60 Minutes segment, then yes, that would constitute an epic choke job because Pelley’s job is to inform not entertain.

    Honestly, you come across as a bitter guy who never got a chance to interview the President. It sounds like you wish you could be the dick who would transition to a tough question after baiting him with a question about your show, which you knew him to be a fan of.

    • Then Simmons is a chump as a pre-interview negotiator. At least by my standards.

      Mr. President, we’ll only discuss sports and popular entertainment. Popular entertainment being the category into which you could drive a politically relevant discussion of the Wire’s drug-war argument and park it.

      As to bitter, do you think that’s overstating things a bit? No? I write about what I valued in the Wire and what I can’t value, and how little interest Grantland’s March Madness rankings of Wire’s characters means to me, and in immediate reply, Bill Simmons lowers himself to name calling. I haven’t called a name yet. Not Simmons, not you, not never.

      Funny how I’m the curmudgeon and all I keep doing is explaining what matters to me and what doesn’t — and only when people ask. The other guys — and you just did it, too — are forever lowering themselves to argumentum ad hominem. Simon is this. Simon is that. Simon sounds like a whatever. But you sound swell to your own ears, I’m sure.

      There’s some discipline to how I discuss stuff. You’d do well to exercise the same with regard to your rhetoric.

  • […] Simon war nicht angetan. Anstatt mit der wettbewerbsartig dargestellten Umbesetzung der Charaktere die Serie in “Popkulturnuggetts” zu zerschreddern, hätte es Sinn gemacht, Obama gezielte Fragen zur  Drogenpolitik und der chronischen Überfüllung amerikansicher Gefängnisse zu stellen. Gleichzeitig räumt Simons ein, dass man dazu Eier haben müsse: “Balls out like that. Truth to power. Brah. Get some.” Link zu einem Essay Simons, u.a. über das Medienecho von The Wire […]

  • I always liked the letter Mr. Simon and Mr. Burns wrote to fans of the show post-season five, suggesting we decriminalize drug possession ourselves by voting to acquit should we find ourselves on a jury involving possession. I’ve fully committed to this course of action (I care about bodies, not drugs, which, as season three suggested, I think of as a public health issue rather than a criminal one), and since watching The Wire, every time I read another news article about the war on drugs and what it is causing, I get angry all over again. I strongly believe drugs should be decriminalized and the war on drugs (or the war on any noun) stopped.

    That said, I do love the shit out of Omar, and I always tell people how The Wire never gets enough credit for how funny a show it was.

    Personally, I would’ve asked Obama how he felt about Carcetti and if he identified with the show’s most prominent politician and, if so, how? As a picture of compromise, I think Obama might empathize. But I always wondered, too, how he might feel about the choices one makes to do a less-than-perfect job in order to secure a promotion or a second term.

    • Dear David Simon,

      I unfortunately share your indignation in the same terms.

      As a journalist, your point is effective.
      But as a writer of fiction you should know better.

      If The Wire had been one of these movies solely intended to shake the tree, it would have failed as a fiction and therefore in its very purpose.
      But as a television series, The Wire succeeded in planting its emotional seeds in the audience. People whoever they are tend to give a very superficial feedback when it comes to theme in fiction. Yet the systemic questions brought up by the show are there, limpid, masterfully woven. Give us all some time to lift them to the conscious level. The Wire is so full of examples that they pop up when needed, in the right time and the right place. I’m sure that every hour, there’s a conversation taking place in Obama’s administration where someone brings up Carcetti to make a point.

      Please don’t be pessimistic about The Wire’s impact on the collective political consciousness.
      This being said, your pessimism about anything else is salutary.

  • Was wondering if you had an opinion about this?


    I’m no fan of the NRA and it’s desire to arm and miltarize this country. But this sort of article makes me think about more….

    Perhaps that woman is alive because of gun ownership. Perhaps the number of women like here in this country comes close to the number of Treyvons… (i.e. shootings by a vigilante-type). That would be an interesting story to read.

  • There is a metaphor which says that the person who leads a pack of lost children out of the woods is in the most dangerous position of all. If he walks too far in front of the children, he will lose them. If he walks too close to them, he may become distracted by their idle chatter and become lost himself.

    THE WIRE did and must continue to walk that fine line between being entertaining enough to allure and yet not kow-towing so much to base enjoyment that it lost its purpose. It is really an educational program, and not every student in a class has the background or the intellectual curiosity to quickly learn all lessons. What you feel now is a teacher’s woe in knowing that you had to pass on a class to the next level when perhaps only a small percentage of them truly absorbed the knowledge necessary.

    I feel your frustrations. As a fan of the show, I got much more out of it because I had previously read THE CORNER and gotten a firm grasp on yours’ and Mr. Burns’ attitude towards the drug war, welfare, poverty & crime, etc. It can be maddening when deeper information is readily available on any bookshelf and in any library — and certainly not just in your own books — and yet some people lack the interest to go look it up and choose instead to dwell on Idris Elba’s pecs or Michael K. Williams’ admittedly fantastic swagger.

    I am, for example, constantly getting into arguments about Namand Brice. People who are simply watching for character are ruthlessly cruel about Namand; he is a punk-ass bitch, he doesn’t deserve the happy ending, why wasn’t it Randy or Duquon, etc. I find myself pushing over and over again for the point that this is not a story about separate characters living in their own vacuums and forming their own destinies through willpower. It is, rather, a story in which a city is the main character, in which all things interact and affect each other (as they do in real life) and in which every player is irrevocably trapped in their role and has little to no choice about it. Whether Namand is “cool” or “uncool” is totally irrelevant. The point of Namand is that, in contradiction of our national/cultural narrative, the reality is that you do not get out of the ghetto by being good, smart, kind, hard-working or bad-ass. You get out, maybe, only if you happen to be extremely lucky and someone with resources happens to notice your problems. It is not a question of worth or failure of will. It is a social reality that we are all a part of creating and maintaining.

    How could Stringer Bell or Omar ever be fully or rightfully described as “cool”? They are tragic characters who die at depressingly young ages, both in a pathetic, unremarked-upon manner. Their lives, strength and intelligence are squandered for no good purpose, and everything they worked for remains bitterly unacheived. To declare these or other characters from THE WIRE “cool” is not only to miss the point, it’s offensive, classist and racist — a romanticization of lives that are full of pain and struggle. I doubt any middle-class person that has the time to set up bracket websites would really trade lives with Stringer Bell for any amount of money, glory or “coolness”.

    Such romanticization must be somewhat expected from any TV show audience, by nature of the medium, but that still doesn’t mean it shouldn’t piss us off.

    Anyway, the ultimate meta-irony is that you have spoken extensively of the degradation of journalism (particularly in its on-line manifestations) leading to our current soundbite culture and now you are a victim of it yourself. “Cantankerous cuss David Simon doesn’t want your love” is a sexier headline than “David Simon wants you to reflect more seriously on the plight of urban America and the mis-guided nature of our governmental policies”, and it gets a lot more website hits.

    I’m sorry you had to go through that, but glad you have clarified. For better or worse, there’s a reason the town crier has to keep repeating himself ad nauseum.

    • I like Namond. Not least because I like the quote “With all due respect, sir, fuck you.”
      But I think the “random” nature of his…can an agnostic say “salvation”? was kind of the point.

  • As a Wire fan, my friend asked me my opinion on this and then another friend encouraged me to post it here so I thought I might (it also explains the third-person reference to Mr. Simon):

    My thinking is this:

    (1) I’m always suspicious of “good old days” arguments. Before the internet, people consumed message-driven entertainment by eating the entertainment and pooping out the message, just like they do today. Nor were newsrooms then solely filled with hard-bitten, 110% committed, compassionate cynics, nor are they now wholly devoid of them. Obviously the pace, scale (both in terms of vastness of available content and brevity of messaging), and non-linear, intertextual nature of internet communication have profoundly affected how we consume information and what we appear to do with it, but it’s not like back “in the day” people said “Oh man, I wish I had a foreshortened means of instantly relieving this sense of social responsibility but I don’t so I guess I’ll work hard to pass legislation.” The phrase “bread and circuses” he invokes is of Roman origin, so whatever he’s decrying is really just a 64-bit encrypted version of a timeless phenomenon — people are content to be entertained and leave the hard work of social reform/justice/whatever to others, to the extent they give a shit about it at all.

    (2) His main lament seems to be that “The Wire” failed to jump the blood-brain barrier from entertainment to acted-upon call to action, that he didn’t have a documentarian’s effect in a mass entertainment format: Well, (a) first off, how does he know this? Yes, sure, it’s not like episodes aired and the next morning an aroused citizenry swarmed the halls of the state senate demanding a repeal of mandatory drug sentences. But is that the only metric? To what extent has “The Wire” shaped the discourse in the relevant circles: in legislative caucuses, in lobbyist offices, in judicial chambers, etc. etc.? To me, that’s a more relevant metric of, well, relevance, than whether or not I and my chums cobbled together placards and stormed the ramparts; and (b) more personally, “The Wire” succeeds so well as entertainment — is so engaging and engrossing and transportive — that it seems almost churlish to step back and “big picture” it. Paradoxically, I thought “Blood Diamonds” failed as a movie, which let me think about the issue (no, I didn’t do dick about it, Mr. Simon). But “The Wire” was so intensely realized and so well crafted that I didn’t want to do anything other than watch it and admire how well realized and well crafted it was. It would have been an act of mental violence to cross the wires (pun unintended) between the part of my brain that is dazzled by great writing and the part of my brain that assesses the wisdom of three-strike laws. So I think he failed in part because he succeeded so much.

    • Be as skeptical as you want, but I have to point out some fundamentals, at least with regard to your comments about journalism.

      In the Baltimore Sun newsroom in 1992, there were 500 editors and reporters covering Baltimore, Maryland and the world for competing morning and evening editions and zoned sections for every major county. After eight or nine buyouts and layoffs — I have lost count, I confess — there are now about 100 people attempting to cover the same ground. The issues, the problems, the terrain are all the same, or moderately bigger if you consider the increase in Central Maryland’s population and the growing complexity of post-industrial America. Yet the failure of journalistic copyright on the internet has led to a dynamic in which the parasite is killing the host, and only a fifth of the personnel is available to address those issues and problems, or to try to hold institutions accountable.

      The Baltimore Sun is in no way atypical. The collapse is industry-wide, and it will continue unabated until print journalism realizes a proper revenue stream from web-based delivery of news. We may have seen the end of the beginning with the New York Times finally asserting copyright and requiring on-line subscriptions — a belated action that has led to real on-line profits. Perhaps the industry as a whole will take the cue and do what needs doing; otherwise, this slow suicide, as the great Molly Ivins called it, goes on.

      For an argument to offer nothing stronger than skepticism about the relative quality of what has been lost, as opposed to the quality of remains — well this suggests, forgive me, that you aren’t particularly well-read on the issue. Or, perhaps, if you are fully aware of the dynamic, you don’t see the importance of an aggressive, healthy press. But given that four out of five reporters and editors are no longer there in the newsroom, your comment seems rooted in either indifference or sophistry, or some combination of the two.

      Living in Baltimore, I can tell you that The Sun is no longer the watchdog it was in Central Maryland. Yes, there are still some good people doing good work, but there are far fewer of them, and they are covering far less ground. The paper is smaller and less effective at addressing breaking news, or at analyzing and critiquing societal problems and systems. No, that doesn’t mean that all of the 500 people who once labored there were Woodwards and Bernsteins, or that the 100 or so who remain are deadwood. But no one does more with less. They do less with less. That is why we call it less.

      This is happening at every major daily newspaper in America, save for the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, which are unique national products and which have both, tellingly, asserted for their on-line copyright. And if you think that the internet or blogs or “citizen journalism” is going to take up the slack — that amateurs and hobbyists, rather than professional journalists making a living wage and covering a fulltime beat year after year after year, are going the to hold our societal institutions even marginally accountable — you are actually quite credulous at a key point where some healthy and justified skepticism might genuinely advantage you and your community.

      As to your larger point — that the great mass of men have always been distracted by entertainments — this is certain, but something of a straw man. To cite that inevitability as a reason for storytellers to abandon any ambition beyond entertainment, or to assert for any other purpose than entertainment, seems to me not skeptical, but merely cynical. Either we have dreams, or we have nightmares. And as I.F. Stone once famously pointed out, sometimes the fights you know you are going to lose are the only ones worth having.

  • David,

    Keep up the good work – don’t get distracted by all that media junk. Regardless of when someone watched the show, anyone with half a brain will be moved and prompted to think about these issues (which are also relevant down here in Melbourne – funding for pubic education, drug war etc).

  • I ‘m 64 years old, a Baltimore native, and a journalist (OK, a sportswriter), and I just want to take this opportunity to say without qualification that The Wire was the best-written and best-acted show in the history of television. Like most viewers I came to the show late, though not as late as many. The first season was nearly over when I saw my first episode and was immediately captivated. Fortunately, I had HBO On Demand and was able to go back and watch the earlier episodes.
    That the series was not a ratings success is, I’m convinced, because audiences are too lazy to invest themselves in a show as layered and complicated as The Wire was. Indeed, I had to watch every episode twice to absorb everything that was going on, and it took a half-dozen shows before my ear was trained to understand the ghetto argot. Even now when I go back and watch the series periodically on DVDs, I see things I never saw before. I can understand why some viewers were confused, especially if they had to wait a week between episodes. The Wire was one of those rare shows that is better followed and understood when episodes are watched in bunches.
    How you, Mr. Simon, and your team of excellent writers managed to create and thoroughly develop so many major characters and then wrap up their stories without leaving loose ends absolutely astonishes me. Like everyone else, I had my favorite characters. And while I’d have to say Season Two was my favorite because of the tragic demise of the labor unions, they were all great in their own special way. As a third-generation newspaperman myself and a member of a dying industry, Season Five had a special meaning to me. How often have I been addressed by clueless editors in crisis meetings that “we have to do more with less.” Too often, as you well know.
    Mr. Simon, you captured the ills of American cities and American society brilliantly. Fifty years from now The Wire will still be regarded not just as great television but great drama.

  • I am just about to finish watching the full five season run for the fourth time. It’s not just the best show on television, it something entirely different from any other television production. I rarely re-watch or re-read anything, but once I start this series I disregard nearly all other media until all 60 episodes are done, so complete is my interest.
    Thank you Mr. Simon for composing this masterpiece, and more, for engaging your fans with this blog. If I had my choice of leaving any mark on this earth, I would hope to produce something as meaningful, funny and beautiful as the wire.

    • I am also watching the series for the fourth time, something I have never done before with a television series. There is something about the show that really touches me. I think it is the pure reality of it, the sense that these problems are right in front of us and yet invisible. The thing I respect most about The Wire, though, is its raw humanity. Unlike so much television, the show actually had something to say.

  • David,

    I believe that your preferred solution to the War On Drugs would be to legalize drugs (all drugs, even the “hard” stuff), and provide free treatment to addicts who wish to quit. If I have misstated your belief, please correct me and feel free to ignore the rest of my post.

    From the research I’ve done, it doesn’t seem that drug rehabilitation has a high rate of success in keeping addicts sober over the long term. Many treatment centers use self-reported metrics of “success” that measure whether a “treated” addict has relapsed weeks or months after leaving the facility. I can’t find any long-term statistics on the effectiveness of treatment, and most organizations (including AA) seem reluctant to participate in peer-reviewed studies.




    I’ve read countless stories about addicts who had to “hit bottom” before committing to sobriety; part of “hitting bottom” often included jail or prison time.

    I’m concerned that legalization will lead to a new welfare class of addicts who drift in and out of recovery for years or decades. Meanwhile, taxpayers would have to support these people for treatment, room, board, health care, etc.

    Frankly, I’d rather tax addicts (make them pay fines for possession or take away government benefits) and jail them when they commit crimes to support their habits instead of piss away money on unproven treatment or 12 step programs.

    Lastly, while you are right to be concerned with incarceration rates (the power of the prison guard union in California is disturbing), you can’t deny that crime rates have dropped as incarceration rates have risen. Aren’t the two correlated? I’d be interested in your opinion of New York City’s approach to crime (e.g., the “broken windows” theory and the “stop and frisk” method).

    • Just a point, but taxpayers pay for addicts’ health care, room and board in prison too, and prison is more expensive than any rehab program. That’s not to mention the billions and billions of dollars squandered on enforcing drug laws and prosecuting non-violent drug users, before they even get to prison.

  • I wish I had words as eloquent as yours to convey what this essay means. New to Baltimore, all I heard about was The Wire, and I scoffed. There is more to Baltimore than a show about the drug trade in the ghetto.

    But now I know that there isn’t more. Not to Baltimore, not to any city. The senseless war on drugs is stealing a generation and instead of coming together to combat the issues the city is confronted with, whole areas become places we ‘do not go’. We consciously abandon them, as if we not looking at them will somehow make them wither or die. Instead our learned indifference becomes apathy and finally forgetfulness. Until bodies lie on the ground.

    Then we remember that we are supposed to be afraid, to arm ourselves, to be vigilant. Against what?

    I am tired of being told to be afraid for my safety. I am petrified….of what comes next.

    • “. There is more to Baltimore than a show about the drug trade in the ghetto.

      But now I know that there isn’t more”

      No, you were right the first time. Crab cakes and the O’s count for something. The tragedy of the drug war is large, but there are many wonderful things about charm city…

  • “Where once it was incumbent on people who take a life to prove that they did so in self-defense, now – in Florida and nineteen other states – hundreds of years of American jurisprudence and English common law are reversed so that the burden of proof is on the state. Now, Florida must prove that someone who takes human life did not have reasonable cause to believe they were in grave jeopardy.”

    Hmm, you get your law degree from where exactly?

    I’m not a fan of stand your ground laws, but I don’t think they have quite the judicial sweep you think they do. The shooter is always innocent until proven guilty, and self defense has always required the shooter to simply provide reasonable doubt to the assertion that he was **not** in mortal danger. In fact, my sense of “stand your ground laws” is that the are ugly simply because of their moral tenor, and not from a truly legal standpoint.

    But I’m not a lawyer either. Perhaps a link to a couple of legal blogs would be in order.

    I’m outraged by the Martin Zimmerman case as well. But doesn’t all the hoopla sort of gloss over the fact (pretty much undeniable) that, around the time of your birth, a white man in FL could pretty much kill a black man in FL with impunity. And that this had been the state of affairs between blacks and whites in the South for more or less a hundred years.

    Not that we should break our arms slapping our backs and then sit on our laurels while black kids get shot. But if you’re going to be bringing up phrases like “hundreds of years American jurisprudence”, and implying that “stand your ground” is somehow overturning this fabulous legal history south of the Mason Dixon line …. ummm ….. perhaps you need to get the opinions of some older black folks down there.

    • Well, neither of us are lawyers, but since you chose to begin your reply with an ad hominem, I’m obliged to cite relevant experience.

      I did spend a year in a big-city homicide unit watching 250 violent deaths — many of which featured an assailant claiming self-defense — processed through the legal system, and on that detailed experience, I am willing to assert that empowering people to arm themselves and assuring them of a legal right to use force if they feel threatened is in stark contrast to how Maryland prosecutors would and do prosecute such actions.

      Moreover, it is simple business to note that there is already some journalism out there now indicating that so-called justifiable slayings have dramatically increased in stand-your-ground states and that many of these are decidedly not cases in which a compelling argument for the use of lethal force was demonstrated. Some involve the shooting deaths of people who were actually fleeing the confrontation. Morever, prosecutors in several states have said plainly that they now find the prosecution of suspects who wrap themselves in stand-your-ground defenses to be much more problematic, given the weight of jury instructions and the additional burden of proof as to the shooter’s motivation that is placed on the state. Indeed, in Florida, the law enforcement community is on the record as opposing the new statute.

      This is all in the public record, already. A search will bring up a few notable stories that provide details.

      For more, also, see a similar response in this thread that details my experience with self-defense in a functional prosecutorial framework in the Baltimore Homicide Unit. This is, indeed, a sea change from a society that once put the greatest possible sanction on the willful use of lethal force and the taking of life, to a society that now values property, and/or the ground on which we stand, more than human life.

      • No offense intended Mr. Simon – tone over the internet is hard to convey.

        Like I said, I’m no fan of stand your ground laws, although I do find the language you use to attack them a bit over the top.

        Mr brother is both a lawyer and a law enforcement officer (prominent enough to have enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame, and thus I stick to my initials when posting, since our last name is almost unique).

        I’ve discussed this case at length with him, and, although I doubt I can convince him to post directly, I think I can reproduce his opinions faithfully.I don’t think it will be very difficult for him to find literally thousands of shootings where the identity of the shooter is well known and yet no charges are filed.

        You really think this whole “I’m shocked, shocked, at the behavior of the police and prosectution in this instance” represents an experienced view of the American legal system?

        Again, this is not to defend the principles in this case, nor the stand your ground law, nor the NRA. I think the NRA has overplayed it’s hand with stand your ground laws and we’re about to see a significant and well deserved backlash.

        But I also think the national dialogue should be perhaps be more informed as to the extent that we have been a violent, “shooter-friendly” society for a very long time, and rolling back stand-your-ground won’t really change things all that much. But we might have to agree to disagree on this point.

        (Your homicide book was required reading as part of my brothers legal training, BTW).

        “This is, indeed, a sea change from a society that once put the greatest possible sanction the willful use of lethal force and the taking of life, to a society that now values property, and/or the ground on which we stand, more than human life.”

        I still find paragraphs like this to be an almost bizarre reading of the American legal tradition (or shall I say, the American extra-legal tradition), particularly amongst African-Americans, particularly in the South. The “sea change” (a phrase which implies a massive but slow metamorphisis to something totally alien from the original state) has been from the almost complete disregard for the life a young black man to the inclusion of additional legal sanction when such a life is taken (i.e. hate crime law). Shouldn’t these “sweeps of history” references reflect this in some manner?

        All the best

  • And, too, given that my politics are somewhat to the left of the Democratic Party, it’s safe to say that Obama will have my vote in any likely contest going forward. So god bless both fine men.

    Seriously, this is your solution? Your recommendation?

    If the end result of actually confronting the real issues raised by The Wire is to vote for someone who advances the War on Drugs, then we might as well all have fun with the brackets and call it a day.

    In addition to waging the War on Drugs at home, President Obama has waged war abroad. He expanded the use of drone attacks (coming to a drug enforcement raid near you) and asserted the right to imprison (NDAA) and kill (Anwar al-Awlaki) American citizens without even a charge.

    As a journalist, I’m sure you are aware of the case of Abdulelah Shaye, the Yemini journalist that Obama has had a personal role in keeping jailed.
    Why President Obama is Keeping a Journalist in Prison in Yemen

    Closer to home, we have the prosecution of Bradley Manning, and an unprecedented number of whistleblowers facing federal prosecution.

    If the result of awareness and engagement with the issues, is supporting the above policies (“god bless” the man who put them in place) then I take your post as rallying cry to go from engaged to disengaged.


    • Did you not notice that the anecdote being described involved the president?

      Simon states a preference that the president (AND the other person mentioned in the incident he abhors) should live and be well, trusting the reader (oops!) to notice that this is just part of a kind of disclaimer about not intending to denigrate either man.

      But you really read that as a solution or recommendation? I don’t call that reading at all.

      • @Jon W, if Mr. Simon abhors the policies of President Obama, why does he say “Obama will have my vote in any likely contest going forward”?

        I respect and admire Mr. Simon greatly. I’m simply pointing out a contradiction that I hope may cause him to look at the situation differently. History suggests that voting for the lesser of two evils gets you…evil.

        • This one is easy.

          No one said I abhor Mr. Obama’s policies. That’s your hyperbole. I am in agreement with a good many of his positions. Others I do not think go far enough. And some, such as the drug war, I disagree with wholeheartedly. As my politics are generally — though not always — more laborite and leftist than not, a vote for the Democratic candidate is, generally, a vote for things not getting worse at the highest possible speeds. I regard today’s Republican ideology as not merely conservative and worthy of consideration — as, say, the Republicanism of Goldwater or Buckley was worthy of consideration on an issue-by-issue basis — but utterly destructive to any sense of an American collective.

          Opting out of an obvious choice because I don’t agree with my candidate’s handling of certain issues — in this case, the drug war — would be, in my opinion, petulant and naive. And your concluding sentence, “history suggests that voting for the lesser of two evils gets you…evil” contains a remarkable equivocation. Simply put, the alternative to the lesser evil is often profound. Witness the foolishness and wasted votes of those who supported Ralph Nader in 2000. Are you going to tell me you discern no difference between the eight years that followed and what that era might have looked like had Gore won? Democracy is imperfect and consensus is elusive. But please, endeavor to live in the real world, where choices, however hard, are nonetheless choices.

          And if you’re tempted to reach yet again for an all-or-nothing logic that withholds your vote until a candidate arrives to fulfill your every wish, try offering your credo from the other side: “History suggests that voting for the greater of two evils gets you…more evil.” That doesn’t sound quite as clever, I know. But it brings home the cost of political diffidence.

          None of this precludes protest against the limited scope of two-party politics and the monetization of our electoral process, or participation in an Occupy movement, or rigorous dissent from those policies that you cannot support. For example, I won’t participate in the drug war, and if asked to judge another American on a drug statute, I will try to convince fellow jurors to acquit. Nor will I bear witness against anyone for a drug crime. Nor will I cooperate with any authority engaged in drug enforcement. And I’ll speak out about it at all points.

          But at the end of the day, if neither candidate is going to do a damn thing to end the drug war, it’s likely that on other issues, there may still be fundamental differences. Perhaps one of them is going to try to tax the rich at a more proportional rate and use the money for a utilitarian good, and the other is going to attempt to maintain the current kleptocracy, or even accelerate the thievery. Folding my arms and pronouncing myself too pure to wade in and figure out which fellow is going to do the greater damage is not, in my opinion, a responsible stance. It can always get worse. And when too many people do nothing, it usually does.

          • Mr. Simon, I’m curious about why you invoke this discredited myth that Nader somehow spoiled the 2000 election. I’m no expert in political science but it seems fairly clear that Nader’s strategy was not that of a candidate targeting Gore (cf. Barry Burden’s paper here https://mywebspace.wisc.edu/bcburden/web/burden2005.pdf ). It just seems a bit disingenuous to scold people who did not vote strategically as though they are to blame for Bush’s win, while also criticizing the narrowness of a two-party system. Gore was not entitled to those votes any more than Bush or Nader was, especially given the facility of this claim with the benefit of hindsight. Why shouldn’t they go to a third party?

            • I am entirely certain that had Nader not received the votes that he did, Al Gore would have been president. Moreover, the very document that you cite above makes that explicit on its very first page:

              “Ralph Nader stands as perhaps the most consequential minor- party presidential candidate in nearly a century. His meager 2.7% of the popular vote is not among the largest third-party showings by a long shot, but he nonetheless played a pivotal role in determining who would become president following the 2000 election. The outcome itself remained undecided for weeks following election day, as neither George W. Bush nor Al Gore had earned a clear majority of the electoral vote. Though the media in the aftermath focused on ballot design and other administrative issues, it is now clear that Nader held the
              election in his hands. His absence from the campaign would have allowed Gore to win not only the popular vote but the Electoral Col- lege and the presidency (Burden, 2003; Collett & Hansen, 2002; Magee, 2003). Nationwide, Nader earned almost 3 million votes, whereas Bush and Gore were separated by only 500,000. In Florida alone, Nader got 97,488 votes, more than 180 times the difference between Bush and Gore. Nader’s presence obviously had the effect of throwing the election to Bush.”

              There is no myth involved, only fact. Nader’s intentions are wholly irrelevant to the tactical issue as I argue it. The two-party system often presents us with choices that amount to the lesser of two evils. The original poster argued that attempting to negotiate one’s vote between the lesser of two evils simply produces evil. I think this is sophistry and argue that refusing to exercise the choice has real consequences, and further, that a vote for Nader in 2000 — given that Nader could not win, but either Bush or Gore would win — was a vote for a Bush presidency. The paper you cite agrees that this was in fact the practical effect of Nader’s presence in the race.

              That Nader did not wish to play that role doesn’t matter to the outcome. That those who voted for them didn’t support a Bush presidency doesn’t matter to the outcome. That this was the actual result of their actions is nonetheless beyond dispute.

              My argument is tactical. Your argument seems to be more philosophical. But frankly, it is hard to be philosophical when one addresses the actual cost of Nader’s presence in that race. The original poster suggested that there was no real difference between the two evils in a given election. The body count in Iraq alone makes this suggestion problematic.

              • Yes that’s true, my interest in the claim that Nader played a spoiler role has little in common with the use to which you’re putting it in your argument. My reason for calling the spoiler attribution a myth is a simple causal one: even if it was an effect of Nader’s presence in the race that Bush ended up winning, it doesn’t follow that this was the sole or even the primary cause of that effect. There were countless other causes: the fact that the race came down to a state where Nader was on the ballot rather than some other state, the fact that Gore failed to earn enough votes to secure a decisive victory, the interventions of Jeb’s minions, etc. Had any of those facts been different, they would have been just as causally relevant to bringing about a different outcome as Nader’s hypothetical absence is alleged to have been.

                But yes, this is just a silly philosophical point about causal reasoning. Thanks for your time, I look forward to your future posts.

  • One question that has bothered me for several summers now…the KIA hamsters commercials to the Black Sheep song, did they base that on Hamsterdam?!

  • Thank you, David – I’m a great admirer of your work.

    Perhaps this is addressed in the other comments – I took the time to read your fine piece but only a few of the comments – but the New Yorker did what I thought was a good story on to proliferation of guns in the US and the history of the second amendment – how it has only recently been interpreted as law to be invoked by individuals, rather than by groups such as state militia, and the insanity of that movement with the NRA at its head. I agree with you that JOURNALISM is on the way out, while COMMENTARY is king, and that that is corrosive for our society. But there are still good things being written, and it’s up to us to find and support those authors and publishing venues.

    Thanks for your blog, and the television you produce. The latter has provided me with much provocation and pleasure.

  • The second case of “Stand Your Ground” killing is indeed here, as you’ve no doubt seen on the front of the NYTimes . It barely mentions Georgia’s “expansive” self-defense shooting law, and the district attorney offers this quote: “’I couldn’t see that I could find a jury that would convict.’ Most people in a rural area with a high percentage of gun ownership would most likely accept that the fatal shot was in self-defense, he said.”

    I briefly looked around for statistics on how frequently household guns are used to kill innocent strangers, guilty attackers, family members, and suicides, and didn’t find reliable stats. It only seems reasonable that shifting the onus onto the state is inviting hotheads to kill innocents and harmless creeps with impunity. I’d still like to know how often that actually happens.

    I wish our culture told its citizens that if you choose to keep a gun in your house, and you misuse it in a moment of terror or confusion, no matter how nice a person you are, you’re going to prison.

    • The overall shooting and crime statistics are incredibly positive, unless you believe the FBI is juking the stats. (Hint – they aren’t. Trust me on this one.)


      The stats re: stand your ground shootings are troubling, but bear in mind stand your ground shooting are a tiny, tiny sliver of overall shootings.


      But perhaps you are not interested in actual numbers but rather in “stories”.

      • You seem to assume there is any correlation between gun ownership and the rates of violence, and seem to credit a higher rate of gun ownership with a reduced rate of violence. This is, I’m sorry, utterly divorced from reality. The lowest rates of violence in the western world are in countries that restrict gun ownership and certainly from countries in which carrying a concealed or unconcealed weapon in public is prohibited.

        If you want not to the victim of lethal force, it helps to not be American.

        Moreover, my years of police reporting indicates wide variations in FBI Uniformed Crime Statistics in which the rate of gun ownership did not change. One of the key factors in declining or accelerating urban violence in America has nothing whatsoever to do with the proliferation of guns. It is pharmacological. When the corners go to cocaine — or a metabolite — a city sees its rates of violence spike dramatically. A coke epidemic, whether it is crack- or speedball-based, brings the urban drug culture to a boil. A heroin epidemic narcotizes corners. Every East Coast city experienced their greatest spikes in violence when cocaine and crack dominated drug use — according to DAWN statistics on emergency room admissions — in the late 1980s and early 1990s. That was followed with a dramatic decline as cocaine users could no longer sustain the rock-chase, and crashed, turning to heroin. That pendulum among drug users has been documented medically since the 1970s.

        Population and demographic differentials — as the baby boomlet that followed the big spike of the original Baby Boom aged out of the most volatile years — also led to a notale decline in crime nationwide.

        Crediting gun ownership as a meaningful factor or giving it any relation to the rates of violence is without any proveable statistical merit. On the other hand, as you point out, a lot of gun owners are now standing their ground and shooting people, some of whom, clearly, do not need to be shot.

        • “You seem to assume there is any correlation between gun ownership and the rates of violence, and seem to credit a higher rate of gun ownership with a reduced rate of violence. ”

          Trust me, I don’t believe that at all. As someone who was once chased 3 blocks by youths (credibly) yelling “shoot him, shoot him”, I don’t want to carry a gun while jogging, nor provide easy access to firearms to 12 year olds.

          All I’m saying is, overall, Americans are shooting each other less. I suspect this has more to do with demographics than anything else (as you seem to agree).

          “On the other hand, as you point out, a lot of gun owners are now standing their ground and shooting people, some of whom, clearly, do not need to be shot.”

          Look, the media seems to abhor long division. Some pit bull kills a guy, we’re inundated with stories about pit bull killings, and how they are **on the rise**, etc. No-one bothers to point out that “pit bull kills man” is a tiny, tiny slice the overall “man gets killed” pie, and comment about how professional statistician are loathe to draw trends from tiny sample sizes, etc.

          While “stand your ground” shootings are not as rare as “killer pit bulls”, they are very rare. You take the total number of SYG shootings,. and divide by the total number of shootings overall, and you get a very small fraction. Even though the first number appears to be going up, and the second going down.

          So all I’m saying is (a) let’s at least awknowledge the second number is going down, and this is a nice trend and (b) that the first number is a pretty small number (when put into the context of a 300 million population) and thus a bit of caution is in order when extrapolating it’s variations into signs of impending social doom.

        • “The lowest rates of violence in the western world are in countries that restrict gun ownership and certainly from countries in which carrying a concealed or unconcealed weapon in public is prohibited.”

          Please, do we need the comparisons to Europe and Japan. The US is very different socially from those countries (with or without guns). You could ban guns tommorrow – it’s not going to turn NYC into anything resembling Tokyo in terms of social decorum or violence.

  • Sure, you can argue that the larger question of how SYG laws have shifted the responsibility of identifying who is culpable in a shooting, but your thrust that people are missing this question rings hollow. Yes, it does, if you rely on the comment sections of newspapers and blogs. No it doesn’t if you look at how Color Of Change has mobilized millions of folks to help persuade large corporations to walk away from ALEC, the conservative business organization that provided the blueprint for SYG laws.

    While walking back these laws will require walking back TPGOP gains in state houses across America and shifting the discussion across dinner tables, there has been a real and notable consequence of the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Hopefully, it is only the first step.

  • I was a latecomer to the wire. I never saw a second of it when it was first broadcast. Sure, I remember seeing the commercials and hearing about how critically acclaimed it was. That was not enough to get me to tune in. Just last year, a colleague turned me on to the show last year and I watched one episode after the other, compulsively.

    Your politics may be left of the Democratic party. I have always been a Republican and a conservative. But, what passes for Republicanism and conservatism in this country these days is far from what I think it should be.

    It is obvious to everyone that drugs are a bad thing and ruin many lives. If the war on drugs was working, it would be stupid to argue against it. The problem is that it is not working. It is impossible to argue that.

    You are frustrated that there is no debate about this? If the war on drugs was the only issue of the day about which there was no debate, I might say that we could live with that. The truth is that there is no debate about any of the important issues of the day. For example, we have permitted and encouraged a large portion of our enonomy, manufacturing, to relocate overseas. At best, when addressing this someone might say something about the global economy or something like that. If you look into this, you will realize that the “global economy” was created by our own policies. It was not inevitable. Most of these policies were enacted at times when headlines were dominated by stories like the O.J trial. I am left to conclude that the real news is not being reported.

    So, in our global economy, Apple, a company that dismisses as impossible the thought that iPhones could be manufactured in the United States, has recently been pullng in profits of over $150 million a day. Apple’s claims are not challenged. Instead, to the extent that Apple is questioned at all, it is about whether its Chinese workers now making $400 a month while working sixty hours a week are working in unsafe factories. This is a claim that Apple disputes, by the way.

    While this is going on, largely without any examination in the media, can it be any wonder that places that formerly lived and breathed manufacturing are the areas that seem to have the biggest drug problems? Just asking . . .

  • For understanding systems, and how to approach system change, I recommend Thinking in Systems by Donnella Meadows.

    I think you’ve demonstrated what one person stuck in a situation with limited options can do to transcend those circumstances and make a bigger impact than if you had simply played by the rules you were boxed into. You were one reporter in an industry in decline in a culture decreasing the extent to which it values journalism… and yet you broke through the fog with a stunning systemic analysis brought vividly to life in a way that no newspaper reporting ever could. Tragic? Yes. Art? Fuck yes. Politics? Fuck yes. Agent of change? Surprisingly, yes. But no system change will happen overnight. And what you’ve called your “love letter to Baltimore” stands up on many different levels, all valuable.

    The one bone I’d pick with what you’re saying here is the cave-in to corporate politics. Given that your “politics are somewhat to the left of the Democratic Party”, why is it “safe to say that Obama will have [your] vote in any likely contest going forward”? Why make it safe to say that the man who campaigned on relaxed enforcement of marijuana prohibition and yet turned 180 degrees and ramped up enforcement against state-sanctioned operations would get your vote? That should be anything but safe. On the drug war alone, Obama’s hypocrisy and deceit should be enough to make him have to grovel for your vote. But across the board, on issue after issue, he has proven himself to be a champion of profits over people, a friend of the 1%, not of the kids whose futures are being stolen from right under their eyes.

    I think it’s time we start standing up and speaking up for the politics we want, not choosing the politics we hate but will accept because the other option is so batshit crazy. Occupy Wall Street broke free from the false, narrowly-defined debate between the Democrats and Republicans (as if they represented anything other than corporate interests). The rest of us can break free of that too.

    • I’ma guess it’s because throwing your vote away isn’t as effective or creative as those other transcendent activities you mentioned. Given that we’re talking specifically about the election of THIS year, what candidate do YOU think offers someone left-of-Dems the best bang for their buck? No points for mentioning someone with less than a 0.0001% chance of becoming president in 2013. Short list ain’t it?

      • Your reasoning is quite restrictive, and would have foreclosed on the whole Occupy movement before it ever got started, simply because no left-of-center social movement has made any significant change in decades. Given that we’re ALWAYS talking about the election of THIS year, and *both* choices ALWAYS give us policies that are unjust and unwarranted, perhaps you should try thinking outside the box. Besides, if Bush had signed NDAA, there would have been a thundering response in the streets… but because Obama did it, liberals and “progressives” continue to look the other way, shrug their shoulders, and are preparing to vote once again against their interests.

  • for the definitive analysis of the burden of proof of the affirmative defense of self-defense, see Judge Moylan’s exhaustive — and fascinating — opinion in Evans v. State, 28 Md.App. 640 (1975).

    while the state must prove every element of the offense charged beyond a reasonable doubt, if a defendant (like Zimmerman) asserts self-defense as an affirmative defense to the charge, the defendant bears the burden of proving their defense by only a preponderance of the evidence.

    • Exactly. I don’t know how so many people on here are arguing that something else is true when it clearly is not. Seems like the least we can all do is understand the basic facts before we argue about the murkier issues.

  • Where once it was incumbent on people who take a life to prove that they did so in self-defense, now – in Florida and nineteen other states – hundreds of years of American jurisprudence and English common law are reversed so that the burden of proof is on the state. Now, Florida must prove that someone who takes human life did not have reasonable cause to believe they were in grave jeopardy.

    The Common Law has not said that for a very long time. Not in the US. Not in England. Not in New Zealand. The seminal case in common law terms is the decision of the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords in Woolmington v the Director of Public Prosecutions:

    “Throughout the web of the English Criminal Law one golden thread is always to be seen that it is the duty of the prosecution to prove the prisoner’s guilt subject to … the defence of insanity and subject also to any statutory exception. If, at the end of and on the whole of the case, there is a reasonable doubt, created by the evidence given by either the prosecution or the prisoner … the prosecution has not made out the case and the prisoner is entitled to an acquittal. No matter what the charge or where the trial, the principle that the prosecution must prove the guilt of the prisoner is part of the common law of England and no attempt to whittle it down can be entertained.”

    An affirmative defence is one you must raise, not one you must prove. That’s how the presumption of innocence works. If the prosecution proves you killed someone, or you admit you killed someone, and your lawyer simply says “it was self-defence”, and provides any basis for this (e.g. “see, he was injured” then the prosecution has the obligation to disprove that beyond reasonable doubt. Someone who acts in lawful self-defence is not a criminal. They are not obliged to prove that this is so, it for for the prosecution to prove that it is not. This is in no way new. That’s how the presumption of innocence works.

    There is, as noted above, an exception for insanity. A person seeking an acquittal on the grounds of insanity has the obligation of proving on the balance of probabilities (i.e. more likely than not) that they are insane. There can also be specific statutory exceptions, but I don’t know of any that apply to murder.

    • Let me address your legal parsings here by summoning the empiricism of real-world process:

      I spent a year in a big-city homicide unit watching detectives process 250 or so violent deaths. In many, many of those cases, a defendant would claim self-defense. Under the Maryland Code, which does not to this day subscribe to a stand-your-ground standard, if someone used lethal force and there was no certain or definitive evidence that they were themselves confronting a lethal threat — i.e. the victim really did have a weapon, and really did menace the shooter with that weapon — they were charged with murder or manslaughter in varying degrees and prosecuted. Other than police-involved shootings, the number of cases not prosecuted because of sufficient evidence for self-defense in a given year could be counted on one hand. In 1988, the year that I followed the homicide unit, there was one such case only.

      If a defendant chose to make a case for self-defense, the burden was with him to produce sufficient evidence to sway a grand jury, and failing that, a trial judge or jury.

      Given that a premeditated choice to use lethal force and the fact that this choice had resulted in the death of another citizen — and given that the defendant HAD NO SPECIAL STANDING UNDER THE LAW NOT TO YIELD GROUND OR NOT TO BRING LETHAL FORCE IF HE THOUGHT IT NECESSARY — the legal burden for achieving a successful acquittal on grounds of self-defense remained formidable.

      Case after homicide case is coming up in the affected states in which shooters killed unarmed adversaries, sometimes even chasing after them and shooting them when they attempt to flee, and prosecutors are being quoted as saying they no longer can rely on the law to restrict such behavior. Check the New York Times and this assertion will be quickly affirmed.

      Where once we were a society in which the premeditated use of lethal force and the taking of a life were looked upon as the least desirable and least civilized outcome — where we valued human life over property, or the ground that we stand upon — we are now indulging in a legal argument for the opposite. No one needs to walk or run from a confrontation; we can all worry less that the state will look askance at our decision to continue or escalate the argument, or bring lethal force to play in that argument.

      The proof for how appropriately problematic a self-defense argument should and ought to be: The behavior of the veteran homicide detectives I followed for a year in Baltimore. One of their signal interrogative techniques was to convince a suspect that his decision to kill was mitigated, that he could justify the choice, that he probably only fired the gun in self-defense. And when a suspect would agree that this was indeed the case — sometimes even constructing a scenario by which it might be the case — their statement was written up and were immediately charged with murder and sent to pretrial — unless there actually was substantive corroboration that the self-defense claim was legitimate.

      That’s still the play in a Maryland police precinct. I don’t think Florida detectives now employ that tactic with the same degree of hope as their brethren in thirty other states whose legislators have not yet been purchased with gun-lobby funds.

    • You are entirely wrong in your point about self-defense. The defense must raise it as a defense, and the burden of proof also rests on the defense. If the defense can prove self-defense so that the state has no longer proven the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, then yes, the jury is instructed to acquit.

      I suppose a good way of demonstrating this to you is to ask you to think about the following: Suppose a defendant admits to intentionally killing someone, but claims it was in self-defense. The defendant then introduces no evidence whatsoever that it was in self-defense, nor introduces any witnesses to testify on this account. The state would not have to introduce evidence of its own to contradict the self-defense claim. The burden is on the defendant.

      I hope this helps.

  • I came to this post after reading a blurb on the blog on Slate.com and seeing your question to Obama. First of all I think its a really good question to ask. The purpose and moral value of the ‘war on drugs’ is less and less evident for the reasons you highlight and others. Because I agree with the point you are trying to make I want to ask if you meant to use the the word you used in your question :”amoral”.

    Something is amoral if it has no moral value (one way or the other). It is literally without any moral content. Eating a peanut butter sandwich is amoral. Waking up in the morning is amoral. etc.

    The rest of the question seems to imply that you want to say something stronger than this, which is that the war on drugs is immoral: that is, it is morally wrong to ‘fight’ the war on drugs for the reasons you state.

    Yes it’s a small point, but it seems an important one for two reasons. First of all it is a point that one who doesn’t agree with the statements you are making could use rhetorically to make you (and by association the views expressed by you) look foolish or uninformed. Given the views expressed elsewhere in the post it seems that many of your critics like to play that game.

    Secondly, it seems perfectly plausible to me that the drug war could be amoral, i.e. without moral content, and that this could be a problem for something meant to produce a moral ‘good’. However, it is unclear from the question what you mean to ask, and because the question is a strong one that, in my opinion, should be delivered to power, I would like to know which of the two claims you were making.



  • I am a latecomer to watching The Wire. During its run, I was too busy raising kids as a single mother, and certainly didn’t have HBO. Still don’t have HBO. Now someone I do editing and publishing consulting for recommended it to me when I was lucky enough to have a free Netflix trial. I kept Netflix going, one of the cheaper packages, largely to be able to finish the series. I’m almost finished season 4 now, and my closeset friend and I watch it together or I pass it to her after I’m done. So two new fans. And we talk a lot about the show afterward, and the sexiness of Idris Elba and others in the cast is the smallest part of our conversations. The characterizations are startling. I’ve begun reading bios and blogs to learn about many of the actors. The humor is so classy, such mildly stylized realism. I can understand and appreciate your rant, however I think artists are always crying out against the wind and that the message from honest art always does get out. Does it get out to the masses? Ever? Does it work immediate and quantifiable wonders? Even falling on hearing ears and tender souls, the results may take time to show, but they do show. They do. Maybe in little ways but those things add up. Art does matter and if you don’t want to be in the realm of art, then get directly into politics. Artistic renderings bypass the rational mind and plant seeds in the soil of the soul. From what I’ve read, many of The Wire actors have set up organizations that help in the poor and disadvantaged communities in Baltimore and in other places. Don’t let what many people are like distract from what some people are like and the good some people do. That is my 2 cents. Love the show. Feel changed forever by it in some ways, really enriched.

  • Yikes. David, you gravely misrepresent our past and current judicial systems. It has always been incumbent on the state to prove every element of a case against a defendant. That is fundamental.

    And people can debate the costs and benefits of “stand your ground” laws, but such laws do not represent a novel shift in either American or English law. Criminal law today is based on a civil code (not common law) where rules are explicitly laid out. Yes, “stand your ground” represents a change in how the Model Penal Code and various state incarnations of the MPC look at self-defense. But if you were attacked in 19th century America or England, you would not have been barred from using deadly force to protect yourself even if you had means to escape.

    “Stand your ground” laws are not the cause of or solution to our problems. I think the actual, substantive questions raised by the Trayvon Martin case have more to do with how we relate to each other as a society. I don’t know what was in Mr. Zimmerman’s mind when he followed that boy, but I do suspect that Zimmerman would not have acted the same if the boy was white. These suspicions, however, are hard to prove. So instead of judging Zimmerman, I think the appropriate response should be one of sadness and reflection about how we view others in our community.

    • This is not correct. Each state chooses its own criminal laws, either through statutes passed by its legislature, or, when there is no statute addressing a specific issue, through common law. The Model Penal Code was compiled by the American Law Institute to serve as a guide, it is not the law, although many states have implemented its suggestions.

      While you are correct in writing that the state must prove every element of a case against a defendant, proving that the defendant was not acting in self-defense has never been required. Self-defense, much like insanity, must be proven by the defendant.

      I find it curious that you would attack David’s understanding of the law when you clearly do not understand it.

  • The reason most people love The Wire is because of its entertainment value. It’s unfortunate, but entertainment is the most important part of the show. Otherwise… well, I don’t know how the miniseries adaptation of The Corner went over at first, but I imagine that if The Wire had the same level of non-fictional entertainment as The Corner, it would have had the same viewership as The Corner did originally (but then maybe it would’ve won an Emmy). Our culture indignantly rejects the notion that it should eat its vegetables unless they’re drenched with processed cheese that’s full of high fructose corn syrup.

    Another factor is the constantly joking nature of Internet society, which was largely determined by teenagers and college students. In many parts of the Internet, taking things seriously (and behaving like a human being who is capable of empathy) is seen as a sign of weakness. Of course it’s not like that everywhere but the attitude seeps throughout, so many people are wary of being serious online. Perhaps saying “Omar is cool” is just a safe, subconsciously coded way of endorsing the issues brought up by The Wire. What cowards we Internet socializers are.

    I’m always disappointed when someone whose opinions I highly regard supports a major party. It’s an attempt at fine-tuning, which, as we’ve seen, doesn’t actually fix anything. Too many of us are caught in the trap of “I have to sell my soul to stop a slightly greater evil”. Maybe that’s worth something in the short term but in the long term it guarantees that greater evil will show up later. The Democrats would be foolish to listen to anyone who’s giving them their vote no matter what, so the only concern left is how to please those on the right. I imagine a future where the Republican platform is the death penalty for any woman who has an abortion, while for the Democrats it would be merely life imprisonment. The left will clamor to support life imprisonment for a woman who has an abortion, because they support a woman’s right to choose.

  • David–Thank you for blogging

    Many of us are complicit in the media’s promotion of the amusing over the thoughtful, the soundbite over discourse. I find this both sobering and empowering.

    I share your sentiments about Agee and Walker’s work. I would be a different person if their book hadn’t disrupted an adolescence lived in Montgomery Cnty, MD.

  • I really enjoyed this essay. I had no interest in the Wire brackets when I came across them, and I did (and do) think that they were utterly beside the point. As some of the comments point out, the only possible value of the brackets might be to introduce the Wire to people who might not otherwise be exposed to it; however, I don’t think that end would lessen the frustration of having one’s work re-purposed and reduced to its base elements, and have those elements pulled from the overall context of the work and placed into the public sphere in some ill-defined and otherwise meaningless popularity contest.

    As for Simmons himself, I disagree with one of the other comments that wrote that we shouldn’t have expected him to go beyond the fanboy-level question to the POTUS about his favorite character. Although Simmons is an entertainment/pop culture/sports writer, and those subjects are often written off as lite or trivial, I think that Simmons has more than demonstrated an ability to ask probing questions (particularly when interviewing writers), and it seems that having the POTUS explain what he found so compelling about the Wire could have led to a more in-depth discussion about broken institutions, etc. Having said that, if I recall, that was one of the last questions he asked, and it was off-topic from the rest of the interview.

  • Hi,
    I first saw The Wire when I was a sophomore in high school, after reading Sepinwall’s recommendation for the show on his own blog, and I just want to say that your creation helped change my entire world view. Your show fully splayed out the intricacies of bureaucracies of all shapes and forms and showed the Sisyphean the task of reforming these institutions were. I feel like I’ve become a more intelligent and extremely cynical person as a result of the show and whether or not you intended The Wire to have this effect on people like me, I just want to thank you for creating the show. It’s hard to explain the full effect that The Wire has had on my life in this one comment, but it’s made me the person I am today, and that’s not hyperbole. Thank you for everything.

  • I have not researched how these stand-your-ground laws are playing out both on the street and in the courtyard. I am not a lawyer. However, (I read that) the Florida prosecutor indicated that if a’stand-your-ground’ defense is used at Zimmerman’s trial, she will fight to have it dismissed, as she has in other Florida cases. Although I agree with your lament about how this law turns jurisprudence on it head and can be used to justify vigilantes, I’ve thought from the beginning that this killing seems beyond the stand-your-ground law because (so far) there is little evidence that Zimmerman had cause to believe his life was in danger. Zimmerman seemed to be in control of the entire situation, from first following Martin, to calling 911, to renewing his search for Martin. And after all, he is the only one who had a gun that day.

  • @Connor, you express my sentiments exactly. I had forgotten those awestruck early moments in The Wire where I realized I wasn’t going to be given pat solutions and stock characters. And I was thrilled! While I’m far too cynical to ever have completely bought into the whole “hope and change” thing, I did think there would be some measurable difference or improvement. Something to grab ahold of. There hasn’t been; not that it’s entirely Obama’s fault. The problems are enormous; the lack of cooperation among politicians and common Americans is epic. But even this cynic is frightened by how much electoral politics (and life choices in general?) has truly come down to “which is the bigger asshole?”.

  • Hey Tofu, just to clear something up. The burden of proof is always on the state to prove a crime, but if a defendant admits to killing someone and wants to claim it was in self-defense, then this is an affirmative defense and the burden of proof is on the defendant. The state would have to prove that Zimmerman killed Martin, and prove the required mental state for the corresponding charge, but here Zimmerman does not contest that he killed Martin, nor that he meant to. Instead, he is claiming self-defense. Traditionally, the burden of proof would be on Zimmerman to show the factors required for self-defense, such as a reasonable belief that he was in danger, but now in Florida and all other stand your ground states, the burden of proof is on the state to show that Zimmerman was not acting in self-defense.

  • Mr. Simon,

    I couldn’t agree with your statements more, yet I loved The Wire brackets, the recaps, etc. Something in your wording speaks to a perceived zero-sum game between the sociopolitically-inspired Wire devotees among us and the pop fanatics who are interested in the Horse Face vs. Marlo fantasy match-up . I think I speak for many when I say your show was a multi-layered marvel. I simply enjoy each level for its intention. I find humor in the humorous and irony in the ironic. Best of all, I find despair in the desperate and it motivates me to analyze the Wire in uncomfortably close detail, hoping to find the intersection between Simon’s Baltimore and the situations around me that I have the power to change (I work in public policy).

    In these opinions I’m aware I speak for only myself, but I feel you’re giving short shrift to those of us who choose to intone a well placed “Shheeeeiiit” during an otherwise dull work day. Please rest assured that many of those same people carry your deeper messages as well.

    Also, and I’m admittedly theorizing, I think there’s something about delving into fandom of The Wire that allows us to not let it end. It’s your fan community’s way of keeping it alive even though production has been over for half a decade.

    If you ever see this, thanks for listening.

    Your huge fan,


  • HI, David,

    I sympathize with your despair over fan culture. So much of it seems like mastery through cataloging, and I see it in the horror film class i teach (esp. the young men who want to trot out their bona fides to one another), but i also sometimes see someone moved to truly think about the genre and its effects or in the comments of a student who used horror film as a coping mechanism (here’s a quotation: “As awful as it was to be beaten by my father, at least he wasn’t chasing me with a chainsaw”), and I do know that my students, most of whom are 18-25, will have a much different row to hoe than those of us over 40 (one where jobs are harder to come by, the world is more polluted, politicians are more likely bought and paid for by a superpac, etc.). The cataloging and collecting may be the only arena where the fanboy feels any power (and the world tells men they must feel powerful).

    None of this is to say that your point about Omar and bracketology is off base (I do confess to wanting to buy an Omar baby bib off of Etsy, even though I don’t have a baby or need a bib), it’s just that I sympathize with the desire to be a fan of _The Wire_, as meaningless and impotent and lazy as this is.

    I don’t know what to do about Stand Your Ground laws, either, or how to shift the conversation about education away from the focus on crisis and solution (obviously more tests and test curriculum created by testing companies) to what children and teachers actually need to be successful, or how to get people to critique three strike laws (or pay attention to the fact that men in prison are often read below a sixth-grade level).

    I am, however, glad you have a blog and will comment now and again if it’s not too offensive.

  • Er, isn’t the entire basis for the justice system that the burden of proof be on the state? I see the distinction you’re making, but I think it’s a pretty fine one.

  • Great points. You give voice to concerns that we all should care more about and take action. That said, I think your expectations of Bill Simmons are too much. Obama should be asked these questions, but Bill Simmons isn’t the guy to ask it just as you aren’t the guy to excoriate the NBA for their poor decisions. Asserting that Simmons choked can unfortunately be perceived as an ad hominem that undercuts your other fantastic points. Simmons doesn’t have to be wrong for your points to be valid. Your points have more than enough strength to stand on their own. And you are no more a blow hard than Simmons is a choker.

    • I don’t quite understand how any comment I made about Mr. Simmons can be perceived as an ad hominem at all. Argumentum ad hominem is defined as arguing to the man himself, rather than to his performance or ideas.

      For me to characterize Mr. Simmons in any way might suggest an ad hominem attack. but I did no such thing other than to say he was a good columnist. Instead, I characterized his performance, his statements, his actions — my position is based only on those things and in no way on his person. Make sense?

      For someone to say David Simon, from his statements, seems to misunderstand the internet and its purposes, that is a critique without logical fallacy. My statements and actions and performance must necessarily stand to be analyzed and criticized. To say that David Simon is an opinionated asshole, ergo, his ideas about the internet — its benefits and costs — are bullshit, well, that’s argumentum ad hominem.

      And that’s not my definition of the fallacy, that’s one that you’d get in a rhetoric or logic class, if they still offer those. For me, along with economics and Shakespeare, the most fun I ever had in college classrooms came from rhetoric and logic courses. Not that I’d want to flash you my grades or anything.

  • David–A lot here to digest, far more than I would even attempt to address with a couple of quick comments. Aside from everything else, you seem like you’d be a good guy to shoot the s— with over a beer. There are times when the world just seems so screwed up that it’s all you do to stand and protect your little piece of it from all the madness. You seem to be a guy who cares and that’s an increasingly rare trait.

    We live in this culture that has a divide that is more than just driven by class. It’s increasingly becoming one of those demented societies that pop up in futuristic science fiction movies. I was interviewing someone last week in a neighborhood that is beyond poor, with a few good people trapped in unsafe houses that they can’t afford to leave. As I left the building, I couldn’t help noticing that the sole thing on the block that looked as if it was new was a huge sign promoting the new iPhone.

    We live in sad, weird times.

  • Wow I am not sure what three is left to say here but Kudos for saying it. People miss the point all the time. Who says that TV cant be thought provoking the same way it was in books such as The Jungle or The Grapes of Wrath.

    I look forward to more of your writing on this blog, but more on TV as well.

  • David,
    What would be your solution for reviving urban places like West Baltimore? And is legalization your solution to ending the “war on drugs” or do you support another method to fight drugs while decreasing the incarceration rate?
    I do not ask these questions to be a jerk. I am sincerely interested in your thoughts.
    Thanks again for The Wire. It both entertained and challenged.

  • Mr. Simon,
    I think there is one large part of this that your post does not address: the lack of ability (if you speak to them)/interest (if you speak to anyone else) of any media entity to make long form investment in things that you may need to know, but don’t WANT to know. One of the biggest detriments of information democratization (which has largely been positive) is it allows the consumer to say “I don’t want my news that way, I want it this way.” Instead of Walter Cronkite, you get Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, ei-yi-ei-yo-oh, etc. offering their varying opinions. But it prevents the Walter Cronkites and Bill Bradlees of today’s world from taking the stand that they were printing it anyway and making it a big story because their years of experience gave them the confidence to say this matters and the people need to read about it. And people read it.

    Can you honestly tell me Watergate (arguably still the biggest story and victory for American Journalism, make of that what you will) would have the same impact today? Of course it wouldn’t. You would have Fox News saying the president is just doing what had to be done, you would have had two campaign managers fired to fat consultant jobs with Super PACs, and Deep Throat’s Twitter account would be blowing up and trending, then in 2 weeks we would all move on to the next time a Kardashian dates a Senator or something. And Nixon never would have had to resign (partially because the Democrats in Congress wouldn’t have the ba–s the Republicans tried to show against Clinton also, but that’s another post).

    While I understand your point about the Wire brackets bothering you, as someone who participated in it, let me tell you it wasn’t all bad. No it didn’t raise the social consciousness one iota (though at least all this recent online talk has seemed to result in many of the actors finding steady work, so if nothing else that is good). But at least at this level, two of my friends then saw all the sites about it and proceeded to actually watch the show in relatively large chunks. So they are then at least getting the opportunity to see the issues the show attempted to portray in their intended method. How much they take away is still to be determined, but at least the opportunity was presented. Isn’t that the point?

  • To play the parlor game (with a twist), I’d have to say that my favorite character is Bunny Colvin. Because he not only has the sense to see the absurdity of the drug war, but he has the balls to try a completely different solution. His story-line in the 4th season is similar. He’s involved in the schools, and taking what simultaneously seems like a radical and common-sense approach to reaching those kids…just my two cents…

  • Thanks for writing this. Reading it brought back a lot of the feelings I experienced while watching The Wire, feelings I think that I, like many others, am far too easily distracted from.

    I remember being so filled with optimism that we had a President who not only listed The Wire as his favorite TV program, but was even willing to admit it publicly. There were obviously other reasons for that optimism as well but hopefully you know what I’m getting at.

    That optimism is gone. Like you, I’ll vote Obama. His flaws are many but he’s still better than the caricature he’s running against.

    The fact is I’m terrified about the future and it seems obvious that things are going to get much worse before they ever get better, whoever wins this election. I’ve always wanted children but now, faced with the prospect of turning 30 this year, I’m asking myself if I really do want to bring kids into this world we’re living in.

    Can we get back on track? Do people actually believe that we can? I don’t think I do.

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