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Annapolis

Fifteen years as a newspaperman taught me a few select things. One is this: It is the god-given right of every American to resent or even hate his local newspaper. Indeed, it is our birthright to hate any and every news organization, print or broadcast. It is not certain that you will avail yourself of that right, or that you will invoke it consistently if you do, but it is there for you whenever life doesn’t go the way you want. Your hometown newspaper will highlight your most embarrassing utterance at the PTA hearing or detail your company’s bankruptcy, just as it will at some point ignore your daughter’s performance in the school play or miss the zoning hearing at which a porn shop is dropped a block and a half from your son’s middle school. It will herald some political views you abhor and denigrate some politicians you wish to cheer. It will spell your name incorrectly when you are named the Rotarian of the Year and dox you with precision when you are cuffed and processed for...

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Journalism

Fare thee well, scrotelicks.

Once again — and this time with some expectation — I find myself banned from Twitter by virtue of an algorithm that protects, whether by willful intent or by incandescent stupidity, all manner of slander and brutality while policing only deserved insult. On this, perhaps my final go-round with the platform, the offense is as intended: I have, in my very critique of the Twitter rules, insulted its CEO, Jack Dorsey. I told him, in slightly more creative language, to drop dead.  Yes. I told him to take a long walk off a short pier, or grow like an onion with his head in the ground, or go jump out of a plane without a parachute. But in my particular case, I used the Yiddishkeit of my grandfather. I told him to die of boils. That’s it.  That’s what I did. And I will confess I find it harder and harder to believe that Mr. Dorsey or the others engaged in regulating speech on his horror-show of a platform are unaware that their detached and dystopic vision of what is...

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Admired Work

Tony

I was still on the sofa at four in the afternoon, still half-dressed, when I decided that my life could not be complete if I did not somehow become friends with Anthony Bourdain. My son, then a young teenager, also in his underwear, was as inert and transfixed as I was. We were both locked into the ninth or tenth consecutive hour of a Labor Day weekend marathon of Bourdain’s cultural-journey-through-food breakthrough show, “No Reservations.” I remember the exact moment, the exact image: The long, lanky, exquisitely sad-faced visage of a road-worn Bourdain sitting on broken pavement in a South American alley – Buenos Aires or maybe Montevideo, there is no way to be sure when twenty episodes are consumed at once — his back to a stone wall, arms crossed above his knees, watching children play at rag-tag soccer with a deflated ball. And with the older men, he is sharing Siete y Tres, the backstreet concoction of cheap red wine and Coca-Cola. And all this imagery with his narration...

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Admired Work

Bourdain

I am trying to find words for my friend. I will post something here later if they ever come. For now, just know how much Tony Bourdain — for all his wit and sharp edges, for all his grandiose and larger-than-life persona — was a genuinely good man and careful colleague. And that doesn’t begin to express how empty the world feels this morning.   *** Also, I have been banned from Twitter, and as I am at this moment indifferent to removing the tweets they insist are violative of their rules, it is unclear when I will return to that framework.  So I’m hoping that if I post anything remotely meaningful about Tony, others will do me the favor of linking it beyond this digital cul de sac. Suffice to say that while you can arrive on Twitter and disseminate the untethered and anti-human opinion that mothers who have their children kidnapped and held incommunicado from them at the American border are criminals — and both mother and child deserve that fate...

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Film and Television History

Interview in Spain with regard to the proposed Abraham Lincoln Battalion project.

Asked some questions by Spanish journalist Toni Garcia, I replied in writing. Some respondents have replied to me with various translations of my answers that do not entirely comport with the language that I used or the facts I intended to convey.  I’m not suggesting any willful intent by Mr. Garcia to simplify or deconstruct my own words, only that perhaps translation is sometimes problematic. So to be clear I am going leave the entire text of my replies right here: —–Original Message—– From: Toni Garcia To: David Simon Sent: Mon, Apr 9, 2018 12:57 pm Subject: A few questions (and if there’s anything you wanna add) David! thanks a lot. You can’t imagine how it’s been with this news around here, people got crazy… I’d love to publish asap, so when you have a minute, tomorrow is also ok. Thanks! So, a few questions: 1) Anything you can reveal from the plot? I guess there is not a script yet. It will generally follow the...

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Drug War

Full text of letter in support of leniency for Marc Henry Johnson

Here is a letter written in support of leniency for Marc Henry Johnson, a fellow producer on “The Deuce” who was involved in the tragic overdose death of a woman in New York last year. The letter was written to the sentencing judge and is part of the court record, and I post it here out of concern that certain news outlets, including the New York tabloids — which did a poor and imprecise job of covering the original incident — are now quoting it piecemeal. As it is addressed to a presiding court, it would be inappropriate to comment beyond the letter itself, but I am going to link to it here so that a full, contextualized argument is available to those concerned or curious about my reasoning: MHJ Letter Final July 2017 updated

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Admired Work

Maybe, He Thought, He’d Wind Up At Entebbe

Forty years ago this week, my father was taken hostage when the Hanafi Muslims, a breakaway sect from the Nation of Islam, took over the District Building, the Islamic Center and the B’nai B’rith headquarters in Washington D.C. As the 56-year-old public relations director for B’nai B’rith, a Jewish service organization, my father was selected by the Hanafi sect’s leader as one of eight older men who would be the first killed if police stormed the building. A young radio reporter was killed at the District Building and a D.C. protective services officer fatally wounded. There were others harmed as well, largely in the initial moments of the siege. Eventually, through the brave intercession of the ambassadors from Egypt, Pakistan and Iran who negotiated by citing the Koran to the Hanafis, all of the hostages were released. My father emerged from his offices and embraced his family after 38 hours, his shirt streaked with the blood of a younger worker who had...

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Admired Work

Remarks on John Waters receiving the 2017 WGA Ian McLellan Hunter Award for Career Achievement

I had the distinct honor of being asked to give my union’s award for lifetime achievement to fellow Baltimorean and film legend John Waters.  These were my remarks, or those that were in the teleprompter, anyway. I may have veered at points: John Waters, who began an improbable career of deep cultural relevance with the equally improbable notion that people from Baltimore should be allowed to put stories on film, is perhaps one of the most influential voices we have. He is laughing at this. I know he is. I am going to look over there to where he is sitting now and see that he is laughing — yes, there he is — laughing at what I just claimed for him. I know that he is laughing because John is perhaps the great modern master of self-effacement and self-mockery. He has gone to lengths to characterize his entire career as a storyteller and filmmaker in terms that purport to show him standing on the outside of the joke, looking in: “Pink Flamingos,” he writes...

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Admired Work

The Book that Changed Me

I was asked by the BBC to write and read an essay about a book that changed me — a request that offered an opportunity to bring more readers to one of the more epic and honorable acts of American journalism. Acquiring “Famous Men” was seminal for me as a twentysomething reporter, and provided both tactical and ethical ballast for the journeys in narrative non-fiction I would soon undertake in a homicide unit and on a drug corner. Have a listen and maybe pick up a copy of Agee & Walker’s masterpiece: BBC Radio 3 | The Essay | The Book that Changed Me David Simon describes how “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” by James Agee and Walker Evans changed his work as a journalist. The celebrated work capturing the lives of ordinary people during The Depression made him realise the importance of sharing “the simple, raw vulnerability” of lived experience. “Page after page was fully ripe with the delicate work of a thinking journalist who...

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On Newspapering and Journalism

Nightcops

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

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Admired Work Film and Television

What’s My Line?

I wrote this up some months ago, at the time that the “Show Me A Hero” miniseries was broadcast on HBO, but then held the essay back for the simple reason that viewers were still acquiring the narrative. After all, nothing is more distracting to the viewing of any edifice than to stumble through a side door and be confronted by all the interior scaffolding, if not evidence of an architect’s early mistakes and lesser intentions. But as the miniseries has now been airing for six months — and as the DVD release of “Show Me A Hero” is slated for tomorrow — I’m guessing that any little extra attention to detail can only be a good thing. And, oh yeah, SPOILERS: *            *            * Most of the time, writing for film or television – if the writer retains a producer’s title on the set – is a straight, simple negotiation: Here’s the page. Say the lines. Yes, like you mean them, as a good actor would. You’re a good actor, right? Of course...

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Politics

What I did on my humble-brag trip to Western Maryland

For reasons too improbable and esoteric to explain, I was recently invited to a small coterie of vacation shacks in Thurmont, north of the city of Frederick in Western Maryland.  Franklin Roosevelt christened the joint as Shangri-La — in honor of his “Lost Horizon” reference following the Doolittle Raid against Tokyo — and that name stuck until Eisenhower renamed it for his grandson, Daniel or Douglas or whatever. Anyhow, the rule is that what happens at Camp Daniel stays at Camp Daniel.  When you get an invite, they don’t want you to describe the place on social media, or to relate the goings-on. And the Marines at the gate hold your cameras and smart phones so there’s nothing visual I could or should post here. It will have to suffice as humble-brag to say that I drank a couple shots of presidential Jose Cuervo and I played a game of presidential darts and tilted a presidential pinball machine in the game room. Then I threw a couple jumpshots into...

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

Ain’t no justice. It’s just us.

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

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History Politics

Old faces and fresh dishonor

  Save for the image of a six-year-old Hungarian girl which I do not possess — these are the photographs of 10 of the 11 members of my family who did not escape from Europe in the critical prewar years, when the path for refugees fleeing fascism narrowed, then disappeared. Fear of these people — their otherness, their politics, their faith — was sufficient to close borders and deny safe passage to America and elsewhere. The first six photos are an extended family on my mother’s side lost at Auschwitz, the last four a branch of my father’s clan slain in the woods outside the city of Slonim, in what is now Belarus. The facelessness of the hundreds of thousands fleeing our time’s great cruelty is in some basic way part of their undoing. In their anonymity, the Syrian refugees running from Assad or the Islamic State appear in our political discourse as mere numbers, abstract and enormous. Save for the occasional photograph of a child’s body on a...

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Baseball On the Orioles

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

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

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Admired Work Film and Television Music

Allen Toussaint (1938-2015)

I woke this empty morning to the sudden departure of a great and good man. There will be many better, more comprehensive tributes today from musicians, music lovers and New Orleanians who knew him well, so don’t stop here without going further to celebrate Allen Toussaint’s life.  I met him on only a handful occasions and then only in a professional setting; others can attest to so much more. But there are a couple of warm anecdotes that I treasure and that ought to be added to the day’s reflections on a gentle, giving soul and one of the finest composers who ever created American music. I had a few rare opportunities to share time and space with Mr. Toussaint during our four seasons of filming “Treme” in New Orleans, on those occasions when he allowed us to portray his person and his music as part of our fictional, post-Katrina narrative. Among other things, “Treme” was our attempt to depict the New Orleans music community as organically as...

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Baseball

Some brief correspondence regarding the Chicago Cubs

Email from James Yoshimura, because he is A Northsider, at October 21, 2015, 6:09 pm: “Sisyphus ain’t got shit on me!  Go Cubs, Yosh.” Email from David Simon, because he is A Giver, at October 21, 2015, 6:17 pm: “All America is with you.  Except for about 80 million of the assholes.” Email from James Yoshimura, still A Northsider, at October 22, 2015, 9:22 a.m. “All of America can go fuck itself. And if it’s looking for Sisyphus, the prick’s drinking with me and will until next spring training.” God help Yosh and all the others laboring in the deep bowels of their dark, forbidding mine.  The Cubbies are relentless.  They are an anvil, with another anvil tied to them for weight.  God help you good people.  

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Admired Work Writing

Probably smarter, possibly funnier.

A letter to the editor that ran in The Washington Post Magazine last Sunday in reply to a profile of me that said I resembled Homer Simpson’s smarter brother:   The Washington Post Magazine Letters to the editor David Simon’s older brother takes umbrage at a description in our story: I read with great interest your piece about David Simon, my little brother. I am 14 years older than David, and I am intensely proud of him. However, I must take great umbrage at the statement that “Simon … looks from some angles like Homer Simpson’s much smarter brother.”  First the implication is that I am Homer Simpson and second, that David is smarter than me. You will be hearing from my attorneys. Gary L. Simon, medical professor, GWU   In a Jewish family, the doctor is always the smarter child.  The TV writer is supposed to advance the funny.  And presently, I find myself routed on both flanks at once.

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Politics

A good day to be an American

Marriage equality and foam in the corner of Scalia’s mouth. Amazing Grace and presidential duende.  And all amid the afterglow of a decision that affirms a successful government initiative that helps millions as claimed. So, this is what a first-rate country feels like.            

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