David Simon Accuses Reason of Producing a "Shanked" Interview With Him. Decide for Yourself.


Yesterday, we released a 21-minute-long interview with David Simon (video and a transcript here), the creative force behind much great television, including The Wire and Treme, which starts its third season on HBO this Sunday.

After sending Simon the published video and text, he registered intense dissatisfaction with the editing we did of a longer, wide-ranging conversation that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes. Specifically, he felt that our shaping of the material reduced his observations to "disjointed" and "unsupported" chatter that fails to do justice to his arguments.

We sent him audio of the full interview and he has posted a response on his personal website.

It reads in part:

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

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

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

I claim nothing sinister on the magazine's part; they would not have given me the whole interview to review if they had shanked it for ideological reasons; but shank it they did, in my opinion.

Read his full critique here.

We stand by our edits of the material not simply as standard journalistic practice (as Simon himself notes, "unedited interviews seldom are" worth anyone's time) but as fully conveying both the complexity and depth of his takes on the various topics we discussed.

As Reason columnist Greg Beato wrote yesterday, we live in a "Golden Age of Fact-Checking," where it is easier than ever to resolve dueling interpretations of reality. In the spirit of transparency, here's a link to full audio of our conversation with him (two minor interruptions have been edited out with Simon's approval). We invite all readers to judge for themselves whether we have done violence to Simon's point of view in any serious manner.

For those particularly interested in uncut versions of Simon's discussion of the decline of the newspaper industry and his comments about the prison-industrial complex (two areas he mentions specifically in his response), go directly to the 32-minute mark and 1.10.30, respectively.

Readers interested in our general takes on those issues might be interested in the "We the Media" chapter of Gillespie's 2011 book The Declaration of Independents (co-authored with Matt Welch, whose essay on the decline of legacy media, "When the Losers Write History," is also worth reading). For an in-depth discussion of problems with the criminal justice system, especially as it relates to prisons, please read the July 2011 special issue of Reason titled "Criminal Injustice: Inside America's National Disgrace."

Simon ends his post by invoking the late Christopher Hitchens, writing:

…listening to so many issues stutter-step without going forward to any corroborative detail or to any sustained elaboration or debate, I'm reminded of the late, great Christopher Hitchens, who once attempted to make a modestly complicated argument to an interviewer ideologically opposed to that stance.  As the Fox commentator's questions became longer and as Mr. Hitchen's answers were more frequently interrupted, he finally managed the following:

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

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

As it happens, Hitchens was a great friend to Reason over the years, appearing at various events (such as this 2007 "Very, Very Secular Christmas Party" in which he led the audience in singing) and contributing an introduction to our 2004 anthology, Choice: The Best of Reason. He wrote, "I find that Reason keeps my own arteries from hardening or from flooding with adrenaline out of sheer irritation, because in the face of arbitrary power and conformism it continues to ask, in a polite but firm tone of voice, not only 'why?' but 'why not'?"

We disagreed with Hitchens on many things, but we felt honored by his sense of solidarity with Reason as a journalistic enterprise and we're disappointed that David Simon feels that we in any way "shanked" our interview with him.

We remain great admirers of his work and wish him the best with the third season of Treme.