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.

NEXT: American Airlines Pilots Picket over Cuts

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  1. I have little respect for this kind of whining. I’m sorry, but if you cannot cogently express why you believe X to be true in a simple statement, then you aren’t making a good argument. Here, let me show you how to do that David:

    “I believe that Obama should be voted out of office because he continually promotes policy that leads to economic stagnation, continued war around the globe, and loss of further liberty at home.”

    Maybe David, you’re just not good at the spoken word. Which would make sense, considering you’re a writer.

    1. if you cannot cogently express why you believe X to be true in a simple statement, then you aren’t making a good argument

      Well said.

      1. To be fair, sometimes the narrative has to be rewritten.
        For example when libertarian minded people speak to each other of economics, we know that the audience understands the Austrian perspective.
        If we were to speak to the average product of the public school system, they would have no idea of what we were talking about.

        I still think the guy is a tool.

        1. If we were to speak to the average product of the public school system, they would have no idea of what we were talking about

          I would think that anyone who doesn’t understand a short, concise point would be someone not worth continuing the conversation with anyway. What I find most times is that anyone who doesn’t get it after a short explanation isn’t going to start getting it after a longer explanation.

          1. What I find most times is that anyone who doesn’t get it after a short explanation isn’t going to start getting it after a longer explanation.

            Good point.

            1. What I find is that the age of the video soundbite has reduced the vast majority of articles into parodies of the same, and reduced readers to expecting the same. As well as reducing quotability and the ability take in the content at one’s own speed.

              Reason’s content hit a steep slide downhill when they started putting up video. I have no doubt the critique here is valid; and furthermore, I have little doubt Reason will continue to chop content into Fox-news-esqe portions that they deem us poor readers “capable” of consuming.

              You have no one but yourselves to blame for this dumbing down of media. Most ideas *cannot* be presented in a shorter form without losing intelligibility. Your problem — meaning you readers — is that you no longer value intelligibility. The media wants talking points; the readers want talking points. No one wants to deal with reality, which is messy, complicated, and difficult.

          2. anyone who doesn’t get it after a short explanation isn’t going to start getting it after a longer explanation.

            I disagree with this. I can think of many instances where I didn’t immediately grok a new concept (usually technical) that an expanded explanation/QA allowed to flesh out the new ideas and give it context.

            Of course, some people don’t *want* to get it, either out of apathy or ideological blinders.

            1. Some people have been intellectually disabled by government style education.
              They may not be able to grasp logical arguments because they’ve been trained to think illogically.

              1. That just means you have to start from the basics. If you can teach them basic, uncontroversial principles, you can slowly build up to an explanation that makes sense to them. I met an economics professor that did that with his class. By the time they got the more contentious stuff, he’d laid the groundwork for the logic behind it, and he didn’t get much pushback.

                1. By the way, I don’t mean he tried to persuade them to believe in certain solutions about things; but when the information is laid out so people understand it and the concepts behind it, they can come to better conclusions than someone who’s relatively uninformed.

                  1. Well, that’s what good teachers are supposed to do.

                    1. I know, but I didn’t want to give the impression he was using his class to spread his political views; just an understanding of economics.

    2. @Virginian
      I have little respect for this kind of general criticism. I’m sorry, but if you can’t critique something specifically, then maybe it’s because you don’t have a good argument to make… Would love to see you debate Simon. That would be fun – I mean, funny.

      1. if you can’t critique something specifically

        You mean like criticizing someone for being apparently unable to explain why they hold their positions without an extra hour of dialogue? That seems pretty specific to me.

    3. I’ve spent a bit listening to more of the audio version. At about 8:30 to 9:30 he gets pissed because the interview is becoming “too political”. It seems he just wants to have opinions and not have to defend them or be able to answer any questions about them intelligently. At some point in his life, maybe still, he is about 5% libertarian, which means he is a normal democratic progressive. (This is my take, maybe 20% is closer to the mark). He actually says at one point that he regards libertarianism as a childish, selfish philosophy but then does not want to defend the remark.

    4. Penn Jillette agrees.

  2. I watched part of the original edited interview and thought to myself “This guy is a real jerk.” My suspicions have been confirmed.

    1. Yep, a few more bits:

      He, like many progressives, does not want to look at facts even though they think their views are based on facts, but they don’t want to hear about and discuss other facts that may contradict their beliefs. In the same way, they don’t want to hear about contradictions in their own belief system.
      At the 29 to 31 minute mark they are having an interesting discussion about HBO and cable versus network and he gives an example of how not having to have commercials has helped promote better shows (it’s also about not having to worry about children seeing it but he does not mention this). So, he has just given an example of how new technology and the free market and the profit motive (via cable and HBO fees) has improved both quantity and quality and diversity of programming. But he is too clueless too realize that. Then a few seconds later he completely contradicts himself by saying how horrible the free market is. (As far as the old madmen/network/commercials way of doing business). But he does not realize that he has contradicted himself. I am still listening to this part but I fully expect him to get angry if Nick tries to point out this contradiction. I’ll continue this in a minute.

  3. I appreciate the tone of this post, Nick/Jim. The high road was the good one to take here.

    1. I was partly right. When Nick tries to point out he contradicted himself and that HBO is still part of the free market, he can’t even get more than a few words out when Simon can sense thats the way it will head and starts to get loud and defensive and Nick has to change topics right away.

      Good job, Nick. Must have been a tough interview because he could have decided to walk out if you were not such a skilled interviewer at many points.
      Very touchy guy willing to have strong views but not defend them.

      His point about newspapers also kind of contradicts his point about HBO/cable. He thinks HBO is good because it does not have the generic advertising that must appeal to millions of people and there can be small niches of viewers. But then with print media he wants it to stay serving huge numbers of people with lots of journalists and ads that have to appeal to many people. He should be celebrating the diversity and quality and niches of smaller venues like this site. In just a few minutes of audio he contradicts himself several times and does not even realize it except subconsciously when Nick tries to ask him a question or get him to clarify.

      1. In fairness, he does say he prefers the even older family owned newspapers over larger corporations that merged so at least there he is consistent in liking the diversity, competition etc.

      2. Simon should be a big ally of libertarians on issues like crony capitalism, immigration, gay marriage, drug laws, etc. but instead he badmouths them.

        And he is too misinformed to realize what crony capitalism is and that it is actually more accurate to call it crony socialism. He has several examples in just the bits I listened to where he attributes good things to gov’t that they had almost no role in and then blames the “free market” and “laisse faire” and “profits” on things that are entirely run and regulated by gov’t. So in his view if a bad law (or dozens of them) are passed and then stuff happens, that’s laisse-faire and the free market’s fault.

        No wonder this country is up shit creek when our “intellectuals” are this confused.

  4. 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).

    That’s how you do it. Good work, Reason. It should go without saying, in this day and age, that anyone who publishes an edited anything will also make publicly available the full, unedited version.

    In the unlikely event I ever give an interview, it will be on this condition: that the entire interview be recorded, that I provided with a copy of the full interview, and that the full interview be made publicly available.

    Anyone who won’t agree to that is up to something, and won’t interview me.

    1. Indeed. And any news report commenting on a document simply must provide a link to said original document. In this day and age, curation is one thing, but you must provide access to the originals.

    2. That’s what is so funny about the O’Keefe videos from Project Veritas. He would post the edited interviews with the various groups he skewered, and then people would say “That’s not fair! Post the unedited video!!!”.

      And so he would, which ended up making his points ten times clearer and the folks getting skewered would look even worse.

      Be careful what you wish for.

      1. But the point of those calls for unedited video wasn’t to get the unedited video. It was to convince people who would never bother to watch the unedited video that O’Keefe and other similar “Gotcha” journalists were trying to hide something.

        They may look worse, but only to people who already intellectually sided with O’Keefe’s points.

        1. He had points? I thought he was just a big fan of Sasha Baron Cohen.

          1. I stand corrected.

        2. They may look worse, but only to people who already intellectually sided with O’Keefe’s points.

          I disagree. People who disagreed with the edited videos that O’Keefe released were mad because they thought the edits had unfairly exposed someone. But when the full videos were released the critics were silent because the full videos made the individuals look worse than the edited ones.

          1. I remember that.
            “Hey! Your edited versions were unfair! Show the whole thing! Uh, nevermind. Nothing to see here.”

    3. Michael Moore would never interview you on those terms. He couldn’t then work his ‘documentary’ magic.

      1. Thus, “Anyone who won’t agree to that is up to something”.

    4. No, what you do is you make them sign all the same paperwork for the interview, and you bring your cameras and microphones.

      Better yet, you have a couple interns dig up some background and turn the tables on them “I see you brought a film crew. Are they all union members in good standing?”.

  5. Does he maybe need a new bidet to wash the sand out of his vagina?

  6. Good on you guys for making the entire interview available immediately upon request. Just the kind of behavior we should expect from all journalistic outlets, but sadly see from few.

  7. I like Generation Kill. I don’t like this guy. Whininess is unseemly.

  8. What a fucking whiner.

  9. This is what you get for interviewing people who aren’t desperate for attention.


      1. You spelled his name wrong.

  10. This is fucking tempest in a teapot. You’ve posted the full version, and people can decide what they think sans edits. Are we done now?

  11. I will not be satisfied until the uncut video of Aaron Sorkin fellating the idea of a second Obama term while dressed as Captain Hindsight from South Park sees the light of day…

    1. Would you settle for the video of Rob Reiner motorboating Nancy Pelosi’s belly wattle?

      1. You’re trying to convince us the 1A was a bad idea, aren’t you, Hugh.

        1. I finally feel empathy for the Muslim protesters.

      2. That was positively Sugerfreeesque!

  12. He’s upset about this? He postures like Nick is the political anti-christ and yet he reals off profoundly libertarian political and cultural take after take. Most hilarious is that he thinks today’s libertarians are all about privatizing prisons. Maybe he and Radley Balko could do a bald-guy spa day together. At his core, he is so clearly one of us. But political labels have gotten in the way.

    1. This is what I don’t get: just because libertarians are in favor of privatizing a lot of government functions, doesn’t mean we’re in favor of privatizing EVERYTHING. If anything, libertarians are the ones pointing out how terrible privatized prisons are.

      I don’t know why people delude themselves into thinking government has no revenue motives. Government may not be in favor of reducing costs, but it is no different than the private sector as far as wanting to generate revenue.

      1. Unfortunately, Gary Johnson is big into private prisons.

        1. How is that unfortunate? Private prisons will cost less and be no less an interest lobby than the unions and other jerks that feed off of public prisons.

          1. It’s unfortunate because the profit motive is wrong for the task. Prisons are expensive and are implemented for the public good – if profit is the motive, you get terrible prison conditions as a matter of economy, just as we have here in the US, and the people (eventually) coming out of them bring very little reform and a great deal of anger, right into an environment that will put them instantly into a low level, basically un-hirable, class. Which in turn puts them right back into a “to earn, I must commit crime” mentality, as well as a “I’m ID’d as a permanent criminal, so what’s the difference if I do crime” mentality.

            Prisons must be arms of the government so they can be run without monetary profit as engines of social reform. And we need to change the whole “if you’re a felon, you’re f’d” legal structure as well. Put them in, consider the debt paid when they come out. There is no other reasonable path.

            This specific issue is one of the key ones that is pushing our country over a cliff. If we don’t fix it, we’re going to eat it.

            1. Oh, puleeze, what are you, a socialist? Profit motive is good, also in this case. If you don’t like the way some private prisons are run, blame lack the government oversight.

              1. No, I’m not a socialist. I’m very liberty oriented.

                However, when you TAKE someone’s liberty with the idea of changing that person such that they will be able to fit back into society, I don’t think it is anywhere near prudent to hand that liberty over to a private enterprise.

                This isn’t apples and oranges. This is people.

                When you have two orange vendors, you can choose the better vendor.

                When you have two prisons, you end up in the one they put you in. The relevant market forces are short-circuited by this in the most important aspects.

      2. If they were privatized to allow prisoners to choose between competing prisons, that would be one thing, but the privatization only has to take government’s demands into account. It’s the same kind of lopsided quasi-privatization you see in military contractors.

        A real privatized prison system would look more like the hoosegow in Snow Crash.

        1. Exactly. If measures of the well being of the prisoner isn’t taken into account in some way, then private prisons can only compete on cost and graft. Prisoner selected prisons would be the most obvious mechanism, but voters wouldn’t get it. But some other (less effective) way could be found to make prisons compete on the basis of infections, morbidity, educational achievements, recidivism, …

      3. Public prison guard unions are as big a problem, or bigger, than private prisons

        1. As I stated in the Simon thread yesterday, a private union is already running the damn things so they are already privatized to an extent. I can understand privatization as a way to get rid of the union running things, but again this is still swapping one revenue-generator for another which doesn’t solve the problem of having far too many people locked up in the first place.

      4. Meh. Private prisons aren’t a problem, per se, any more than private security companies are. As long as drugs, prostitution and building unlicensed bunkers underneath your own house are legal, I don’t really see private prisons being any worse than government prisons.

      5. Well, actually, back in the 1990s or maybe the 1980s, Reason did promote prison privatiz’n.

      6. There are benefits and drawbacks. Ironically, most of them draw from the same source: a private business is more efficient at producing prisons, but might also be more efficient at lobbying to increase its demand.

  13. Geez, he’s upset. Did you rape him in the showers after “shanking” him or something?

  14. Nicely done, Nick (and Jim). I doubt anyone would get a similar courtesy from our gatekeeping journalistic masters.

  15. I have not listened to either version, but I will say this: it’s refreshing to to know somebody actually wants to make a detailed explanation of what he thinks and why he thinks it, rather than merely tossing out a lot of generalized assertions.

    1. This is why I value David Simon highly despite disagreeing with him on some important issues. He really does want to make himself clear and doesn’t assume those who disagree are merely stupid.

    2. Well, in Simon’s case, it’s partly because he tends to be long-winded. Not that he says a lot of nothing, but the substance he crams in may be superfluous to the actual point under discussion.

  16. He wasn’t worth 21 minutes of my life yesterday and he sure as hell isn’t worth 121 minutes today.

    1. And yet you took the time to make this comment.

      1. Which didn’t take anywhere near 21 minutes. Or 121. Or 81. Or probably 2.

    2. Your maths are poor.

      1. He makes up for it with puns.

    3. 60 + 21 =/= 121

      1. Close enough for government work!

      2. Show off

      3. =/= != !=

  17. I don’t know why people delude themselves into thinking government has no revenue motives. Government may not be in favor of reducing costs, but it is no different than the private sector as far as wanting to generate revenue.

    The worst part about this is government is utterly unconstrained by any effective feedback mechanism which would distinguish “good”spending from wasteful spending. And, of course, very nearly every single attempt I have made to explain this to soft-headed progressives has been completely ineffective.

    1. But, but, but profits are waste!
      They unnecessarily raise prices and make rich people richer!
      Government is better and cheaper because it doesn’t waste money on profits!
      Did I mention that all profits do is steal from the workers to benefit the wealthy?
      Profits are nothing but the rich robbing the poor!
      Everything should be done by government!
      Yaaaaaaay government!

    2. In the case of prisons, I think it will always be true that nothing succeeds like failure. I am not convinced that private prison operators will get any less taxpayer subsidy and preferential legal treatment than government prisons get.

      If people were so easily whipped into a frenzy over bank failures, imagine the frenzy over prison failures.

  18. So he gets an interview and video timed with the release of one of his projects, and he’s whining about it? Stuff it in a sack, mister.

  19. Even the part on private prisons doesn’t appreciate economic insights about incentives. The problem is not privatization per se. It’s about how the contract is constructed. There’s no question the result would be different if the private contractor was paid based on, say, the percentage successfully rehabilitated (the recidivism rate) as opposed to now where the only incentive in the contract is based on “saving money” (in the short term.)

    1. And of course, you create a lobby for putting more people in the big house. Kinda like medical marijuana dispensaries helped the keepit-illegal lobby. Or here in Texas where licensing seriously affects the distribution of beer and wine.

      1. But we already have that lobby.

  20. I know of no other place that has given Simon 10 minutes of coverage, let alone 21 minutes. So, I just have to wonder what deal was. Perhaps, he should plan for another Reason TV interview down the road, one where he could elaborate on one of the topics he brought up in the original interview. He should try to work with Reason instead of working against them.

  21. Good grief. Nobody wants to watch an interview that rivals some full-length movie run times. Good that he has a blog. Explain away David, explain away!

    1. Again – “Pootie Tang” come to life

    2. If that were true there would never be any DVD extras.

  22. …Also, that Hitchen’s quote makes me want to cry. I can’t believe he’s gone.

  23. Simon says, “I shanked myself!” Way to go, douchehammer.

  24. So Simon’s another one of those newspaper guys who think they don’t need editing. They’re a dime a dozen. In fact, I could hit four or five with a reporter’s notebook from my desk at this very moment.

  25. Listening to the 21-minute version was a bit of a chore. I’ll pass on the hour-long version. Simon’s just not very articulate, even though he’s clearly an interesting and thoughtful person.

    Perhaps Reason should have made it clearer yesterday that it was running excerpts from the interview and not the entire thing.

  26. I got the impression Mr. Simon has been a journalist–at least it seemed he had considerable familiarity with the business. If that’s the case, he should cut Reason a lot more slack than this.

    OTOH, if he he hasn’t spent much time where his stuff gets edited, and instead has been the one who edits others, then he’s just not used to being in this role. All creative types think alteration of their stuff, especially abridgment, is wrong. You wouldn’t be an artist if you didn’t feel that way. It’s OK, you’ll get over it.

    I’d give the complaint more credence if he’d summarize just what he’d want to convey that wasn’t in the edited product. Just complaining about it in general terms is pretty useless.

  27. Perhaps from now on the Reason staff could, when showing an edited interview, just automatically include a link to the unedited video, so anyone who wants to plow through the whole thing can click on it. I mean, is that technically difficult to do? Or would it slow down the website?

    This would cut off such whining at the source.

  28. Just tell me this… in the unedited interview does he display a better understanding of the difference between the public sector and the free market?

    1. Ya. This.

      Would appreciate thoughts of anyone willing to sit thru the long version on whether he is really as stupid as he sounded.

    2. Ya. This.

      Would appreciate thoughts of anyone willing to sit thru the long version on whether he is really as stupid as he sounded.

  29. Wow. Just listening to the whole uncut thing now. He’s seriously pissed off at 10:00. He is definitely on a particular team and sees through a very thick political lens. He would be a tough convert to a less-politicized worldview.

    1. I think 25:00-25:30 made the cut. In the edited version, you don’t totally get the sense that he just sounds totally friggin annoyed with Nick for being “a libertarian”. I can guaran-friggin-tee that he won’t do a more thoughtful and thought-provoking interview on Treme in this sequence of interviews he is doing. Sigh.

    2. Around 34:00 where he’s talking pay TV in depth, it’s interesting to hear his detailed reasoning, although I think he is matching his politics to his paycheck rather than taking an economic view of the system. He basically made an NPR/PBS argument for HBO. That’s a new perspective :-).

    3. 41:00 for his views on IP. He loves copyright, hates crowd-sourcing. Free is bullshit.

    4. He was going to “end on this note” at 56:00. LOL.

  30. I think he just likes to complain. I read something about him a few months back where he was mad that DVD sales for the Wire were so good, because those people should’ve known about it/watched it when it was on TV.

    1. Either he gets a better cut of viewer revenue than DVD revenue, or HBO makes its renewal decisions based on viewership more than DVD sales.

  31. I respect Simon’s success as a creator, but why in the name of all that is holy would I want to listen an interview, followed by a longer interview with the same guy, and then do a homework assignment?

  32. That dude jsut looks like a real d-bag!

  33. “Reason gots to go! You feel me, Kim-meh!”

    1. If jacket trapped call 410-844-6286

  34. So why did they interview this guy in the first place? What’s the connection with the magazines whole thesis? I just dont get it.

    1. Neither did I.

    2. If you read the description for the original interview post, it should be pretty obvious. Since you’re asking these questions, I guess you didn’t.

  35. Do these comments even work?

  36. This guy swallowed the kool-ade of his own press. Damn, I can’t remember the last time I listened to an hour of someone so enamored of himself.

    Outstanding job Nick. I’ve never seen a diva handled so well in an interview.

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