Drug War

David Simon on Treme, New Orleans, the Drug War, Obama, The Wire - And Disappointing Libertarians

"More people are calling bullshit."


Updated September 21: On his personal website, David Simon has accused Reason TV of producing a "shanked" interview with him. For links to his criticism, our response, and full audio of our hour-and-20-minute-long conversation with him that formed the basis of this video, go here now.

"At some point during the run of The Wire, I became a fellow traveler of the libertarians," says the acclaimed writer and television producer David Simon. "And then a great disappointment to them."

A self-proclaimed "lefty," Simon is the creator of the The Wire, which ran on HBO from 2002 to 2008 and depicted with tragic realism the impact of the drug war on inner-city Baltimore. Over five seasons, The Wire told a series of complex, interwoven stories built around major themes of the modern American city, including the decline of the working waterfront, failing schools, faltering newspapers, the unseemly side of local politics, and, more generally, how bureaucratic institutions thwart reform-minded individuals.

HBO's The Wire

In writing The Wire, Simon drew on his 13-years as a reporter at The Baltimore Sun and his 1991 book, Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, which is derived from Simon's stint as an embed with the Baltimore Police Department's homicide division. Producer Barry Levinson later turned the book into an Emmy-award-winning series that ran on NBC from 1993 to 1998.

Simon co-wrote (with David Mills) The Corner (2000), an HBO miniseries that depicts inner-city Baltimore ravaged by the drug trade, and he co-wrote HBO's Generation Kill, a miniseries based on a book by Evan Wright about a Marine Corps unit during the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Simon's blistering indictment of the drug war frames Eugene Jarecki's new documentary on the subject, The House I Live In, and he's an outspoken critic of the state of the newspaper industry. In 2009, Simon testified before the Senate Commerce Committee that shrinking newsrooms imperil our democracy.

HBO's Treme is Simon's latest project, which offers a multi-faceted look at post-Katrina New Orleans and the music scene that makes the city so unique. Treme's third season starts this Sunday on HBO.

Simon was last interviewed in Reason in 2004, and retired Baltimore homicide and narcotics detective Ed Burns, who was Simon's collaborator on The Wire and other projects, was interviewed in Reason in 2008.

Reason.com Editor in Chief Nick Gillespie sat down with Simon last week to discuss Treme, the state of New Orleans, the drug war, President Obama, school choice, private prisons, the newspaper industry, and Simon's antipathy towards libertarians.

An edited version of that discussion appears below.

About 21 minutes.

Produced by Jim Epstein; shot by Epstein and Meredith

Wendell Pierce in HBO's Treme


Scroll down for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube Channel to receive automatic updates when new material is live.

reason: Let's talk about Treme. Watching the first three seasons of the show, I kept thinking of the Faulkner line, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." Your show seems very much focused on people who are trying to maintain New Orleans culture, but then there's also a recognition that things have to change.

David Simon: That's right. There's always a tension between tradition and the past and organic creativity. And I think that's probably true in any city but it's particularly dynamic in New Orleans. And the amazing thing about New Orleans is they're not willing to let anything go.

reason: Does that make them kind of like cultural hoarders?

Simon: In a way. I mean if you're familiar with their actual culture, the music scene down there is more dynamic pound-for-pound than any I've ever seen in the world. I mean there is a punk sea-shanty band. I mean on some level that's just gorgeous. Only in New Orleans, as they say.

reason: It's a complex text. When I first started watching, I have to say I saw the character played by John Goodman, and I was like: "Wow, this is awful. This is a white-guilt liberal." And I was kind of happy when he died at the end of the first season.

Simon: You might want to reflect on that.

John Goodman as Creighton Bernette in HBO's Treme

reason: Believe me, I will. In fact, the show is very layered.

Simon: The reason I think The Wire was intriguing to a lot of people once they found it—and not initially intriguing at all to many people—is they realized it was actually shaped a little bit differently than most television shows. We weren't interested in straw men. So you could be a conservative and you could come to some conclusions that gratified you. Now I would not agree with those conclusions, but there was at least evidence in there for you to proceed down your path and be moderately content with the storytelling. 

You could do that if you were a liberal. You could do that if you were a socialist. You could do that if you were a libertarian. That doesn't mean that it didn't have a point of view. But the trick to making anything that matters is not to treat the source material as if you can indulge your own political dialectic by picking and choosing. The world is more complicated than that.

A lot of people who were very opposed to the Iraq war—and I was opposed to the Iraq war as a war of choice—had a hard time with the initial episodes of Generation Kill. The Marines are very profane and hungry to go to war. It's what they do, it's what we trained them for, and I don't blame them in the slightest. But some viewers wanted a dissertation from Ed Burns, David Simon, and Evan Wright about why this war was wrong. 

I don't know how to write for that kind of person. I'm not interested in writing for that kind of person. I'm only interested in writing for the kind of person who first wants to know what it was like and who are these guys.

And when John Goodman's character says things like "San Francisco is a cesspool with hills." That's a clue. San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But it's very hard to do TV on that level because most people expect somebody to say something and right afterwards somebody else to say, "That's not right." To actually correct the record within the scene.

HBO's Generation Kill

reason: What is it about the HBO model that actually allows for a kind of Balzacian complexity to emerge?

Simon: Did you just call me a ball sack?

reason: I called you a ball sack, yeah.

Simon: I thought so. I knew we were going to get down to this. Damn you, libertarians! 

That's true of all TV. I didn't use to pay for television 25 years ago. I had rabbit ears like you did. And it beamed three or four channels and that's what you got. And when they hooked you up to the cable that created a revenue stream and they were able to create more programming. It was a remarkably shrewd and effective way of expanding the television universe and for the better. And I would argue that, tellingly, the newspaper industry went the opposite way. What happened was Wall Street. 

The great sin was taking what were community-based, family-owned newspapers, and linking them together in chains, making them public companies and going to Wall Street with them because Wall Street did to the newspaper industry what it did to other industries.

reason: When you say "Wall Street," do you mean The Tribune Company [owner of the Sun and Los Angeles Times]?

Simon: I mean the operating dynamic of Wall Street—capitalism. Talk to any Baltimorean about what The Baltimore Sun has become. There are 130 people in the newsroom now. There used to be 600. At a certain point, nobody's covering the city courthouse.

reason: I don't know Baltimore, but I know a lot of people at the Los Angeles Times. And it would be hard to argue it's any worse than it was in 1995, or 1955.

Simon: I don't know what to say to you. You're bringing things that are not rooted in empiricism. You have some emotional disconnect.

reason: No, I'm just saying that the Los Angeles Times has always been first and foremost a booster for the idea of Los Angeles.

Simon: You're bringing some sort of weird ideology into it.

reason: Then what are you doing?

Simon: I'm bringing the amount of ground covered. When it's healthy and you have enough to do and you have enough people to do it, the agenda is to cover the ground and to cover it smarter and to find out what really the fuck is going on. 

Like anything worth trying and anything worth doing, you fail as much as you succeed. But I never had anybody say to me, "We're doing this and we think this is good or we think this is bad." They basically just planted me on the beat. And they planted five of us on the crime beat. There was a court reporter every day that you could work with. There were three police reporters at any given moment. There were general assignment reporters that could be thrown into law enforcement issues. 

And we covered more ground. There's one guy left. There's one guy. He's working his ass off. That's true at The Baltimore Sun. That's true at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. That's true at the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. That's true at The Los Angeles Times.

reason: What I'm saying is that you might have more people covering stuff, but you did not have a moment where The Los Angeles Times was interrogating the power structure in Los Angeles, even when it had twice as many reporters. Now, you can read many sources coming out of Los Angeles, including The Los Angeles Times. I think probably City Hall and the power structure is more aptly covered than it was under a traditional model.

Simon: I couldn't disagree more. And I can only cite what's going on in Baltimore. There's more commentary. There's more debate. There's more discussion. The internet is a great democratization tool—

reason: I would argue there is also more firsthand reporting, observational reporting.

Simon: I don't know what to tell you. It's not happening here in the city in which you are sitting. It's not happening in New Orleans. It's not happening in any city where mainstream media has retrenched. It is not happening.

reason: In a recent interview you did with Bill Moyers you said, and I'm paraphrasing, "I don't believe in institutions anymore, I believe in individuals." Have you boxed yourself in? If you don't believe in institutions, then what? How do individuals change things?

Simon: I'm a grownup.  And it comes down to this and this is where I get exhausted with the notion of "There has been corruption there so let's throw up our hands and declare there's too much government."

What is your freaking alternative? There's never going to be permanent institutional stasis. Everything will corrode. Everything will rust. Everything will need to be replaced. Everything will need to be challenged and continually policed.

Somebody much wiser than me, my father, used to say at every single Passover Seder, "Freedom can never be entirely won, but it can be lost." And the way in which you lose it is not by acknowledging the inevitability of communal action and institutional necessity. But it's by walking away from our collective ownership and demand on the performance of those institutions.

reason: But things like charter schools, like school vouchers, getting out where you can get on a life boat, or out of Casablanca on the last plane—these are libertarian ideas. They are a way of changing the institutions so they serve the individuals they're supposed to serve.

Simon: If it's funded. If you're willing to take the same dollar that you were giving to a public school system.

reason: We have not stinted on increasing the amount of money we spend per pupil over the past 40 years. We have nothing, literally nothing, to show for it.

Simon: You will not get me defending the performance of public education. But the idea of public education, lower case p, lower case e.

reason: As we go through the third season of Treme, would you say that you start to show the green shoots [in the recovery of New Orleans]?

Simon: Yes, individuals start doing what they can. And there is nothing in The Wire and there is nothing in Treme that argues against individual responsibility towards the collective. And that's where I find patriotism and citizenship. You're not seeing people in Treme in season three begin to police themselves and to make their neighborhoods safer. That's beyond their capabilities. For that they need law enforcement professionals. But you do see them start to stand up on their hind legs and say, "The way you're behaving, as an institution, is unacceptable."

reason: And by creating alternatives. I mean they're building their businesses or they're creating art that is empowering to themselves and the people around them.

Simon: Well, they're seeking reform. And sometimes that involves trying to reform the necessary institution. And sometimes if they're starting a new business, that's a new business. I'm not arguing against venture capitalism. What I am arguing against in that piece is disaster capitalism.

reason: Or disaster socialism and the two things may be inextricably linked.

Simon: Disaster socialism?

reason: Disaster socialism. I mean the amount of public money that floods into New Orleans and the way that that it gets diverted from meaningful purpose is part of the show.

Simon: Where do you think it went? You think it actually got to people?

reason: I know that it came from the government and it came from taxes. I think we're talking about twin sides of the same process.

Simon: Let's journey down this road together because Louisiana is the jurisdiction in the world that jails more human beings per capita than any other state. That's pure market forces. There's profit to be made. They've monetized the poor down there. That's what they've done. Laissez-faire. We're all paying for that. But people are getting rich.

reason: I would say again, and I'm not shifting jurisdictions here, but in California the single most powerful group in state government is the state prison guards union. And they're not lobbying to get people out of jail.

Simon: Right, and they damn near bankrupted the state. Look at the Rockefeller drug laws. Look at the drug war. There are some things that the market is not supposed to dictate.

reason: But is it the market?

Simon: Of course it's the market!

reason: In the case of immigrant incarceration and deportations, it's the Obama administration, which has doubled the rate.

Simon: Absolutely. Very disappointing.

reason: I understand where you're coming from, but these people might be drafting off of policies that were put in place ahead of time. Nelson Rockefeller didn't need drug laws to get rich or to make his cronies rich. He was doing that already.

Simon: No, he needed them to get elected, but I absolutely agree with that. It has got to be across the board. Politicians will follow the path of least resistance if you let them and reward them for that. The whole idealized notion that the private sector can do this better than government—I don't want the private sector doing prisons better than government. I want government doing it reluctantly. I want my prison department. I want my corrections department in the state of Maryland or any state that I'm in to be a reluctant agent of government.

reason: About drug laws, do you see any positive trends? I mean there's marijuana legalization initiatives out there.

Simon: I do. The only positive trend that I see that really matters is that I think more people are calling bullshit.

Michael K. Williams as Omar Little in HBO's The Wire

 And this is where at some point during the run of The Wire I became a fellow traveler of the libertarians. And then a great disappointment to them. But the libertarian position on drugs absolutely works. It absolutely works on personal privacy because it's morally correct.

reason: Do you take Obama at his word that The Wire is his favorite show because it seems odd that he and Attorney General Eric Holder would have watched the show and then be pursuing the policies they have.

Simon: I do take Eric Holder at his word because he hosted the actors and they told me he knew the show. And I don't disagree with Obama's fundamental politics or some of his purposes. I'll be voting for Obama. You know, I have a choice of two and I'm not wasting my vote. It can always get worse.

reason: Do you think New Orleans is getting better? The show [is set] a couple years back in time, but the actual number of people who have returned is higher than the initial projection or expectations. Is it actually flourishing?

Simon: It depends on who you are. They called the area that didn't go under the water, the sliver by the river, the isle of denial. And there is a schizophrenia. I mean you go out to the Gentilly area and there are blocks where, you know, you'll see two or three people back and house after house still not restored.

Kim Dickens and David Chang in HBO's Treme

But before the storm, 77 percent of the population was born there. That's unheard of in America. Everyone is from somewhere else in this country. But if you're born there, if you grow up with that culture and that essence, it's very hard to say goodbye. It's not a museum piece. The number of Latinos—Central Americans and Mexicans—that came to New Orleans to do construction work after Katrina and now have stayed on means you're going to start seeing some version of the Mariachi second line band and it won't just be on Cinco de Mayo. They're going to contribute to the musical culture and to the cuisine.

Again, all the attendant problems of the American city are there, and I think city living is what Americans have to master. But, man, they make it hard. And I think that's the 21st century challenge, among other things. There's a lot of 21st century challenges—don't overstate it—but one of them is how do we learn to love a city for what it is because we have no choice.

Updated September 21: On his personal website, David Simon has accused Reason TV of producing a "shanked" interview with him. For links to his criticism, our response, and full audio of our hour-and-20-minute-long conversation with him that formed the basis of this video, go here now.

NEXT: Why Your Vote Doesn't Count, Obama's Failed Narrative, Four More Years of War!: November Reason Preview!

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  1. Certainly a fan of Simon but he seems to be very confused about a lot of things, starting with the reasons for the downfall of the print media industry

    1. Yeah, I don't think he realizes that he comes from the LAST generation where the two prior generations had a newspaper habit. And those habits had nothing to do with news and reporting, and everything to do with being the source of daily drama. Simon himself does dramatic storytelling really well, but when HE is the source of information, he doesn't provide much substance.

      His was the ONLY generation where one could study journalism and then get an actual journalism job. Prior to that, nearly all the reporters came from other departments at the paper, it wasn't a field of study with lofty goals. And his was also the first generation to ditch newspapers in favor of TV. Now there's only one generation left with much of a newspaper habit, and that isn't enough to keep any paper afloat. The real truth is only 3% of the population at any time in history gives a shit at all about news and information or improving "the system".

      But Simon would have been a bad reporter if he knew this going in, and he's better off now not knowing it. Because when the actual reality hits him, he won't waste his time anymore. And he's a damn entertaining waste of time.

      But if I want wisdom about the news business, George Carlin is a much more accurate source.

    2. Confused is a interesting choice of words, I would say delusional.

  2. this shows how you can be confused and oblivious but somehow still create something so sublime. note I've only watched the first 2 seasons of the wire so far. just started season 3

    1. I'm partway through Season 2. It is wonderful stuff.

  3. Oh please. We all know reason is going to endorse Obama in 2012, just like in 2008.

      1. "Cancel your own goddamn subscription." - WFB

    1. Reason endorsed a candidate in 2008? News to me.

      1. Reason does not make official endorsements. We'll be coming out with a "who's-getting-yr-vote" questionnaire of staffers and contributors before the election.

        1. Matt, is there a legal or tax reason for not making an official endorsement? I mean, I suspect that any official endorsement would usually run toward LP candidates, but I have wondered about this in the past.

          1. Its a bunch of libertarians. Might as well herd cats...

            Frankly I'd like to see Reason endorse Flava Flav?

            1. Well, if Reason were endorsing someone, you'd think it would be in line with the foundation, too, not just the editorial staff. In which case an LPer seems much more likely than a Republican (with the known exceptions) or a Democrat. I think that's true of the staff, too, by the way.

            2. Flav/Griff in 2012! Yeah boyyyyeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!

          2. I believe it's an actual legal reason. Someone (Matt Welch, maybe?) has stated before that's it's a requirement to keep their specific non-profit status. Also, can you see these guys all agreeing on who to vote for? I see three flavors: Gary Johnson, Ron Paul (write-in), and N/A.

            1. I'm thinking it's to preserve the foundation's 501(c)(3) status, but I'm not 100% how that works with the magazine.

              1. Well I don't know about staff officially endorsing a presidential candidate, but I do know the comments section is unanimous in endorsing me as the greatest commenter ever in the history of the universe.

                Fist of Etiquette 2012. It's tax deductible and you know it.

                1. This universe or another one?

                  1. This universe or another one?

                    It's unanimous. You guys figure it out.

                2. "This time, why not the worst?"

          3. There is, yes, though we wouldn't endorse candidates or parties in any case.

    2. lorien ur blog is rally cool will you b riting more LOL ttyl

  4. Wow what a fucking moron. How can someone with such child like intelligence make such good TV shows? If you only knew this guy by reading this interview, you would wonder how he can feed himself.

    I love it when he says "I'm a grownup". If you feel the need to announce it, you are probably not.

    1. I'm guessing he's a 'Lucas leader' in that he surrounds himself with inspired competent people and takes credit for what they do.

      1. Probably so. They guy couldn't even carry on a coherent conversation. Like

        reason: I don't know Baltimore, but I know a lot of people at the Los Angeles Times. And it would be hard to argue it's any worse than it was in 1995, or 1955.

        Simon: I don't know what to say to you. You're bringing things that are not rooted in empiricism. You have some emotional disconnect.

        reason: No, I'm just saying that the Los Angeles Times has always been first and foremost a booster for the idea of Los Angeles.

        Simon: You're bringing some sort of weird ideology into it.


        1. My guess is he was arguing with some assumed questions he had in his head and frankly has no idea what Nick is asking. He's just throwing words out to hide his obvious confusion.

        2. He goes on to argue as though only print journalists can bring news to the consumer. I don't think he had the capacity to understand Gillespie's point about alternative sources of information.

        3. I thought it was just me. I'm so used to just skimming over bullshit it didn't even bother me. But that is some grade A bullshit.

          Especially since he just got done bragging about he just presents things happening instead of pushing strawmen, and then lets the viewers decide for themselves. Apparently that only counts in crime dramas if he gets to pre-screen all the facts for "empiricism". If you bring your own first hand observations, then you are being emotional and ideological.

        4. I just can't read it. I love Simon's work from the books to the shows to allow myself to be tainted. That is nearly twenty years of invested love. I'm not going to let that go, like I had to do with Jessica Alba.

          This is the reason why Obama gets away with a kill list.

          1. Oh god this is an OFFICIAL THING now?!

            1. The pledge of allegiance to Obama? Yup.


              1. Oh, this is the biggest one I ever had. You hear that Elizabeth? I'm coming to join you honey

              2. So it's gone FULL RETARD. Well, I guess it had to happen sometime, and now we get to call them what they've always been, and they can't argue: mindless fascist scum.

                1. Those pictures literally made my heart hurt.

              3. I don't need to write anything to show my feelings for Obama. A gesture is all it takes.

              4. They can't just use the one-arm raised high, palm out while they pledge allegiance to the "leader"?

                Or: You know who else pledged allegiance to their leader?


              1. Write that on your hands, and send in a pic, Cyto.

                1. I'm guessing we're probably going to see a lot of pictures with hands showing things like "drone bombing for all" and "kill list for all" anyway. I can't wait to see what people come up with.

    2. I don't know. Reading the texts of all sorts of interviews, alot of them seem confusing and poorly reasoned, even when you agree with them. I don't know if that's the nature of interviews or not. Sometimes I listen to myself make an argument and about 2 seconds after I say something, I'm like "WTF, that's not my argument at all, crap, move on move on". There are some things I can speak intelligently on, but I find myself constantly tripping over my words trying to explain things like libertarianism and the free market. I believe it and know there are good arguments for it, but if I was interviewed about it, I'd make an ass of myself.

      1. But this seems worse than most. Some of the things he says are just strange.

        1. Yeah, they are, but I think conversations like that happen, expecially if your tired or ill prepared and trying to cover up the fact that your confused.

          Or maybe he was high?

          1. High is a good explanation.

    3. Yeah, he's always been a dick hole. His sympathy towards libertarians was non-existent. One if the writers who influenced him is Mike Davis, the socialist d-bag who gets Michael Moore hard. For about five minutes he thought libertarianism was where the cool kids hang out (and it's true!) and he wanted to be one of the cool kids.

      This is a guy who blames the state of Baltimore public schools on private enterprise. And the show is not as profound as everyone thinks. I particularly hate the tired depiction of drug dealers as corporate business types. This is Michael Moron language for "see! capitalism and crime are the same!" Fuck him.

  5. Whatever his ideology, The Wire still remains one of the best shows every on TV.

    1. I have to take issue with this. I liked The Wire, and consider it an excellent show, with some incredible performances from the likes of Michael K. Williams, Idris Elba, and many more. But I have the same issue with it as another of Simon's works, Generation Kill.

      Simon takes "unbiased" to a retarded level, at some times to the level where he injects no opinion at all on a subject. He showed the corruption in Baltimore...yet didn't really seem to have anything to say about it. Like he was unwilling to condemn those responsible. He does a little bit in The Wire, but I wanted more. And in Generation Kill, he is so totally hands off on whether it was a good idea or not that I found myself with almost nothing to think about after watching an episode, as there was nothing but some actions on the screen with no philosophy behind it whatsoever. "This is a fictionalized but somewhat real view of what happened, I have nothing to say about it" isn't very interesting.

      1. Like he was unwilling to condemn those responsible.

        Which makes it easier to appeal to a wider audience. He admits that his work appeals across commonly recognized political lines, which coincidentally can attract both artistic and monetary rewards.

        I'd bet he becomes pretty biased when the discussion turns to whether or not he can continue to do this for a living.

        He's quite right about the constant corrosion and evolution of our society. In that way he acknowledges the stupidity of utopian fantasies - but then speaks about "individuals" trying to repair corroded institutions without admitting that corrosion can't be repaired with more rust.

      2. That actually sounds very sensible. Leaving the judgement to the audience.

        1. Exactly. This is especially true with

          1. (Most of the comment got chopped)

            ... Generation Kill since Simon was not the author of the book. His background with editors changing his stories probably makes him more sensitive to not injecting his opinion into someone else's material than most TV writers.

            1. i think there;s room for both. Iow, shows that clearly have an underlying message/ideology. There's room for that. West Wing, for example.

              Then something like is being complained about here, where it's almost C-Span'y in its neutrality.

              And the third position would be more subtle but still with a POV. Maybe more like Law and Order. Law and Order is not as blatantly ideological as West Wing, but there are clearly some "messages" we are supposed to "get"

              i agree that there may be a market reason why he chooses (1). although it's not clear that 1 will always be more profitable. trying to appeal to everybody can often backfire and you end up appealing to nobody

              a good example of the 3rd is south park. south park lampoons all sides but it's hardly unobvious that they lean conservative/libertarian in their sympathies and interviews confirm this. the "we hate conservatives but we really fucking hate liberals" idea.

        2. Leaving the judgement to the audience.

          Exactly. Tell the fucking story, don't tell me what I'm supposed to think about the story.

          1. Spielberg disagrees.

        3. This approach to storytelling is pretty much the basis of modern Western literature, beginning with, say, Chekhov and Flaubert. The writer tells the story and the reader (or viewer) figures out for himself who's the good guy and who's the bad guy. Or, the reader figures out there are no good or bad guys. Just people trying to live their lives.

      3. The best part was the libertarian drug zone but I've only seen a few seasons.

  6. So is it his position that if only the newspaper industry had remained local family entities (with upwards of 500 to 600 employees at the Baltimore Sun for example) and NOT been "corrupted" by the Wall Street takeovers that they would have somehow continued as going/profitable economic concerns?

    Sorry, I like his shows but this is seriously doubtful on it's face and somewhat delusional at the margins.

    1. Its confusing as hell what he meant.

      1. Here is his argument, I think:

        1) When families owned papers, they cared about the content and informing the public.

        This is, of course, utter bullshit: see Randolph Hearst's behavior in the run up to the Spanish American War. But we'll set that bit of cluelessness aside.

        2) Then the faceless corporationy corporations took over and heartlesssly drove down costs by paring content down until the papers had the content readers were willing to pay for, rather than what was good for them.

        Here's the thing... the people paying the bills don't give a crap (Advertisers and readers). They want to pay as little as they can to be entertained/informed/have their message put out in front of eyeballs.

        And the information is coming free: A Bill Anderson who is pissed about the Tonya Craft trial is going to do a better job writing up that particular travesty than any professional journalist, and no paper has to pay him to see the info!

        The profitable paper is one that now edits copy being fed to it by bloggers/PR flacks, not one that depends solely on its own staff for writing text.

  7. I'm just laughing at his notion that market forces are what are fueling the prison system down there.

    1. I'm with you there. WTF?

    1. He's just a humble motherfucker with a big ass dick.

  8. So when is he going to make the real season 5 of the wire without the stupid fake serial killer subplot?

    1. That isn't a subplot of the show... its used to demonstrate the main point of the last season. What would you call the 'main' plot of the last season?

      1. Yeah, I guess it is the main plot. I still enjoyed it, but thought it was a bit much. I liked the parts about wrapping up the Stanfield murder cases, the further development of the kids from season 4 and the nothing-ever-changes ending better.

  9. "San Francisco is a cesspool with hills."

    I've heard committed liberals complain bitterly about the aggressive homeless people in San Franciso which make it... a cesspool.

    1. liberals are fine with homeless people, etc. as long as they are kept in their place... which means not in their neighborhoods, etc.

      liberals are the ones carrying cards from the ACLU but then making calls to 911 (anonymously) at 8 pm on a thursday evening to report the "suspicious" (who just so happens to be black) male walking down the sidewalk. clearly, he's "casing"

      we have this one sgt. simply awesome. admin hates him. they demoted him on some bullshit but he got da arbitration (UNION! RAH!) and got his stripes back.

      anyway, sgt. comes on the air. this is before MDT so we can't read the detail on the laptop. asks dispatch "what is the caller saying is suspicious about the male?"

      pregnant pause from dispatch.
      "caller is reporting he has seen the male walk by his house 3 times in the last 45 minutes and he slows down and looks at the house like he is casing it"


      Sgt: "radio, that call is bullshit. we're not sending an officer to that. it's a david"


        1. oh sorry. police radio code. it means "disregard"

          it can be noun or verb

          V: "Radio, I am going to david that call"

          N: "Boy 82, you can take a david"

      1. as long as they are kept in their place

        That seems to be a common attitude.

  10. You're bringing some sort of weird ideology into it.

    Umm. Kayyyy.

  11. Also praising HBO's model like it exists in a vacuum without support from Time-Warner and then cable companies is bizarre. This support comes through Wall Street and other financing venues, not just paying customers. They are just as plugged in as the newspapers to finance.

    Maybe the "sin" was on the way management chose to pursue the "new" newspaper model. Not on the market.

    1. If it wasn't for the junk bond innovations of the 80's we would still have three and a half channels to choose from just like the Progressive era communication cartels we were stuck with for nearly a century wanted it. That is the reason the regulatory system came down like a hammer on Milken. To protect their own.

  12. You know what you never see on front porches anymore? Newspapers.

    You know what you never see people reading on the bus anymore? Newspapers.

    You know what you rarely see in office lobbies anymore? Newspapers.

    You know what has replaced only a tiny, tiny percentage of the massive amount of revenue newspapers have lost since the advent of the internet? The internet.

    Wall Street consolidation didn't kill local newspapers. It was the last hope to keep them alive as technology took away the source of all their revenues. It just turned out that no amount of consolidation could save an obsolete format. Any theory of the decline of newspapers that doesn't take this into account is about as valid as a theory of falling objects that doesn't include gravity.

    Simon not only has the dynamic reversed but the chronology. Tribune's takeover of the L.A. Times was not some late-century raid. The two papers had been courting since at least the time of Robert McCormick. The reason it hadn't worked out in the past was not (only) that General Otis was a general and McCormick was only a colonel. They had almost sealed the deal at some point in the 1940s, but one of the Chandlers got wind of a plan by the pressman's union to organize the Times newsroom and kiboshed the deal on the spot. A great moment for the Times (which remains an open shop to this day)!

    1. Wall Street consolidation didn't kill local newspapers. It was the last hope to keep them alive as technology took away the source of all their revenues. It just turned out that no amount of consolidation could save an obsolete format. Any theory of the decline of newspapers that doesn't take this into account is about as valid as a theory of falling objects that doesn't include gravity.

      And this is why I didn't get that interview when I applied to write for Reason. 🙂

      Tim just wrote what I was trying to say up thread.

    2. Technology has been killing newspapers since the dawn of the age of the TV news in the 1950s.

      Newspapers started to become more arrogant and lazy once TV news killed off the afternoon dailies and left most cities with only one major newspaper (the morning daily). Prior to that, they all kept each other honest, since one newspaper spiking a story or missing an angle would only open up opportunities for the others.

      In terms of strictly local news, why should the Washington Post or LA Times care if they miss a story or cover it poorly? It's not there's much competition for that material.

      1. Actually, TV helped newspapers, because it created a whole new universe of stuff that needed to be advertised. If you looked at any paper through the 1990s, huge chunks of both editorial and advertising was stuff that revolved around TV. That's partly why their revenues kept increasing all that time.

        TV also didn't cut directly into readership the way the intertubes did because a newspaper offers an important level of convenience that pre-DVR TV did not. You get it delivered in the morning (or the afternoon! How I miss afternoon papers!) and you can read it any time. Unless you could really make sure to be in front of the TV at 6 or 11, that made papers your default delivery system for sports and weather (by far the most-read portions of the paper back in the day). The internet displaced all that convenience, to the point that newspapers just started to seem like a nuisance.

        But any assessment that takes newspapers as news delivery vehicles will always be wrong. They were ad delivery vehicles that made so much money they could afford expensive editorial operations. All of that is now gone. Simon should be marveling at how long the beast continued to live after it was mortally slain. The business continued to grow long after eBay and then Craiglist killed he classifieds. Even today you can go into the L.A. Times newsroom and still find plenty of well-paid people barely staying awake at their desks.

        1. And of course I meant to write "mortally wounded," not slain. This kind of thing wouldn't have happened in the days of professional copy editors, dammit!

          1. I predict legal ads will go the way of the Internet within the next five years or so (currently a legally enforced print monopoly) and that will be the end of the whole ballgame. If it weren't for all the foreclosure ads, print wouldn't have survived the recession.

            1. If it weren't for all the foreclosure ads, print wouldn't have survived the recession.

              Breaking News: Recession Foreclosures Save Newspapers from Recession!


    3. This is why I think a lot of journalists take the idea of government subsidies seriously. Some of them know damn well that their work has always been subsidized by the sports section, the classifieds, and the TV guide.

      Back before the government closed all the news stands in Chicago (I'm not making that up, Daley forced them all down) the majority of the outdoor stands would have the Sun-Times tabloid stacked with the sports section facing out because that sold more copies. Shit, I'm old enough to remember when the Tribune used to have FIVE stories above the fold on page 1 - now they never have more than TWO while a huge, useless color photo takes up most of the space. If the news is supposed to sell the paper, why the fuck are they hiding it???

    4. Who needs a paper on their step every day when they can have Tim Cavanaugh in their living room 24 hours a day?

  13. "There has been corruption there so let's throw up our hands and declare there's too much government."

    We aren't throwing up our hands. We have made fine, well-researched, well-reported diagrams and connections between the size, scope and power of government and its correlating corruption.

    The fact that no one listens and merely screams "Moar! Moar! MOOOOAAARRRRRRR WILL FIX IT!" is what makes us throw up our fucking hands.

    1. Acton came up with the formula 150 years ago.

      Corruption is proportional to power.

    2. The fact that no one listens and merely screams "Moar! Moar! MOOOOAAARRRRRRR

      Billy Idol?

  14. Simon: Disaster socialism?

    reason: Disaster socialism. I mean the amount of public money that floods into New Orleans and the way that that it gets diverted from meaningful purpose is part of the show.

    Thank you, Reason for trying to wake this guy up.

    1. Dude couldn't even wrap his mind around the concept. FEMA is capitalism! Who knew?!

      1. This is what has kept me from watching Treme so far. I knew going in there was going to be some lefty bent to it, even if Simon has the sense to temper it. I'm trying to brace myself by watching some shitty shows like Boss first so that the political flaws I know are going to be in Treme won't bother me as much.

        I still wonder if Simon doesn't get the fact that half the audience of The Wire watched it mostly for the murders.

        1. I know, right? Like certain people act like everyone that loves Omar does so because he's so interesting and morally complicated... but I think most of the people that like Omar just think he's a bad motherfucker.

  15. As someone who has spent twice as long in a newspaper newsroom (including a couple years on the night-cop beat) as David Simon, I'm sorry to report that he sounds like he's full of shit. I wish it were not so.

  16. "Let's journey down this road together because Louisiana is the jurisdiction in the world that jails more human beings per capita than any other state. That's pure market forces. There's profit to be made. They've monetized the poor down there. That's what they've done. Laissez-faire. We're all paying for that. But people are getting rich."

    Are certain people, no matter how intelligent, simply unable to grasp basic concepts like free market and laissez-faire? Is it not obvious that a great deal of state intervention is involved in the criminal justice system and corrections industry? Extremely obvious?

    1. I have to assume that David Simon is a J-school grad, because that's the only possible excuse.

      1. It's the typical stubbornness of someone who thinks he's doing "God's work". I wanted to say arrogance but I don't think Simon is arrogant - I'd reserve that for someone like Michael Moore.

    2. The so-called gatekeepers of Democracy have failed us when they literally don't know the difference between the agencies and institutions with legislative and police powers, and a guy running a bowling alley.

    3. If having the government steal my money so that it can pay cronies to put people in cages for violating it's Nanny State decrees is "laissez-faire", then ... aw fuck it. I can't even continue the hypothetical. It's too stupid. This dumbass needs to learn what some words mean.

      1. Damm.. I wish I'd written that. Awesome observation!

        1. There are plenty of leftists who think that whenever someone makes money, that's "capitalism". I have one particularly annoying friend who says this constantly.

          1. Every time I hear someone exclaim that "Capitalism" is failing us I ask them to define the term and point out some examples of it for me. I usually get a blank stare.

          2. So just remember to scream that every time the Obama campaign gets a donation.

          3. I know. I know! I KNOW!!!

    4. There are a myriad of groups interested in expanding the prison population. "Private," for-profit prison companies are one of them. Therefore, to many people, they are the driving - if not the sole - force. After all, it says profit!

      1. Yeah and there are a myriad of groups (House of Reps, Senate, various state legislatures...) who keep passing laws that allows the ongoing collection of meat for the prison machine.

        Go ahead...keep convincing me it's just private for profit prison industries!

  17. Simon: Let's journey down this road together because Louisiana is the jurisdiction in the world that jails more human beings per capita than any other state. That's pure market forces. There's profit to be made. They've monetized the poor down there. That's what they've done. Laissez-faire. We're all paying for that. But people are getting rich.

    Journey down what road together? This is a level of cognitive disconnect that rocks the very soul of man.

    The government creates the jails, feeds and creates the unions, creates and enforces the laws, builds the institutions, and he calls that "The Market"?

    I started with reading this interview with an open mind, and ended it wanting to bash my computer screen in.

    1. The only way I can conjure this as the work of "the market" is the market of people voting.

      It annoys me that those who can't fathom people making up their own minds in their actual economic lives feel 100% comfortable with those same nitwits having the vote.

  18. I love to visit New Orleans. It has great music and even better restaurants. But I am so fucking sick of the romanticism of that place. It is a corrupt shithole full of people too stupid or too poor to go anywhere else with some old money and hipster doofus poverty tourists mixed in.

    1. And the whole place stinks like urine. And not the commenter. That would be too foul.

      1. Yes it does. And basically the people there get what they deserve. They are the ones who vote for the corrupt system. They are the ones who refuse to clean the place up. In fact, they like it that way. Good for them. But I am tired of hearing about what victims they are and how hard they have. If it is so damned hard, move somewhere else.

        1. ".... basically the people there get what they deserve."

          My grandaddy told me that if you let pigs live in the house pretty soon you will be stomping around in pig shit. I say if you live in new orleans you are hip deep in pig shit all day.

          If you are religious, pray for another katrina to clean up my state.

          1. It's the living embodiment of "The Grasshopper and the Ant" fable.

            I don't wish them harm, but I would have liked to have seen some of the---deserved---blame for Katrina actually stick to the civic leaders who shamefully neglected their post. Instead, they re-elected their leader.

            Seems to me there's an Iron Law that covers this sort of thing...

          2. If you are religious, pray for another katrina to clean up my state.

            Bullshit! Katrina washed all that out to sea....I want fire next time! Fire of biblical proportions!

        2. And basically the people there get what they deserve.

          Ah, the Good and Hard clause to the Constitution. I've heard of it.

  19. I just watched it a second time. He's so invested in the now massively discredited notion that only paid elite "non partisan" college educated J-School journalists are truly qualified to bring us the information that is going on in our communities/country/world that it's hard to take anything else he has to say seriously.

    Individual initiative combined with technology has virtually no merit in his universe. Only the daily dedicated grind of the outdated model seems to appeal to him. Despite all evidence to the contrary like say giving an online interview to Reason magazine. Strange fellow.

    1. The funny thing about that is that you'd think an old crime-beat veteran would be somewhat immune from the world of Elite Journalism. The newspapermen of the old days were generally not big thinkers or part of the elite--they just liked to dig up dirt and get paid for it.

      1. Fuckin' A. Where's my bourbon?

  20. Nick, why didn't you say, "Wall Street isn't killing your beloved print media, I am with my camera and my interview!"

    1. Or, "That's funny -- I'm going to tweet that."

  21. I have never seen any of Simon's work, and now I surely wont. What a douche.

    And Nick, I read your earlier article on the creepiest pro-obama image of the week. Thanks. Now I am nauseas. I probably wont eat supper and dammit I was looking forward to that crawfish bisque.

    Upthread Killaz linked to the Alba article. The hands thing is a thing now? How fucking creepy can these people get? It is a pure cult of personality completely disconnected from reality.

      1. It does. Thank you.

        God these people make me want to spit. I feel compelled to bang out every derogatory word I can think of and string them all together to describe those fuckwitted shit eating motherfuckers.

        It is after four so I think I will just go pour a vodka instead.

    1. I have never seen any of Simon's work, and now I surely wont.

      That's a shame. The Wire is quite good. I'm not going to watch the interview or read the transcript, precisely because I don't care what artistes think, I care what they do.

      1. The original Homicide book is also good. While there is certainly a patina of "cop groupie" about it, for the most part he kept it about the individuals rather than the force which is probably what attracted the original producers of the TV show.

  22. Simon gets close to an important point in talking about how no one else besides traditional media can cover City Hall. In a sense, he's right. New media doesn't have the resources to engage in traditional investigative news gathering of that variety. Joe Blogger isn't as likely to have deep sources inside the police department or the city council to tip him off about corruption or scandal.

    Here's the problem: the market for that information is small. The sad fact is that most people don't have much interest in what goes on with local government, even though it affects them more substantially than anything the federal government does. Look at the participation rates in local elections. Look at how few people attend city council or school board meetings.

    Newspapers have survived by becoming more and more op-ed oriented, even in stories that are ostensibly factual.

    1. I think newspapers can still perform these tasks and are in a unique position to do so. They STILL have every strategic and local advantage. But why on earth does this take 600 people to cover the local crime beat and city hall? Hell if you REALLY want to be cheap about it go out into your local community and find the people who are already close to doing this on their blogs. Every community of decent size has dozens of them. Give them the few extra shekels they'd need to REALLY take the time to dig and turn them loose. A few editors could keep things in line "journalisticly" speaking. On the other hand... fehhh... whatever.. Arrogance would never allow it. What the hell is J-school for.

  23. Nick was pretty astonishingly polite and let him sure ramble nonsense for some long periods there uninterrupted.

  24. what a great interview. i read it, instead of watching it - didn't want to get the nixon effect. i loved the way two intelligent people, both with good ideas, could disagree on such primal stuff and do it CIVILLY. you didn't see (or i didn't read) Nick jumping out of his chair and saying "you statist tool derp derp derp".

    Again, it's refreshing. They both have good ideas, and yet they both in many respects have such wildly different conclusions. Which is how the real world DOES work. Just because there is disagreement does not mean the other half is stupid or uninformed or evil etc. I just have to do defer to Sowell on that front.

    Anyway, I'll probably go back and watch it, but I figured reading it first would give a huge advantage in that you can't UNsee something once you've seen it, and the first message, the content of the text could come for me before the added information in body language, etc.

    Again, GREAT interview. Stuff like this is what makes Reason a treasure.

  25. Wow. after reading the interview and making my post, i am reading this comment thread. the amount of vitriol, the hostility and the outright dismissal of Simon just amazes me. I'll just say again, it was a great interview, and i think they both did a great job, within limited space/text of making good points. And it was infinitely more interesting because it was two intelligent, informed, conscientious, educated, well meaning people who DISagreed. There's far more to learn from imo when reading such stuff. Again, thank you Reason.

    1. I agree that Nick did a good job at being polite and civil. That is part of his job, and he is better at it than I probably ever would be.

      But he his blaming the war-on-drugs-prison-industrial-pile-of-shit on "Laissez-faire". That is 100% BULLSHIT. FUCK HIM. If he wants to admit that that is fucking stupid, and he was just talking out of his ass, then I'd be willing to have conversation with him. But if isn't, then he deserves nothing but scorn, derision and mockery. And I'm glad he got plenty here.

      1. I am in 100% agreement with Simon in regards to privatization of prisons. Where I think he's falls over himself is when he puts more effort into showing his Democrat bona fides rather than look at the situation for what it is: the prisons are ALREADY privatized because they are essentially controlled by the C.O. union which is a private organization. I think a lot of the libertarian talk about privatization is clumsily-worded - much like Simon's interview - because the typical privatization talk almost always centers around wresting control from the union.

  26. The power of The Jacket on display. That dude couldn't make eye contact or more than occasionally glance in Nick's direction.

    I've gotta say I wouldn't turn my back if I were in a room with someone with Simon's mannerisms. Very strange.

  27. For those of you confused by some of the discussion, please note that Reason chose to edit out not just some but MOST of this interview.

  28. I don't agree with his politics and his answers are incoherent to me but I don't give a shit!

    The Wire is probably the best series I've ever seen. The way the theme changes each season but the characters are interwoven together is brilliant. It's one of those shows I can watch over and over and still see new things. I've watched it probably 3 times already and it like more every time. Treme is really, really good as well.

  29. managed to graduate in less than seven years, and could have become a warehouse manager if I'd stuck with that forklift job, instead of getting into the newspaper business.

  30. yo dis dude seem mad confused an aggittated doin mind 2 mind combat wit da gawd nick gellipsy

  31. Simon really is a ballsack.

  32. His comments on free market causing the problems with the prison system and the drug war are reversed. The prison population did not explode because of privatization of the prison system. The prison system became privatized because of the explosion of the prison population due to bad drug laws. They had to find a way to run prisons for cheaper. He also ignores the fact that incentives matter. If the goal is more prisoners rather than less crime, it won't matter is prisons are run by private companies or public employees. Both will lobby for more money and more prisons. It is a problem of law and policy, not of who runs it.

  33. One thing the US could do is to stop encouraging city building under/near the sea level, on fault lines, in deserts, etc.

  34. Nick, did he unfriend you on FaceBook?

  35. Thank you very much

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