I’ll have more to say about this season of The Wire, its misdiagnoses of journalism’s problems, and David Simon’s recent nostalgic column in the Washington Post. But for now I wanted to give my general response to Season 5′s Baltimore Sun storyline.
At Slate’s TV Club conversation about Season 5, David Plotz annoyed David Simon by referencing brief conversations they’d had at parties in which Simon bitched about the Baltimore Sun. Simon criticized Plotz’s post, concluding: “The Wire’s depiction of the multitude of problems facing newspapers and high-end journalism will either stand or fall on what happens on screen, not on the back-hallway debate over the past histories, opinions passions or peculiarities of those who create it.” This is what I wrote to Plotz in a solidarity e-mail after Episode 2 or 3:
Fair enough. But so far his “multitude of problems” are a) Too many Stephen Glasses, b) Pompous idiot editors too dim to see the clearly telegraphed Stephen Glasses and disinterested in getting at the root of social problems, and at a distant third c) Corporate cost-cutting. That is all.
Forget that a plague of fabulists isn’t (to my knowledge) currently destroying journalism from within, and that the problem with real fabulists is they aren’t usually transparent fakers right from the start. This is his grand diagnosis of the ills of modern journalism?
How about, I don’t know, the Internet? Or hemorrhaging ad sales and circulation (partly or largely because of the Internet). Or figuring out how newspapers can appeal to readers and stay relevant in this new competitive-media world. Newspapers are going through their most dire period of upheaval in decades and he thinks the issue is too many fabulists?
The problem with his portrayal isn’t just that Simon’s fictional newsroom seems like a caricature of a mid-90s newsroom. It’s that, despite his response to Plotz’s TV Club post, he so clearly framed his fictional view based on his “past histories, opinions passions or peculiarities.” What a coincidence that his grand statement, via The Wire, on modern journalism’s failures happens to exactly coincide with his oft-stated feelings about his former editors and how they dealt with (or didn’t deal with) a fabulist and stories about social issues at the Baltimore Sun 15 years ago.
Jeffrey Goldberg voices similar frustrations in his TV Club post today:
We were meant to be getting a sophisticated look at the demise of daily journalism, besieged by the Internet and by venal media companies. Well, what we’ve got is a newspaper edited by a pair of impossibly shmucky editors who seem, in 2008, unaware of the existence of the World Wide Web and who have in their employ a reporter who is doing something no fabricator, to the best of my knowledge, has ever done: manufacturing information about an ongoing homicide investigation. Put aside, please, the fact that said investigation is a sham as well; the reporter, Templeton, doesn’t know that. Is this what David Simon really wants his viewers to believe happens at major newspapers? Is he that blinded by hate for the Baltimore Sun?
For such a supposedly brilliant guy and show, it’s depressing that the answers to the last two questions seem to be yes, and yes.