David and Jeff,
What were the circumstances at which those conversations occurred? When I am at say, at a book-release party with a bunch of journos, or at a wedding table, where I am seated exclusively with newspaper people, or simply talking to a noted reporter or editor, the conversation is often about journalism and quite naturally, my unlikely transition from newspapering to television also is a topic and yes, I am very blunt about what went bad for me at The Sun, and for many, many others there as well.
If it were at a party of say, Baltimore cops, then the drug war, or the copshop, or the bar tab itself would predominate. And journalism and/or my experiences in journalism would go unmentioned in any regard.
Entertainment industry people? We talk about the business.
Drug dealers? We talk about the, um, business.
And in all instances when people come up to me to discuss how much they love them some Omar and how he's the bestest character ever, well, okay, my eyes do glaze to the point of distraction and I do desperately try to change the subject back to whatever the collective conversational zeitgeist might be at a given gathering.
I was a newspaperman from my high school paper until I left the Sun at age 35. It was a delight to me. It informs my work in myriad ways. At some point, it went bad. And the fact is, you'll not find me speaking openly against the fellows who made it go bad for long after my departure. I held my tongue pretty well despite my low regard for those fellows. But in 2000, five years after I left The Sun, those cats finally made clear that they had dragged The Sun into a journalistic fraud through the same myopia and indifference that later cost [Howell] Raines and Gerald Boyd their careers, except they did so despite private warnings about the reporter who was the problem. Why yes, at that point—which you describe as 19 years ago, though it is in fact, seven—I got angry and vocal and direct.
Mr. Carroll and Mr. Marimow are notable journalists with impressive resumes. They have done some fine things, I am sure. But in Baltimore, in their hunger for prizes, they tolerated and defended a reporter who was making it up wholesale. Events, quotes, meetings at which people were supposed to have spoken powerfully about The Sun's powerful coverage of a Pulitzer-worthy issue but never said any such thing—it was simply farce. Yet even after that third retracted article, they continued to defend the behavior as the honest mistakes of a good, aggressive reporter.
To flourish, shit like that relies on silence and fear within the newsroom, and complicity within the industry itself. And at the point when the third story had been retracted in full and these guys were still trying to mitigate the fraud and accept no responsibility for it, I resolved that I was going to speak to it openly and without regard to decorum. I make no apologies whatsoever for that. I grew up a newspaperman; I do not know how to regard newspapermen who would go out of their way, over a period of years, to continually retract stories by the same reporter and continue to defend such. And so, when I meet other journos, I am full-throated in a way that everyone still in the game never manages to be when it comes to a yet-to-be-outed Blair, Bragg, Kelley, or Glass. These scandals keep coming one after another and everyone pretends that they are aberrations, that the only guilty parties have all been caught, that there isn't an underlying and fundamental problem with prizes and ambition and accountability that is inherent within the shrinking pond that is print journalism.
I loved my newspaper and I loved working for my newspaper; and given the basic ethics of newspapering, I don't know how not to be angry over what happened there. You want to call that sour grapes? No problem. Call it spoiled roast. It is what it is. I got in the business thinking certain things about journalism; naively, maybe, I took that shit to heart. My mistake, apparently.
That said, if you've ever taken an Introduction to Logic course, you know that Argumentum Ad Hominem, while a stock maneuver in most half-assed journalism and commentary, is the weakest sort of intellectual crutch. If you are serious in addressing something, then ideas matter, not the man. 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. I've got a secret for you cats: Ed Burns has some pretty fierce feelings about the people he worked for and with in the Baltimore Police Department and the Baltimore Public School System. Do you really believe that insiders in the B.P.D. and school system can't recognize certain specific references to reality in the previous 50 hours of television? Writers of fiction cannibalize their most meaningful experiences and then regurgitate them and hope for the best. There is nothing at all new to this.
The only difference between your discussion of seasons one through four and the current one seems to be that you did not encounter Ed Burns at a party. Next time we meet, remind me to talk about the Orioles parsimony when it comes to pitching or my complete collection of Professor Longhair albums in order that you might be able to address yourselves to the work itself, for better or for worse.