The Skeleton in Daniels' Closet

The Wire Final Season

The Skeleton in Daniels' Closet

The Wire Final Season

The Skeleton in Daniels' Closet
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Talking television.
Jan. 22 2008 7:50 AM

The Wire Final Season


Dear Jeff,

Thank you for figuring out why Alma's early-edition odyssey bugged me so much! A real Alma wouldn't even have woken up early to see her story. She would have checked the Web site at midnight the night before, when the paper went live (and then immediately updated her Facebook  status to read "Alma Gutierrez is getting screwed by her editors," and Twittered same to 135 friends). Heck, the single act of her logging onto the free Sun Web site rather than schlepping out to buy the paper would have explained more about the newspaper crisis than 17 close-ups of Whiting's I'm-an-asshole suspenders ever could.

David Plotz David Plotz

David Plotz is the CEO of Atlas Obscura and host of the Slate Political Gabfest.


It's weird that The Wire clings to a 1999 vision of the newspaper—no e-mail, no texting, barely even cell phones—when it's so incredibly au courant about the practices of drug dealers. According to one of the 18 zillion Wire articles from the past couple of weeks (though I can't remember which one), New York gangbangers actually watch the show for tips on how to avoid cell-phone wiretaps and other popo surveillance.

Its newspaper Luddism gives me another thought: The Wire is in many ways the useful counterpoint to another cultic TV show that began around the same time, 24. In 24, conspiracies are everywhere and institutions are corrupt, but technology is omnipotent and the individual can triumph. In The Wire, conspiracies are everywhere and institutions are corrupt, but technology always betrays us, and the individual can never triumph. All anyone can hope for is sheltered, private happiness. Needless to say, I find The Wire much truer to the world I live in. (Hmm, does this help explain why 24 is revered by Republicans and TheWire by Democrats? I have to think about that.) 

I'm not a newspaper guy, and I lack the profound emotional connection to them that drives Simon. So, I'm skeptical about this newspaper nostalgia. Our mutual friend and Slate media critic Jack Shafer has explained that the newspaper glory years—1950s through the '80s, right Jack?—were anomalous, a period of artificially high profits that allowed papers to overstaff, throw resources into huge projects, and avoid the exigencies that plague most competitive businesses. So, maybe what's happening now isn't a rape, but a long overdue correction. And maybe it's not true that smaller newspapers mean less journalism—or even less great journalism. Web journalism is thriving. So is magazine journalism. Public radio is bigger and better than ever. It's true that they're not the same as newspaper journalism. Certain wonderful kinds of newspaper stories don't get done anymore. On the other hand, it doesn't mean they're worse. I like Thomas Edsall  even more as a blogger and political analyst at the Huffington Post than I did when he was a campaign-finance reporter for the Washington Post.

Now you've made me talk about all the newspaper stuff I vowed to avoid! Let's get back to the show. I've forgotten: What was it that Cedric Daniels did wrong, deep in his past?  (It's the All the King's Men subplot: Everyone, even Saint Cedric, is dirty: "Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption.")