Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Jeffrey Goldberg Is Too Smart For The Wire - Week 2


Goldberg opens with, Well, you've achieved the possible—you've pissed off David Simon. You have now gone where, well, thousands of people have gone before. Perhaps it was this line of yours, from last week's dialogue, that triggered the attack: "The Wire is not merely the best show on television now, but the best show that has ever been on television." What did you expect after you delivered yourself of such praise? A thank you? A basket of muffins?

Let the record show that Jeffrey Goldberg does not like David Simon the man. Perhaps they have a mutual acquiantance in the journalism world. Perhaps Simon once corrected Goldberg. However, you can sleep easy knowing that a top notch journalist like Goldberg won't allow a petty personal dislike to stain his evenhanded work.

I reread Mark Bowden's excellent piece on Simon in this month's issue of my magazine, the Atlantic, after receiving Simon's complaint about you...Naturally, Simon is infuriated with him, as well. In the course of unpacking Simon's epic, unidirectional dispute with Bill Marimow and John Carroll, the one-time Baltimore Sun editors who, in Simon's view, destroyed the paper, Bowden makes an obvious mistake: He decides to remain neutral in the fight...Bowden showed Simon a draft of his piece, "which provoked a series of angry, long-winded accusations" in which Simon impugned Bowden's journalistic integrity to the editor of the Atlantic, which is amusing, of course, because Bowden is one of the five or six best reporters in America.

Oh. So there we have it. Simon criticized a piece by one of Goldberg's friends, who is one of the five or six best reporters in America. Incidentally, this was the second time in four entries that Goldberg hyped a piece from his own magazine. He's so reluctant to make himself part of the story.

Very few big-city-paper editors are quite so ostentatiously stupid and venal as the Carroll of Simon's imagination, and so, once again, the Sun subplot was not at all compelling to me.

If all editors were ostentatiously stupid, this subplot would be compelling to Goldberg. However, he knows many editors that are as ostentatiously smart as he is and he therefore cannot imagine an editor who isn't. Whether this lack of imagination impugns his own intelligence is something we'll leave for another time.

We've learned that the overambitious Templeton is already suspected of creating a Baltimore variant of Janet Cooke's "Jimmy" (we've learned this thanks to a most unnaturally perceptive city desk)...

Yes, Gus the desk chief is unnaturally perceptive. Even though he grew up in Baltimore and is black himself, it was unnatural for him to be suspicious that Templeton just happened to go to Opening Day for a local color story and find a black kid in a wheelchair with no parents who loves baseball. Only some sort of clairvoyant would suspect a ruse. And for the record, in the latest episode, Gus mentioned that an inner city kid loving baseball is a little suspicious. However, Goldberg, being merely naturally perceptive, could not have anticipated this.

...and we also know that top management just adores our sweater-vest-wearing Stephen Glass and is giving him the opportunity to write a Pulitzer-bait "Dickensian" series (I like the way Simon subverts the Dickens meme by associating it with one of his villains) on a city classroom.

Calling a bleak piece of work Dickensian used to be smart and insightful. That's why Goldberg did so earlier. But now David Simon has twisted it into some kind of perjorative. Bastard.

It's the moralizing that's getting me. Why do they have to tell us that the lives of black men are cast away by our society? Isn't that the whole point of this show? We get it. We've been watching for years.

Jeffrey Goldberg definitely gets this. In fact, the week before, he himself wrote, Every time I read a front-page story about death in Baghdad, I ask myself: How many African-Americans died violent deaths in the same time period in American cities, without anything more than a news brief to record the awful fact? In other words, I get why David Simon is angry.

I don't know what happened between January 7 and January 14, but it was something that definitely made Jeffrey Goldberg tired of people moralizing about the downtrodden. People besides him, I mean.

One question I'm always left with after an episode of The Wire is this: Where will these brilliant African-Americans actors go when The Wire is finished? Maybe this is why David Simon is so pissed—he knows that Hollywood hasn't figured out how to showcase large quantities of black talent and fears for the careers of his cast.

Dammit! Why does he have to keep telling us the lives of black men are cast away by society?!

My dream is that some savvy Shakespeare company hires, en masse, the cast of The Wire for what would be just a thrilling Julius Caesar. Wood Harris, who plays Avon Barksdale, has already appeared in Troilus and Cressida. Just imagine him as Brutus.

In case you're wondering, Jeffrey Goldberg is familiar with the complete works of Shakespeare. He keeps a leather-bound copy of them on a high shelf in his study.

Where are Simon & Co. going with the parallel fraud plots? It seems to me that he'll have to merge them. Stephen Glass needs a big story, and McNulty's selling one.

This did actually happen, to the surprise of nobody. If Jeffrey Goldberg and his natural perception can see something coming, everybody can.

Ordinarily, I'd predict that Scott gets chewed up in the process, but isn't David Simon's main complaint against his one-time bosses at the Sun that they protected a Pulitzer-bound fabricator, rather than expose him?

The preview for the February 24th episode showed a homeless Enduring Freedom vet that Templeton quoted for a story coming back and accusing Templeton of lying. Gus brought him to the Sun offices. When Goldberg saw this preview, he predicted that the editors would either protect Templeton or they wouldn't.

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