Baltimore Sun's 'Wire' Portrayal Fuels a Hot Debate

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By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Internet may be killing newspapers, but it's great for fanning a ruckus among the journalists covering the funeral.

If all we had was print, we never would have had the poly-linked blogfest tempest over the final season of HBO's "The Wire," on sites like Slate.com, Poynter.org and something called Fimoculous.com, along with New York magazine's Vulture blog.

"Wire" creator David Simon has said his theme over the series' five years of brutal, savvy cop-show-cum-urban-studies-seminar set in Baltimore has been nothing less than "the decline of the American empire."

This year focuses in part on the inner workings and faults of a fictional newspaper named after a real one, the Baltimore Sun, where Simon was a reporter from 1983 to 1995.

In the show and some of the commentary, there are accusations and insinuations of grubbing for prizes, gutting coverage and favoring the sweet tale over the complex truth. And even though much of this controversy is incomprehensible to a viewing public that has seen only two episodes, a lot of journalists have seen it on advance DVD copies. Hence the Internet uproar.

While the plot is "decidedly fiction," Simon says, it is "rooted in our personal experiences," and in all the online back-and-forth, Simon and his fans and critics refer to real former Sun journalists who may have inspired some of the art.

Former Sun top editors John Carroll and William Marimow "are notable journalists with impressive resumes," Simon writes in a cross-post to Slate.com and Ubiquitousmarketing.com. "But in Baltimore, in their hunger for prizes, they tolerated and defended a reporter who was making it up wholesale." Without naming a reporter in his recent blog posts, Simon says the most egregious example was published five years after he left the paper. He made the same charge publicly at the time.

Simon arrived fresh out of college filled with world-saving ideals. He did not leave happy; he took a buyout at the downsizing newspaper. In blog posts and a new online essay, he makes clear who may have inspired two of the fictional editors portrayed in the show as corporate toadies.

Carroll, now writing a book after editing the Los Angeles Times, and Marimow, now the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, say in interviews they reject Simon's characterization of their leadership.

"I deeply resent Simon's dishonest efforts to revise history," Marimow says.

"I once nominated David for a Pulitzer, and it was about the only conversation I had with him that was pleasant," Carroll says. "He's a very angry guy." He says the Sun ran "a very prominent correction" of the story to which Simon alludes. At the time, he and Marimow defended the reporter's talent and integrity.

There's no feud so passionate as a newspaper feud. Plenty of reporters are "Wire"-heads, but this year as a bonus they can be outraged or entertained by Simon's take on their daily grind.


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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