TV Club

Week 5: I Called Marlo

Lance Reddick in The Wire

Dear David,

I’ll forgive David Simon the Flying Omar, and I’ll forgive him McNulty’s unexplained and uninteresting descent into professional and personal lunacy, but I won’t forgive him for making me watch Shattered Glass again. Don’t get me wrong—it was a good movie about a bad ex-friend of mine (and, as a bonus, the excellent Chloë Sevigny played your excellent wife). But I’m bored by stories of pathological fabricators, not because they don’t exist (though I doubt they exist in numbers—ready, set, go: Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair, Mike Finkel, and … who else, exactly?) but because they don’t tell us much about the ailments of modern journalism. This was the promise of the fifth season of The Wire, that David Simon would take apart journalism the way he took apart public education and the decaying big-city economy. 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?

As you can tell, I am, like you, dispirited by the McNulty subplot, though I don’t think it has quite gone off the rails yet. There were a couple of redeeming moments in this episode—for instance, the look on McNulty’s face when he realized that Templeton was scamming the bosses at the Sun in much the same way that he was scamming his own at homicide. But most of the time, I thought I was watching CSI: Baltimore. That is to say, when I didn’t think I was watching Schoolhouse Rock again. What’s all this talk about gerunds? Do you know actual editors who talk this way? The cops on The Wire talk like cops (best line of the night: Bunk accusing McNulty of being “nut deep in random pussy”), so why can’t the editors sound like editors? None of the editors I’ve worked with, including the quietly persnickety David Plotz, would ever criticize me for the inappropriate use of gerunds. And not only because I’ve got a Ph.D. in gerundology.

There was one great, true moment in the newsroom, by the way, great not only because it was fleeting and subtle, but because it got at something real about journalism, which is that we miss much of what happens in the world. You’ll recall the moment when Alma is running down the list of homicides and mentions a “Joseph Stewart,” shot in his dining room? Gus tells her to give him two paragraphs on each killing, and off she goes. Baltimore’s most important drug dealer, murdered, and he gets two grafs, because his name rings no bells. That’s journalism.

By the way, I called Marlo’s cell phone: (410) 915-0909. I was hoping someone would answer so I could test my bad Greek accent, but there’s no service on the line.