Interview with David Simon of ‘The Wire’

The Wire is the greatest piece of TV I’ve ever seen and probably the best contemporary narrative to come out in the last half century. Its creator, David Simon, is a recent MacArthur grant winner and probably one of the smartest people out there:

Bill Moyers: But here’s the problem for journalism. When we write about inequality, we use numbers that are profound but numbing. I mean, here’s something I just read: over the past twenty years, the elite 1 percent of Americans saw their share of the nation’s income double, from 11.3 percent to 22.1 percent, but their tax burden shrank by about one-third. Now, those facts tell us something very important: that the rich got richer as their tax rates shrank. But it doesn’t seem to start people’s blood rushing.

David Simon: You start talking about a social compact between the people at the bottom of the pyramid and the people at the top, and people look at you and say, “Are you talking about sharing wealth?” Listen, capitalism is the only engine credible enough to generate mass wealth. I think it’s imperfect, but we’re stuck with it. And thank God we have that in the toolbox. But if you don’t manage it in some way that incorporates all of society, if everybody’s not benefiting on some level and you don’t have a sense of shared purpose, national purpose, then it’s just a pyramid scheme. Who’s standing on top of whose throat?

Incentives. Incentives. Incentives.

As for his beloved newspaper industry:

You know, for twenty years, they looked upon the copy as being the stuff that went around the ads. The ads were God. And then all of a sudden the ads were not there, and the copy they had contempt for. They had actually marginalized themselves.

Having worked for a period of time for the Cerberus known as Gannett, Tribune and Knight Ridder, I saw this first hand. I actually sat in on meetings with with executives who debated how to make their online offerings less attractive to users so that they would go back to the hard copy papers.

Stellar interview.