November 15, 2012

David Simon, creator of The Wire defends infidelity and calls media coverage of Petraeus affair “grist for the usual mill”


David Simon

I like David Simon, I really do.

Following my Netflix binge on The Wire some years back, I tracked down what was available online of Simon’s journalism and proceeded to rub my chin in thoughtful appreciation and tip my hat toward him the same way some men tip their hats to war veterans.

Simon was an old-school newspaper man, and using new(er) media to televise his stories, and opinions, was a significant, legitimate achievement.

But all that’s gone now. You can’t be a newspaperman if you are not a newspaperman.

Now David Simon is famous for television and no longer a reporter but somewhat of an anti-media voice, whose occasional blog postings speak up against the so-called demise of yesterday’s altruistic media and draw sentences of enthusiasm and one-offs of dissent.

Take, for example, his recent post concerning the Petraeus affair, “Stray Penises and Politicos,” which, in short, claims Petraeus’ affair does not reduce his ability to lead the CIA but rather highlights a media system hungry for cheap controversy and no longer interested in the big picture.

Although Simon admits to chasing the same type of headline-grabbing journalism when he worked at the Baltimore Sun, long ago, he decided, enough was enough:

I told myself that I wasn’t in journalism to chase something so ordinary, so adolescent as other people’s sexuality, that I wouldn’t play this game, that there were better reasons to be a reporter, and there were better things for readers to consume.  I knew that one soldier opting out from such a lurid and exalted battlefield of the media wars meant nothing, but I did it anyway.  Fuck Gingrich’s divorces.  Fuck Lewinsky.  Fuck where Herman Cain found some happy moments.  I’m not playing anymore.  I long ago ceased to even pretend to care.

Ceasing to care does not mean ceasing to write, however, as Simon demonstrates in his 3,000 word blog post. Nor does it mean ceasing to pass judgement, which in this case he does on Politco’s reporter Roger Simon.

It’s obvious that R. Simon’s reporting is shortsighted and overblown (“Gen. David Petraeus is dumb, she’s dumber.”), but that does not prevent D. Simon from shaking his stick (blog) at R. Simon’s shadow (Politico).

If Simon is a staunch defender of newspaper work, surely he understands the importance of capturing eyeballs, whether online or on print.

But perched above the groundlings of today’s reporters, here’s how he would have reported it:

David Petraeus has had sex outside his marriage, as have many men and many women. Human sexuality and compulsion are not in any way related to intelligence.  It’s not that the dumb or powerful are more prone to fucking around, or that the intelligent and powerless do it to any greater degree.  It’s that men in general are hopelessly and permanently prone to contemplate sex and furtive romance and, sometimes, to act on it.   The reasons they do so are crude, ordinary and inevitable.   Women are also hopelessly and permanently prone to contemplate furtive romance and sex — and yes, I changed the order, I know — and the reasons they do so are only marginally less crude, ordinary and inevitable.

Then why, David Simon, are you blogging about a story you’re essentially calling moot?

To get at the truth? To call bullshit on all of this hype? Maybe …

Or maybe it’s because an old dictum of media, even older than report “the truth,” is that media itself is the greatest headline.

Picture the open-mouthed snake circling back, intent on its tail:

I’m neither an admirer nor detractor of General Petraeus.  But I am most definitely a detractor of what journalism has become in this country, of what passes for the qualitative analysis of our society and its problems.  And I’ve paid enough attention to the human condition to no longer take seriously the notion that anyone who lets penis or vagina rub against the wrong person, who is indiscreet in doing so, and who then tells the truth about it when confronted by an FBI agent is unfit for either citizenship or public service.  I certainly know enough about the human condition to know that all kinds of people — smart and dumb, powerful and powerless — are capable of finding themselves in such a circumstance and shaking their heads at just how far they strayed, at just how indiscreet they were in their very ordinary, human hunger, and how they have hurt those closest to them. Sex, done right, is some powerful shit.  And when Americans begin to accept the human condition for what it is rather than an opportunity to jeer at the other fellow for getting caught, then we will be, if nothing else, a little bit more grown up.  I remember when Francois Mitterand’s wife and mistress walked beside each other in the French premier’s funeral procession and few in that country thought it remarkable.  The French have got their problems, but in some respects, they make our country, our political commentary, seem as mature and insightful as a fourteen-year-old unsticking the pages of his dad’s just-discovered skin mags.  It’s a peculiar American hypocrisy that only the worst kind of  journalistic hack would readily and willingly embrace as a meaningful metric.

Don’t get me wrong, today’s media is a hungry snake.

But so is the high and mighty blogger, who, despite his attributes, falls prey to the almighty headline.



Kevin Murphy is the digital media marketing manager of Melville House.