A Lie Agreed Upon

Spoilers for the latest, beneath.

I just tore apart my office looking for this book. Colin Harrison, writing in “Manhattan Nocturne:”

I sell mayhem, scandal, murder and doom. Oh, Jesus, I do, I sell tragedy, vengeance, chaos and fate. I sell the sufferings of the poor and the vanities of the rich. Children falling from windows, subway trains afire, rapists fleeing into the dark. I sell anger and redemption. I sell the muscled heroism fo firemen and the wheezing greed of mob bosses. The stench of garbage, the rattle of gold. I sell black to white, white to black. To Democrats and Republicans and Libertarians and Muslims and tranvestites and squatters on the Lower East Side. I sold John Gotti and OJ Simpson and the bombers of the World Trade Center, and I’ll sell whoever comes along next. I sell falsehood and what passes for truth and every gradation in between. I sell the newborn and the dead. I sell the wretched, magnificent city of New York back to its people. I sell newspapers.

And so the city goes, humming into the night, and this one’s gonna take some time to get my hands around. My grandmother became a nurse in a hospital on the South Side of Chicago, I think it would be in Bronzeville now, after the end of World War II. She told me about how every Friday morning on her way to work she’d step over drunks, passed out exactly in the gutter. Guy managed to heave himself in to the emergency room, they’d treat him, but they couldn’t just pick them up and carry them bodily inside. Couldn’t, weren’t allowed to, it meant the same thing: guy slept in the gutter, pretty young nurses step over him on their way to the job.

It occurs to me that in the world of The Wire which is our world, really, what we’re basically deciding on is what we’re willing to step over, ignore the smell of, pretend doesn’t exist. What problems we’re willing to pretend we can’t solve, what limits we’re willing to place on ourselves and then blame for inaction. The level of self-betraying suck we’ve decided to tolerate today. The lies we’re all ready to believe, at any given moment, so we can eat and sleep and move our little chits around, run for one office after another, win a prize or two, accept a buyout, but you know, the drunk’s still in the gutter, and just because everyone around you says it’s okay not to look doesn’t mean he isn’t there.

It will surprise absolutely no one that the newsroom’s what’s got me this season. My love for Gus positively chokes me, and not just because he did the right thing and always has and always will; it’s because even though he’s on the copy desk by the end, even though he has to watch that slimy little useless not-even-good-for-the-show fuck Templeton, he knows who he is and that is unshakeable, that’s the source of all his strength, his courage, his decency. He knows where he fits, too; somebody else might have quit in a huff, but he’s still there, because those are his people, might as well be the Towers or the Terrace or the corner he can’t get off of. It’s a series of tribes, on this show, it always was: the gangsters and the cops and the dockworkers and the teachers and the reporters, too, it’s a series of schemes into which you fit, families in which you belong, and in the end, who’s more moral? Just because Whiting and Klebanow don’t shoot anybody in the head on the street doesn’t make them innocent; shove a story about a family killed in their home to the back because it’s from the wrong zip code and you’re practically an accessory. I’m a writer, nothing exists unless we tell a story about it afterward, and you look at the numbers and erase them from your notebook? I’m not forgiving of them just because they wear ties.

It’s not that they made the wrong choices, Whiting and the like, it’s that they set things up so that there are choices at all. Make it okay to ignore the wrongs done under their noses. Stop selling the city back to itself, all of it, good and bad. We used to say, my tribe, my people, sitting in a bowling alley bar getting shitfaced after some unholy nightmare, that what we do is shove reality in people’s faces: LOOK AT IT. Nobody likes that, but somewhere along the line we started thinking our point was to be liked, instead of to be necessary. Stories like this, the one we’ve been watching, give the city back to itself, in all its wretched, magnificent glory.

Quick hits: Oh, my God, Lester in the suit with the pink tie? Mrowr. Kima: “Quit whining like a bitch.” The Most Awkward Elevator Ride Ever. Ronnie’s a judge, can’t she brush her hair? I want to introduce her to the lovely 14-year-old who cuts mine; if she can make mine behave she can deal with Ronnie’s scraggly self. I worry about McNulty, long-term, of course, and I wish I knew how things turned out with Kima and her kid, because the “good night, fiends” scene …

Still chewing on the rest. Title from Deadwood, of course, speaking of great HBO shows that are now sadly no more. Sorry I’ve been absent from the discussion of late.




  1. We have you and posts like this and we have Nancy. Out there, we have the folks saying the newsroom storyline was weak and unrealistic.

    I know who I believe.

  2. Bingo! Those annoying mooks that kept harping on how the Sun storyline was just so Simon could wield some kind of revenge. Wrong. Athenae, Nancy get it right.

    Hell, Fletcher got to do his story, which was, of course, more Pulitzer deserving than anything else the Sun put out that year. Why? Gus. What is Fletcher’s reward? The city editor. Gus’s reward? The copy editor.

    Wonder if Templeton is working for the WaPo yet, or if McNulty still has him scared shitless.

  3. It took me a while to see it as part of the whole, but now that I do, it makes perfect sense. Giving a fuck when it ain’t your turn to give a fuck.

    Also, Simon’s PWNAGE of Slate brought it home, too. Lord, I do love a good takedown.


  4. Your tribes comment reminds me of the Survivor parody that appeared on YouTube last weekend. Team Young’uns and Team Po-Po…;-)

    See it on my Archive page opposite January 30.


    I also recommend the LA Times and Newsweek tributes linked near the top of that page.

  5. For me a big part of this series as seeing how hard it is to effect change, especially when the forces that keep nasty stuff going are so powerful. You have brilliant nasty lawyers like Levy working the system. And people of integrity like Daniels having to back down because he wanted to protect people he loved who were comprised.

    I remember a lesson in power I got about 15 years ago. I could have taken down a company and cost 35 people their jobs and probably won 50k (of which a lawyer -if he had taken the case-would have gotten 30 percent of). But 6 people who were my friends would have lost their jobs. I cut a deal and didn’t take down the company. All my friends kept their jobs.

    Taking on the powerful is scary since they don’t like it and they will fight it lawsuit by lawsuit. The whole “stand up to bullies” sounds great on paper, but corporate bullies will sue you out of existence or get you fired. Radio bullies will drag your name though the mud for years as a rating’s ploy and they never have to pay a price for it. They use the protections we offer journalists as a way to attack people.

    I think about all the forces that WANT things to stay the same and the people who really don’t want change. What if we didn’t have addicts and drugs? What would they do for work? What if addiction was gone from society? Who would lose? What if smearing people on the internet and via Drudge wasn’t a method to destroy people?
    Lee Attwater, Karl Rove and all their wannbes use the system to get what they want. They use “Make Believe” (lies) to get power and to get paid. For the smear merchants they are “entertainment”, for the people being smeared they are destroyers. Did you see what happened to Daniels when Templeton lied about the quote? DANIELS paid the price, not Templeton.

    One of the things I’m most proud of was that when the story about what I did broke (contacting the advertisers and having my blog shut down) M elanie M organ, L ee R odgers and B rian S ussman and Officer V ic the publicity lead to them ABC/Disney LOSING money. So many times in the past “controversy” just lead to more ratings which meant more money. I was looking deeper so that a controversial event led to financial pain not gain. Financial pain was one of the few things that these people notice, and I tried to use that power wisely. I also know that they easily and without remorse, used the threat of financial pain against me. To them it’s “just business” and I was nothing more than a cockroach that they could crush. in the drug world they would have put a bullet in my brain.

    People who abuse their privilege to broadcast or print their lies hide behind the privilege that is given to journalists. Those people SHOULD pay the consequences for it.
    “Maybe you have to give it back.” Gus knew this, It’s happened before. Remember Janet Cook?

    In the future I want to figure out a way to make the people who push the lies and fool the journalists pay some consequences. The ‘Curveballs” the Roves, the Kristols, the people who feed Drudge, the people who create Swift Boat Vets. Jimmy created a story for a good reason, but I think about all the people who create narratives for bad reasons who NEVER get shuned or exposed. They are the Levys. They profit from it.
    “Babies were thrown from incubators!” They cried in the Gulf War one. Which PR firm pushed that lie? Did they end up paying the price for that? No, they got hired again with a boost by all the “decent drug dealers” (read Republican power brokers)

    Why are they never exposed? Because they are useful. They create the quotes that are too good. The story that is too perfect. The narrative that works for the journalist that wants an exciting X vs Y story. ‘Mobile labs that manufacture anthrax are here in these photos!” “These tubes can ONLY be used to make nukes! ” Lies.

    Athenae knows that real stories can be exciting, but not everyone understands how to help the process. If I was in charge of helping New Orleans recover I would spend a butt load of time figuring out what stories to tell at the national level that would expose the good and bad news that would lead to getting the city fixed. But the city and state politicians wouldn’t want to see the bad stories, only the good ones. The Chamber of Commerce wants people to think it’s Mardi Gras 52 weeks a year so they won’t help. They need someone doing social justice PR, rebuilding PR, messy stories about roadblocks PR. This is something that I know how to do, but sadly can’t make much of a living at ;-( Why don’t the journalists do this? Because of all the forces that conspire to push Mardi Gras stories instead of flooding stories and Paris Hilton tails instead of failing pumps stories.

  6. The ironic thing about Daniels backing down is that the person he was protecting most was Pearlman, his woman on the side. So it was more dirt on Daniels that even his wife didn’t know about that trapped him into compromising his principles.

  7. Dude, even Dave Zirin’s Edge of Sports stopped its regularly scheduled column subjects for The Wire:


  8. So has anyone else been watching the Eliot Spitzer coverage and pondering the Wire-related implications? I *love* the fact that the investigation started out as a review of bank transactions (aka huntin’ for terrorists) and eventually brought down a governor/john (assuming he resigns, which how could he not?). Lester would’ve gone hog wild with this one….

  9. I feel the need to defend my own honor (and concede the unoriginality of my observations) – I hadn’t seen this Slate piece until just now:


  10. Don’t worry michaela. It wouldn’t surprise me if Slate got all of their juicy Wire info from reading this blog.

  11. we got yer back, michaela

  12. Slate.

    Slate can lick my 9.

    Or my 5 and a half. Whatever.

  13. Metric?

  14. Why is Ray talking about his golf clubs?

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