Blogging The Wire: "The Dickensian Aspect," Season 5, Episode 6.


Spiderman Omar, has come out of hiding to declare war on Marlo.

Omar has always been given to brazen acts, but he’s never been one to walk into a trap. What he’s doing now seems more like what he would have done the moment he set foot in Baltimore. “I’m calling Marlo straight bitch,” he says with a gun to the head of a New Day Co-op member. “I’m saying it don’t take much to shoot down a blind man. And as for him stepping to me? You tell that dude he ain’t got the heart. You tell him I’m in the street waiting, and just like a little bitch he ain’t nowhere to be found.”

McNulty is talking to sculptures and kidnapping homeless men, and Freamon is breaking the rules, in a grandfatherly way, of course.

“When they took us off Marlo Stanfield the last time, when they said they couldn’t pay for further investigation, I regarded that decision as illegitimate,” he told Sydnor. “And so I’m responding in kind. I’m going to press a case against Marlo Stanfield without regard to the usual rules. I’m running an illegal wiretap on Marlo Stanfield’s cell phone.”

All Sydnor can say in response is “Fuck, Lester!” and Freamon gives him a pass. “If you have a problem with this, I understand completely and I urge you to get as far fucking away from me as possible.”

Marlo has sealed his fate by breaking up the happy collaboration of the drug co-op and trying to pin Prop Joe’s and Hungry Man’s deaths on Omar — which no one believes.

We also saw in this episode, briefly, Nicky from the ports, and the heartbreaking reemergence of Randy, the only kid who might have survived the foster care system had he not made the mistake of cooperating with the authorities. Randy, once a clever and affable kid, has now adapted and become a hardened, vicious young man whose another casualty of the system.

“Why don’t you promise to get me out of here,” he tells Bunk when Bunk asks him again about Lex’s murder. “That’s what you do ain’t it? Lie to dumbass niggas?”

In six, we see Scott Templeton, the hack at the Baltimore Sun who’s making up his stories, spending the night with the homeless and playing the “one of these is not like the other” game to find the only white man on the street, a homeless ex-marine. He actually encounters a real story and tells it well, and we’re supposed to see that this is what he should have been doing the whole time.

At the same time, another reporter brings up questions on a previous fabrication, and the city editor starts to get some evidence of some long-held suspicions.

Now, there are plenty of examples of real life fabricators in major newspapers, but this particular one is taken from what David Simon has insisted was a real case during his time at the real Baltimore Sun.

All of these things could be true. But I have wished from the start that Templeton’s character was handled a little more adeptly. He started fabricating almost right away, with the crappy opening day story and a fictional boy in a wheelchair with no last name. We never see Templeton, whose resume includes some real-life good papers, responding to any pressure or inching over an increasingly blurry line, he just starts making shit up. And, more than that, he starts making shit up on a story that no real reporter would care enough about to risk his career over.

I just don’t buy it. If we had seen him starting to fabricate after the buy-outs started, and it was clear he was trying to save his own skin, that would make more sense. Or if he had started to fabricate as a way to get involved on the big story he was left out of, I might buy that as well. The problem is, we see hints of his motivations in the beginning, but none with which we can identify or sympathize. That’s a problem for The Wire, which has always allowed an empathetic entry point for even the most dastardly characters.

The second problem is: are fabricators really the source of American newspaper decline? No. Declining revenue and cutbacks are. The real problem is that you have fewer reporters who have less time to spend on more stories, and getting to the heart of any story is impossible. In today’s newspaper world, Templeton wouldn’t be able to spend a night with the homeless because he would still be responsible for 2 or 3 dailies, and to meet his quotas he would have to resort to some of the easiest stories to cross his desk, like the ribbon-cutting Carcetti excoriated the press for not attending.

And another thing: why are the editors of this major paper so inept? They don’t just support Templeton, he’s their poster boy. They also seem to be bad writers and newsroom wimps. That’s another thing I just don’t buy. With everyone and everything else, Simon hasn’t been afraid to let all the nuances of life’s messiness through. Drug dealers, cops, teachers, politicians; all of them spend time navigating bureaucracies and tempering dreams against realities in an unending, cyclical landscape of poverty’s injustices and transcendence. Simon’s newsroom, though, is black and white. The evil editors are going to wear the solid workhorse of the industry down. The reporter who knows everything about the cops has to take a buyout while the fabricator stays. There are no shades of gray, and I think it’s because Simon got a little too close to home with this one. Reporters and editors can sometimes get along, but Simon makes no effort to hide his vitriol for the Tribune editors who took over the Sun. I have no doubt that Simon was a terrific reporter, it’s what he’s doing the whole time with The Wire. I also have no doubt that Simon was an ego in the newsroom, and its his ego (I mean here his clear presence in the story) that’s getting in the way here. He’s not letting newspapers tell their story the way he so gracefully and adroitly let’s everything else in this show shine.

  • Sunspotted2

    Unless of course that’s exactly what happened, and the fabricator stayed and fabricated more stories until finally, he did something so unsound that the newspaper had to apologize to the governor and retract the work. And meanwhile, six or seven dozen veterans of Baltimore Sun were bought out and now the paper is a shell of itself. In which case, being close to it or far from it isn’t much a measure as to the worth of the story.

    Question: Are American newspapers growing weaker by the moment? Or stronger? Are there more qualified reporters of major dailies? Or less? And are fabricators becoming an increasing phenomenon — Blair, Bragg, Kelley, Barnacle, Glass, et al — or a decreasing phenomenon in the current clime?

    You’re a journalist, I take it. All was well and good when it wasn’t your own industry being critiqued. Now, everything should be so much more subtle on The Wire. So much more understanding. So much more sympathetic to the institution.

    What show were you watching? Or did you only believe in The Wire’s viewpoint when it wasn’t gazing at you and your own?

  • Sunspotted: The newsroom scenes have been almost invariably where the show has lagged this season. Templeton is a complete cipher: why is he doing what he’s doing? Just raw, undisciplined ambition?

    Doesn’t the paper have a website (I’m thinking of Alma running across town to get a copy of her story that was supposed to front)? That scene when Gus gets chided for cursing? What was the point of that? That the folks upstairs are assholes? We get it already.

    Here’s the paradox about the crisis in American newspapers: they still make boatloads of money. Whereas before, newspapers boasted profit magins in the 20% range, they now boast profits in the mid-teen range — still much higher than most other industries. But there’s no growth, stock prices are dropping, and things like the classifieds page that used to be cheap and generate lots of money have been replaced by Craigslist. But big companies like Tribune are slashing prices by cutting payroll, which makes their (many) papers worse and thus less desireable to readers.

    Regarding fabricators: are you arguing that there more journalistic fabricators now then there were before? Or less? And how would you measure such a thing?

  • quadmoniker

    On the contrary, I was extremely excited about seeing the Wire’s take on the decline of the newspaper industry. I am a journalist, and I regard the plight of the fourth estate a serious threat to American democracy. Even more depressingly, they seem to be disappearing with a whimper; people seem to have no idea how important local and national newspapers are to the well-being of society, and there’s no outcry.

    What has disappointed me about the show is the way it has tackled the problem. In every other aspect, the show has been extremely intelligent and nuanced. Every societal problem has been multifaceted. It goes beyond a television show, it’s a historical document. It doesn’t matter how true the accounts of what happened in the Sun newsroom with the reporter on whom Templeton is based are, that storyline was the wrong one on which to focus the narrative. It doesn’t tell the macro story that I think it is important to tell with newspapers, which is the slow and steady decline which has nothing to do with any individual reporter. Incidentally, the more interesting part of Templeton’s story is the underplayed part, that he is also just a bad reporter, plain and simple.

    Do I think there are fewer fabricators today than there were, or that they are on the rise? The truth is that it’s impossible to tell. Newspapers weren’t always objective and honest, you need to go back only to the late 1800s and early 1900s to find reporters who made things up wholesale. People like Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass get so much attention, in part, because they’re so rare. There have always been reporters, like Janet Cooke, who were good and did hard work, but in the end fudged a story to get what they needed. It certainly isn’t new, and my problem is that it certainly isn’t illustrative of a systematic problem in newspapers TODAY. Bad reporters have always been around, as bad employees are on in any industry. They are rougues, and good editors have been duped before. The newspaper as an institution has bigger problems.

  • GVG

    I appreciated your analyst at the bottom of the recap. I do however, think you shouldn’t underestimate what Simon can and will do with the remaining EPs to create those brilliant nuances you’d like to see in the newsroom as he has with every other aspect of the show. We know from the past seasons that the man loves to slowly unroll all the elements of a story to surprise the viewer and completely change their initial perceptions of a character and their own definitions of right and wrong. I think he’s smart enough to know that everyone is expecting him to be bias and one sided because of his personal history with the Sun – that he will have no choice, but to go left and give us something no one expected with the newspaper story line.

    P.S. Am I the only one who wished they had in some way explained HOW THE HELL OMAR SURVIVED THAT JUMP? A flashback – A video from one of those police pole cameras – an eye witness – SOMETHING!!!

  • quadmoniker

    One other thought:
    I thought I would add something about Bunk’s frustrations at the crime lab. Those problems, the results of cost-cutting and bosses that want results without regard to the hard work it takes to get them, is the kind of story I would like to see at the newspaper in the show. It’s not about bad employees, Bunk is an extremely good cop. He can’t solve the cases in the vacants because he faces insurmountable incompetence.

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  • Dave

    It has been very hard to get into the newspaper theme of the season as opposed to the other four main themes of the previous seasons. I haven’t been able to put my finger on it, but I think the lack of empathy for some of the characters as stated by Ms. Potts may explain some of my ambivalence.