Skip to content

Bill Moyers interviews David Simon

Malen and I loved HBO’s The Wire so much that we were literally distraught when it ended. What we loved about the show was the ways it portrayed American institutions — corrupt, narcissistic, unyielding. We recently caught a Bill Moyers interview with the show’s creator, David Simon, and it turns out his political beliefs are as compelling as his creation.

Some choice excerpts from the transcript:

On the economics of the drug war:

The fact that these really are the excess people in America, we– our economy doesn’t need them. We don’t need ten or 15 percent of our population. And certainly the ones that are undereducated, that have been ill served by the inner city school system, that have been unprepared for the technocracy of the modern economy. We pretend to need them. We pretend to educate the kids. We pretend that we’re actually including them in the American ideal, but we’re not. And they’re not foolish. They get it.

On institutional progress:

You show me anything that depicts institutional progress in America, school test scores, crime stats, arrest reports, arrest stats, anything that a politician can run on, anything that somebody can get a promotion on. And as soon as you invent that statistical category, 50 people in that institution will be at work trying to figure out a way to make it look as if progress is actually occurring when actually no progress is. And this comes down to Wall Street. I mean, our entire economic structure fell behind the idea that these mortgage-based securities were actually valuable. And they had absolutely no value. They were toxic. And yet, they were being traded and being hurled about, because somebody could make some short-term profit. In the same way that a police commissioner or a deputy commissioner can get promoted, and a major can become a colonel, and an assistant school superintendent can become a school superintendent, if they make it look like the kids are learning, and that they’re solving crime. And that was a front row seat for me as a reporter. Getting to figure out how the crime stats actually didn’t represent anything, once they got done with them.

On why America doesn’t have the stomach to end the war on drugs:

Again, we would have to ask ourselves a lot of hard questions. The people most affected by this are black and brown and poor. It’s the abandoned inner cores of our urban areas. And we don’t, as we said before, economically, we don’t need those people. The American economy doesn’t need them. So, as long as they stay in their ghettos, and they only kill each other, we’re willing to pay a police presence to keep them out of our America. And to let them fight over scraps, which is what the drug war, effectively, is. I don’t think– since we basically have become a market-based culture and it’s what we know, and it’s what’s led us to this sad denouement, I think we’re going to follow market-based logic, right to the bitter end.

On the solution we absolutely won’t stomach:

Oh, I would decriminalize drugs in a heartbeat. I would put all the interdiction money, all the incarceration money, all the enforcement money, all of the pretrial, all the prep, all of that cash, I would hurl it, as fast as I could, into drug treatment and job training and jobs programs. I would rather turn these neighborhoods inward with jobs programs. Even if it was the equivalent of the urban CCC, if it was New Deal-type logic, it would be doing less damage than creating a war syndrome, where we’re basically treating our underclass. The drug war’s war on the underclass now. That’s all it is. It has no other meaning.

On the myth that the internet killed newspapers:

And all of a sudden, terra firma shifted, new technology. Who knew that the Internet was going to overwhelm us? I would buy that if I wasn’t in journalism for the years that immediately preceded the Internet because I took the third buyout from the “Baltimore Sun.” I was about reporter number 80 or 90 who left, in 1995. Long before the Internet had had its impact. I left at a time– those buyouts happened when the “Baltimore Sun” was earning 37 percent profits.

You know, we now know this because it’s in bankruptcy and the books are open. 37 percent profits. All that R&D money that was supposed to go in to make newspapers more essential, more viable, more able to explain the complexities of the world. It went to shareholders in the Tribune Company. Or the L.A. Times Mirror Company before that. And ultimately, when the Internet did hit, they had an inferior product– that was not essential enough that they could charge online for it.

I mean, the guys who are running newspapers, over the last 20 or 30 years, have to be singular in the manner in which they destroyed their own industry. It– it’s even more profound than Detroit making Chevy Vegas and Pacers and Gremlins and believing that no self-respecting American would buy a Japanese car in 1973. That– it’s analogous up to a point, except it’s not analogous in that a Nissan is a pretty good car, and a Toyota is a pretty good car. The Internet, while it’s great for commentary and froth doesn’t do very much first generation reporting at all. And it can’t sustain that. The economic model can’t sustain that kind of reporting. And to lose to that, because you didn’t– they had contempt for their own product, these people.

On the future of the American empire:

We’re not going to make it as a first rate empire. And I’m not sure that that’s a bad thing in the end. I mean, you know, empires end. And that doesn’t mean cultures end completely and it doesn’t mean that even nation states… You know, I mean, if you looked at Britain in 1952 and what was being presided over by Anthony Eden and those guys. You’d have said, “Man, you know, what’s going to be left?” But, you know, Britain’s still there. And they’ve come to terms with what they can and can’t do.

Americans are still sort of in an age of delusion, I think. And a lot of our foreign policy represents that. And a lot of our– you know, this notion that the markets were always going to go up. And that once we had invested stocks to death, we could create some new equity, out of magic. Out of nothing.

Posted in Politics.

4 Responses

Stay in touch with the conversation, subscribe to the RSS feed for comments on this post.

  1. Bryan says

    I don’t think I like what you’re insinuating. Are you some kind of commie elitist junkie?

    What a fantastic interview though. Thanks for the heads up.

  2. Dean-O says

    Care to give me a quick summary of what The Wire is/was?

    • Zach Musgrave says

      The Wire was an HBO show about an elite squad of detectives in Balitmore. They had wire taps in most seasons, hence the name. Each season portrayed a different institution in Baltimore: the police department, the labor unions, the school system, the mayoral office, the Baltimore Sun. All are set against the backdrop of the war on drugs.

      If you like crime dramas, you’ll love The Wire.

      • Dean-O says

        Ah, good good. Might check that out later today.

Some HTML is OK

or, reply to this post via trackback.