In Simon’s eyes, “You do less with less and more with more,” he said. “That’s why they call it more.” When I brought up “A Neighborhood Abandoned,” Simon agreed that it was exemplary work, but then pointed out that writer Eric Siegel—a thirty-year Sun veteran and precisely the kind of reporter Simon believes newspapers need to hold on to—took the last buyout.

Simon is highly amused by an irony he perceives in the press’s reaction to corporations’ slashing of newsrooms: that newspaper editors are now making speeches about the same economic forces—the triumph of capital over labor—that the press has been ignoring in their own cities for years. “What they should have been covering is now biting them in the ass,” Simon said. “We’ll see it in season five: Guys, you’re a little late. It happened to you, and it happened to the entire working class.”

Simon, like Franklin, wants his portrayal of Baltimore to be judged against the future, but his idea of the future is darker. The Wire, he says, is about the decline of the American empire. It might have sprung from a journalistic impulse, but he says he has moved beyond simple reportage. “Consider it a big op-ed piece,” said Simon, “and consider it to be dissent. What I saw happen with the drug war, a series of political elections, and vague attempts at reform in Baltimore….What I saw happen to the Port of Baltimore, and what I saw happen to the Baltimore Sun—I think it’s all of a piece.” Should his premonition of the American empire’s future—more gated communities and more of a police state—come to pass and were someone to say he didn’t know it was coming, Simon said, it will at least be possible to pull The Wire off the shelf and say, “‘Don’t say you didn’t know this was coming. Because they made a fucking TV show out of it.’” 

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Lawrence Lanahan is formerly an analyst with American Institutes for Research in Washington, D.C. He lived in Baltimore for five years and is now a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn. The fifth season of The Wire premiered January 6, 2008 on HBO.