Carroll has a face that belongs on a coin and a genteel, yet casual manner. I met him in late September at his Lexington, Kentucky, home. When I arrived, we chatted over coffee about a book he’s writing and his joy at returning to reporting after decades of editing. Then we went out to the back patio, where we spent several hours talking in nearly perfect weather about his career and his approach to journalism. A couple hours in, Carroll said, “I got from the Sun that humorous broadcast about how bad Bill and I were.” The Creative Alliance had been streaming an audio version of Simon’s story online for months, but Carroll only discovered it in the twenty-four hours since I had flown out of Baltimore after an interview with the Sun’s editors. In that small window of time, a flurry of activity had started. “I forwarded that to Marimow, by the way,” Carroll said. After the audio started floating around the newspaper world, e-mails to Carroll followed. A Los Angeles Times colleague wrote, “I’ve heard through the grapevine that there is a possibility of your being subjected to unjust criticism.” One of Marimow’s editors at The Philadelphia Inquirer sent a passionate two-pager: “There are legions of journalists—legions—who will stand up, speak the truth, and take this guy on .It’s as Martin Luther King put it, the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
I suggested to Carroll that perhaps some of the contentiousness surrounding Simon’s departure could be explained by Alvarez’s divorce analogy, and I said I was trying to find a legitimate, substantive difference underneath. But the way Carroll saw it, Simon’s beef with his stewardship of the Sun was only one in a long trail of burned bridges. “Where has he ever worked that he didn’t rage at?” Carroll said. “University of Maryland? I talked with the dean yesterday.” While at The Diamondback, Simon had apparently talked trash about the school’s president. And now, Simon is “not speaking to the Sun, or at least some of them. I’ve got something on that,” Carroll said, handing me a faxed copy of an indignant, six-page letter Simon had written to the Sun’s public editor in August that began, “ALL THAT FOLLOWS IS NOT FOR PUBLICATION.”
Carroll seemed unfazed by Simon’s zingers at him in the Stoop story, but the comments about Marimow went too far for him. “Simon has a credible point of view about American society,” he said. “But he also, I think, has a need to hate. And I just think it’s unfair to Bill Marimow, who deserves it less than anyone I can think of.”
A few days later, I visited Marimow at the Inquirer, where he recently returned as the top editor. He hotly defended Carroll as a gentleman and a stellar journalist. “He owes John an apology,” Marimow said. “He really does.” Marimow didn’t find the Stoop story self-effacing. “At the end,” Marimow said, “where he says, ‘Well I really feel sorry for Bill because he had prostate cancer, and I don’t want him to die’ .To me all that stuff is utter, unmitigated bullshit. It’s cowardly, it’s dishonorable, and it’s nettlesome. I’d never say that about anybody.”
I passed along Simon’s assurance that he had exaggerated and that the show is fictional, and Marimow suggested I talk to Mike Leary, a new managing editor at the Inquirer who had just left the Sun. Leary, he said, was in the room with Simon when he had negotiated with the Sun for rights to the name and facilities. Leary told me that in those conversations, Simon disclosed that the upcoming season would indeed feature characters based on Carroll and Marimow.
Many other former colleagues of Carroll and Marimow—including admirers of Simon’s work—went on background to warn me of Simon’s bitterness. One former Sun editor praised Marimow and Carroll and then warned me: “You don’t want your name on a story you’re going to regret five years from now.”