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an indignant, six-page letter Simon had written to the Sun’s public editor in August that began, “ALL THAT FOLLOWS IS NOT FOR PUBLICATION.”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.”
In October, I met again with Simon at a coffee shop in Manhattan. Regarding the portrayal of former colleagues in The Wire, he said he is entitled to make fiction from his own memories. The show, he says, is allegorical, meant to address all American cities, not just Baltimore, and the journalism industry as a whole. And Simon claims the upcoming season will show a great affection for his craft and his alma mater. He cast about twenty Sun alums in small parts, and the first episode will simply be a validation of the craft: the city editor—the “conscience” of the newsroom for this season, says Simon—pounces on a good story and gets it in the paper. He said 70 percent of the underlying criticism will be about downsizing. It won’t, he said, be “fighting some forlorn battle over shit that happened in the newsroom fifteen years ago.”
Simon disparaged Carroll’s and Marimow’s “ad hominem” attacks on him in the press and pulled out a copy of The New Yorker that had come out the day before. There was an 11,000-word profile of Simon in the issue, and he flipped through to find two quotes. In the first, Marimow says Simon’s “obsession” with Carroll’s regime is “as monomaniacal as Captain Ahab.” In the second, Carroll says Simon disdains anyone else who succeeds at police reporting. It was a psychological issue, Carroll said, and he pointed to the scoreboard: “Bill Marimow won two Pulitzers as a police reporter; David won zero.” As Simon sees it, Carroll and Marimow refuse to debate him on the substance and resort to bunk psychoanalysis.