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Bill Moyers Talks Drugs, Crime, Journalism and Democracy with Creator of 'The Wire'

HBO's critically-acclaimed "The Wire" creator David Simon talks about inner-city crime and politics, storytelling and the future of journalism.

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[...]

FBI AGENT 1: Racketeering, wire fraud, conspiracy to import heroin, conspiracy to violate federal customs statutes, white slavery.

FBI AGENT 2: Today we're only charging the customs violations, Mr. Sobotka. But eventually a grand jury indictment will expose you to a lot more.

FBI AGENT 1: Name names and come clean. You help yourself and your union.

FRANK SOBOTKA: Help my union? Twenty-five years we been dyin' slow down there. Dry-docks rustin', piers standin' empty. My friends and their kids like we got the cancer. No lifeline got throwed, all that time. Nuthin' from nobody... And now you wanna help us. Help me?

[...]

BILL MOYERS: So, whose lives are less and less necessary in America today?

DAVID SIMON: Certainly the underclass. There's a reason they are the underclass. But in an area-- in an era when you don't need as much mass labor. When we are not a manufacturing base those people that built stuff, that made stuff-- that were-- that their lives had some meaning and value because the factories were open. You don't need them anymore.

But also unions and working people are completely abandoned by this economic culture and that's what Season Two was about. It was about one of the forces, one of the walls that basically make the corner culture. And, you know, that's heartbreaking to me. I've been a union member my whole life and I guess its a little gilded union now. Gilded guild.

BILL MOYERS: The Writer's Guild.

DAVID SIMON: The Writer's Guild, yes, but I was a newspaper-- a member of the newspaper guild before that and I thank them for letting me earn an honest living. 'Cause, you know, without them, God knows what we would have been paid in Baltimore. But I look at what's happened with unions and I think-- Ed Burns says all the time that he wants to do a piece on the Haymarket.

BILL MOYERS: The Haymarket strike.

DAVID SIMON: Yes. That-- the bombing, and that critical moment when American labor was pushed so much to the starving point that they were willing to fight. And I actually think that's the only time when change is possible. When people are actually threatened to the core, and enough people are threatened to the core that they just won't take it anymore. And that's-- those are the pivotal moments in American history, I think, when actually something does happen.

You know, they were-- in Haymarket, they were fighting for the 40-hour work week. You know? So, it wasn't-- it sounds radical at the time, but it's basically a dignity of life issue. And you look at things like that. You look at the anti-Vietnam War effort, in this country which, you know, you had to threaten middle class kids with a draft and with military service in an unpopular war for people to rise up and demand the end to an unpopular war. I mean, it didn't happen without that. So, on some level, as long as they placate enough people. As long as they throw enough scraps from the table that enough people get a little bit to eat, I just don't see a change coming.

BILL MOYERS: So, did this great collapse we have been experiencing since last year confirm the reporting you had done about what happens when an economic system creates two separate realities? One that-

DAVID SIMON: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: -manufactures millionaires by the day. And the other that consigns people-

DAVID SIMON: I am as shocked as anybody that we got as much right as we did. Because the truth is we, as I said, we wrote the first season in the midst of Enron and WorldCom. Those were the institutional motifs that we were graphing into "The Wire." The idea that if you-- there was an institution that is supposed to serve you or that you are supposed to serve. And it's supposed to care for you, and, and be a societal positive-- it will find a way to betray you. That was the story that we were writing.