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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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I couldn't have conceived of something as grandiose as the mortgage bubble. When you finally look at what caused that. And the sheer greed and the stupidity of that pyramid scheme. You know, no. We didn't know it was as corrosive as it was. We didn't know it was rotted out that much. But we knew there was something rotten in the core. And we knew it from what we were looking at, in terms of Baltimore, and how Baltimore addressed itself to its problems.

BILL MOYERS: And over the next five years, the next five seasons, your vision of those kids playing out into this giant Ponzi scheme intersected in the streets, the police-

DAVID SIMON: Right.

BILL MOYERS: -and then politics. And all they what they all have in common, as I see it, is juking the stats. I mean-

DAVID SIMON: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: -politics is supposed to be about solving the situations you describe. But it's constantly creating its own reality, right?

DAVID SIMON: It's about money and it's about advancement. And everything that I've actually seen institutionally, from everything America has offered me a glimpse into. You know, as a reporter I got to see some politics. I wasn't a political reporter per se, but I got to see enough of city politics to absorb it. And Ed Burns taught in the Baltimore City School system and pulled all that through the keyhole for season four. I got to see the war on drugs. I got to see policing, as a concept. And I got to see journalism.

And when it came between explaining complicated and sophisticated systems and trying to say, "This is what's going on and if we change this or do that. Or if we actually implement this policy, we can, you know..." But actually doing the hard work of looking at it systemically, nobody had-- there was no incentive to do it, and nobody did it. And that's true in Baltimore today as when I started as a reporter and I think it's true in America.

BILL MOYERS: I remain indebted to those reporters who go where I can't go. Who talk to people I can't reach. Whether it's in the war in Iraq or Afghanistan. And come back and help me, help my perceptions of the war. I'm still indebted to them. And as you say, you were spit out by the forces that work in the journalistic world. And now journalism is spitting out reporters like teeth.

DAVID SIMON: Left and right. You know, listen, I was not the last. That's true. And it's heartbreaking. And I say this with no schadenfreude just 'cause I got a TV gig. It's heartbreaking what's happening. And I feel that the republic is actually in danger.

BILL MOYERS: How so?

DAVID SIMON: There is not guard now on assessing anything qualitatively. Of pulling back the veil behind what an official will tell you is progress, or is valid, or is legitimate as policy. And-- absent that, no good can come from anything. Because there is an absolutely disincentive to tell the truth.

BILL MOYERS: Nobody's de-juking the stats, right?

DAVID SIMON: Exactly. And ultimately I have the utmost confidence in the ability of any ambitious soul anywhere to take what is not progress and what is not valid and to gloss it up and to say, "We're doing a great job."

BILL MOYERS: I read something you recently told "The Guardian," in London: "Oh, to be a state or local official in America..." without newspapers. "It's got to be one of the great dreams in the history of American corruption."