Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Fifth Season of The Wire Skewers Baltimore Media

Barack Obama clobbered Hillary Clinton in Iowa, yet the media barely registered the historic win as more than a blipTerrific. She Who Must Not Be Named is vowing to fight to the end. The Clintonoms are dancing in the streets. For goodness sakes, it was only a three-point lead.

Here’s the real story. When Mrs. Clinton wins a primary, it’s tooted from the highest media mountaintops. When Mr. Obama ran away with Iowa, it was just another day. The Obama primary victory was historic. Black man wins where traditionally no blacks reside. Last Friday, the local rag ran a small front page column begrudgingly mentioning, “Obama, Huckabee win Iowa Caucuses.’ Today the headlines jump out and scream, “Clinton Rallies, McCain Cruises.”

One would be hard pressed to find a more blatant example of bias in the national news media.

This past Sunday, the heavily anticipated television program, The Wire returned for its fifth and final season on HBO. This time around, the show targets Baltimore media. Not surprisingly, the show’s creator and head writer, David Simon, finds himself the talk of the town.

Finally, a hometown story where celebrities and politics overlap and here I am stuck without a clue. I should be kicking myself while moving on. Instead, I am determined to add my voice to the din.

As a native Baltimorean and long time resident, I consciously resisted The Wire’s siren call. Time is a precious commodity I dole out to television judiciously. Not many shows make the cut. This has nothing to do with product or quality. It’s more about getting sucked in. No need, I rationalized, to start watching a television program with stories lifted from the local rag. Besides, if I have a hankering for murder and mayhem, east Baltimore is a hop, skip, and a jump away. Kinda scary, actually. The last thing I need is a TV program to remind me of the crime lurking next door.

I remember when Simon reported for The Baltimore Sun, that’s how long Charm City has been a one-paper town. Word has it he is using the show to wage his own personal vendetta. Among other gripes, Simon bemoans the paper’s lack of journalistic integrity. One can envision him practically spitting into the receiver during a telephone interview with another reporter. Simon's low regard for Baltimore media translated into new fictional characters for the show. Some say the characters are not all that fictional. If I actually watched the show, I might be inclined to agree.

To its credit, The Baltimore Sun is slowly undergoing a transformation. Since Simon’s departure in 1995, the local rag is on its third editor. In the wake of a takeover of its parent company and the rise of a rival paper, The Examiner, the local rag is running a tighter ship. Its columns, stories, and designs are much better. I no longer peruse the headlines for five minutes, then throw it in the trash in disgust. From my perspective, that’s progress. It’s probably much different than the story lines in Simon’s show.

Media bias is no longer a daily blatant occurrence, although just last week, I became incensed by a photograph depicting an Israeli soldier and unarmed Palestinian youth. The Israeli Army executed a mission to stop missile fire from neighboring Palestinian border towns into Israel. The soldier could have been directing the boy out of the area. Instead, the photo depicts the soldier as an oppressor of a defenseless young boy. Someone made the decision to run that photo without an accompanying story. One or two lines of description did not fairly put the photograph into context.

Such blatant bias has no place in a newspaper aspiring to journalistic integrity. Apparently, some things at the local rag haven’t changed enough. Perhaps by The Wire series finale, it will have the guts to get it right.