Back to the Sun, where the editors are meeting to run down the stories appearing in the next day's edition. State Desk Editor Tim Phelps is describing the story about the planned cutbacks in bus routes. Managing Editor Thomas Klebanow perks up at this, since it sounds like a story that might be of interest to the readers. "We can go outside, give them the potential impact," he says, while all the other editors look around the room uncomfortably. "Well," Phelps finally says, with some difficulty, "the truth is, we're following the Daily Record on this one." Klebanow wonders why the Sun didn't have that story. The answer is, there's no transportation reporter at the paper after the last round of buyouts. Well, that's no excuse not to pick up the story, Klebanow says; "Just because Chicago does a little belt-tightening is no reason for us to fold up." Which is when I remember that the Sun is indeed owned by the Tribune Company.
And if you'll indulge me one last personal anecdote, that shitbag suburban daily that I mentioned I worked for a while back was owned by the Tribune Company. Or at least it was owned by the Tribune when I was hired, largely because I was lured there by an upper-management guy who dangled the prospect of working for the Tribune Company in front of me. And then, about two months after I was hired, the Tribune Company sold our newspaper along with a bunch of others to another conglomerate that really wanted the bunch of others but not ours and decided that the best way to get rid of us was to gradually shut us down via attrition and negligence. The upper-management guy got a golden parachute from the Tribune Company. And that is a why, a few years ago, when I was on a trip to Chicago and I happened to find myself in the vicinity of the Tribune Tower, I made a beeline there, and spent a few minutes literally kicking the building, much to the amusement and bewilderment of passersby. I guess this is my way of saying that I know David Simon is getting some heat for grinding a few axes and I share your concerns -- honestly I do -- but I totally understand where he is coming from. There are some pretty dimwitted bottom-liners making decisions at that company. And some of those cats, I wouldn't piss down their throats if their guts were on fire.
Say, where was I? Oh yeah, story meeting. Klebanow gives 'em the ol' "whatever cutbacks there are, shouldn't affect our ability to put out an excellent product/we simply have to do more with less" speech -- the Tribune corporate anthem! -- much to the weary smiles of those in attendance, and the meeting continues. Suddenly some suspender-wearing suit strolls in -- it's Executive Editor James C. Whitting III, and not the managing editor, like some jackass suggested in his hastily written recaplet. "Your Eminence," says one of the editors in mock amazement. "Slumming it at the metro meeting today?" It's Haynes' turn to run down his story list -- it's a competent, though uninspiring, collection of tales. The regional affairs editor gives her stories, which include a piece from a stringer in College Park about the fact that the University of Maryland is not meeting its diversity goals. Here, Whitting pipes in: "I'm told that, numbers aside, the campus has become much more hospitable to minorities, that things have changed for the better." Who told you that, the other editors wonder. "As you may know, Gene Robbins is dean of journalism there," Whitting continues. "I had lunch with him the other day..." Here, the poor regional affairs editor tries to get a word in edgewise, but Whitting keeps talking: "... and he was saying how the last few years have really transformed the school's reputation with black faculty and students." "He's a white guy, right?" Haynes asks. "Who?" Whitting responds. "That journalism fellow," Haynes continues. "Dean Wormer. Dean Martin. Whatever his name is." Whitting remains unrattled: "I worked with Gene Robbins in Philadelphia. He is an excellent journalist and a reliable source. I think race is beside the point." Also beside the point -- the story, which Whitting suggests putting on hold until someone can verify that things are as okie-dokie as Dean Wormer says they are.
I know I'm the least credible person to be making this point -- guy who kicked the Tribune Tower in rage, remember? -- but there's something about the Whitting character that's not sitting quite right with me. The Wire has a fine history of creating characters with nuance that it's a shock to the system when someone so obviously sinister -- He talks over his editors! He spikes stories that afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted! He forecloses on widows and ties them to railroad tracks! -- shows up on screen. Either add some shades of gray to that character, or just drop all pretense and have him wear a dark cape and twirl his moustache every time he enters a room.