'A lie ain't a side of the story, it's just a lie...' The Wire taught us what happens when the media lays down to die

Job losses at The Guardian and liars riding high is no reason to cheer, says Mike Stafford

Mike Stafford is a writer. He tweets as @faithfulpundit

If you want to understand life under late-capitalism, then you look to David Simon and The Wire; it’s a sociological education, sexed-up for premium cable with cutaways to a thrusting McNulty. Of all the lessons it offered, the final one was perhaps the most subtle: It was a message carved into a void, a story about the absence of stories.

The Baltimore Sun, in season 5, covered precisely none of the most critical events occurring in the city; crime stats were juked, education stats are juked, and the city’s ability to combat crime at the strategic level was fatally degraded. All these things happened, but due to budget cuts ushered in under the moronic mantra of ‘doing more with less,’ The Baltimore Sun missed all of them. 

As with every other fundamental truth exposed in ‘The Wire,’ it is not unique to Baltimore or to the USA. The media - warts, nepotism, private interest and all - is the intelligence-gathering arm of the body politic. Information does not cease to exist when the media is not looking, any more than coal seams cease to exist when they are no longer being mined.

All that happens is that information is no longer made available to the populace. Information is not a resource that magically appears within the public consciousness; it is obtained, deduced, wheedled, collated and disseminated by the apparatus of the media. That apparatus, like that of the coal mine, needs money to maintain and operate it.

In any walk of life, information is absolutely critical to effective decision-making. That applies from the boardroom to the bedroom, from the mortgage applications to the military operations. Information can be incomplete or imperfect, but it has to be available to decision-makers.

A board of directors without a balance sheet to review is incompetent; a mortgage applicant without an understanding of mortgage rates is at risk; a military commander unsure of the enemy’s strength or positions is in immediate danger of leading troops their deaths. Information always exists, and the risk is invariably borne by the party who does not possess it. As such, the body politic is blinded a little bit further every time its intelligence services have their funding cut, their numbers depleted or the viability of career paths within them degraded. 

For this reason, recent glee at job cuts at The Guardian is misplaced schadenfreude. Make no mistake, only an imbecile would look at the current landscape of British media and deem it healthy. There is ample reason to gaze in disgust at the current wasteland of plutocratic megaphones, dynastic dilettantism and exclusive hypocrisy. I mean, come on, even as we speak, the nation’s executive branch is run by a manifestly incompetent charlatan, elevated to power — and abetted while there — by oceans of disingenuous ink. Nevertheless, if you hate sections of the press — and I certainly do — your beef is with the content of its output, not with its existence.

While it’s ironic to see the left cheering as the ‘hidden hand’ of the free market strangles any organisation, this should not be an ideological issue. The apparatus of news-gathering must continue to exist; to allow it to become degraded is to leave the information we need buried underground.

To cheer while that happens is to reduce ourselves to the angry mob in The Simpsons who, after a near-miss from a deadly asteroid, cheerfully exhort: “Let’s go and burn down the observatory, so this’ll never happen again!”