President Barack Obama finally landed the interview he always wanted: David Simon, creator of HBO's The Wire.
Obama is a huge fan of the series, which is critically acclaimed for its realistic depiction of a highly dysfunctional American city during the height of a punitive war on drugs. "I think it's one of the greatest — not just television shows but pieces of art — in the last couple of decades," Obama said at the start of the interview. "I was a huge fan of it."
In 2012, Obama told Grantland's Bill Simmons his favorite character was Omar, the Robin Hood–like character who steals from other drug dealers. In their interview, Simon told Obama that Omar was based on a real person who spent years robbing drug dealers and eventually caught a 17-year prison sentence. But after the stint in prison, all he wanted to do was return to West Baltimore to address the mess in his community. "He was one of the most amazing people I met in my life," Simon said.
Obama noted that the show's humanization of people involved in the drug trade, who are often depicted as "shadowy characters" in local news, is a very important part of justifying criminal justice reform.
"There's a generational element to this," Obama said. "You got entire generations of men being locked up, which means an entire generation of boys are growing up either without a father or, if they see their dad, they're seeing him in prison."
Obama and Simon went on to discuss other lessons that could be taken from the show. Obama focused on how the criminal justice system should concentrate more on public safety instead of street-level drug arrests, which The Wire characterized as fruitless exercises that let police pad their numbers without improving public safety. The president also called the show's depiction of defective public schools "perhaps one of the most moving sections of The Wire."
More broadly, the discussion shows Obama's intent to move away from so many of the policies pushed by his predecessors. In 1989, President George H. W. Bush used his first televised national address to brandish a bag of crack cocaine bought off the streets of Washington, DC, and voice his intent to come down on street-level drug sales. Nearly 26 years later, the president is gushing to the creator of The Wire about a show that acted as a five-season critique of the war on drugs.