Whitlock: I Have Not Changed; The Wire Foreshadowed Fall Of Truth, Our Freedoms And Country

Whitlock/the wire

Few things annoy me more than the accusation that financial winds caused a change in my worldview. My critics allege the tone, point of view and subject matter of my columns have pivoted from my days at the Kansas City Star and ESPN.

My casual detractors complain that I sold out to the political right, to FOX News, to the almighty dollar. My harshest reviewers say my work brings shame to my departed mentor and friend Ralph Wiley and contradicts my two-decades-long assertion that the David Simon-created crime drama, The Wire, explains my worldview.

Late last week, the Washington Post published a profile story on Clay Travis and the work we’re doing at Outkick. The writer of the piece, Ben Strauss, politely insinuated that I massaged my writing perspective to fit an alleged business strategy geared toward appeasing politically conservative sports fans.

Via email, Strauss asked me: “Is there anything you’d like to say about your evolution from The Undefeated to your views today?”

Strauss did not publish my response. He instead wrote his own interpretation of my alleged evolution, writing:

“Whitlock, like Travis, has had his own evolution. Five years ago, he was tasked with building ESPN’s The Undefeated, a site designed to cover the intersection of race and sports. After Deadspin exhaustively reported on his clashes with staffers, he landed at Fox Sports, where he devoted himself to speaking out against athlete activism and the ills of social media.”

My worldview has not evolved. It’s sharpened. My previous work does not contradict my work today. Great journalism follows the truth wherever it leads. The truth does not have a political point of view or political party. It’s why I reject politics, the distorter of truth. 

Reject does not mean ignore. When it comes to criticism, I’m a political free agent. Sarah Palin’s substance-less bid for the vice presidency repulsed me, and I frequently expressed my revulsion via social media and in my written work. In 2008, I wrote a column for the Huffington Post celebrating my disdain for Palin. 

Why am I not equally repulsed by Donald Trump’s acquisition of the presidency? 

Am I sexist? Have I changed? No and no. 

Circumstances have changed. Political corruption and media malfeasance elected Donald Trump president. His rise is a consequence of the media’s abandonment of truth. Constitutional democracies cannot function properly without the aid of a free press exploring and exposing truth. 

Thomas Jefferson rightly believed a free press was more important than government. Good, truthful information powers sound decision-making. 

The Wire, the greatest piece of journalism in television history, foreshadowed everything we’re experiencing today. The show spelled out how politicians pit the police against black citizens for political gain. And in its final season, The Wire showed the American media’s complicity in political corruption and its affinity for false narrative over facts.

Fictional Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Templeton sold Detective Jimmy McNulty’s serial-killer narrative with the same enthusiasm reporters now sell the police serial killing of unarmed black men. McNulty and his peers complained that their bosses, politicians and the media “juked” the violent-crime stats to advance their careers. 

TV critics say the final season of The Wire is the show’s weakest because of the serial-killer storyline. Now, after watching the media and politicians “juke” and racialize unarmed shooting stats, Season 5 of The Wire gets better and better.   

Working-class police and poor black people are pawns in a political game being played by politicians and the media. It’s repulsive. It’s a threat to our way of living and freedoms we’ve grown to take for granted. A large segment of Americans have justifiably given up on politicians and view the media as enemies of the people.

I don’t blame them. Racial tension in this country is bubbling toward Civil War levels because a tiny handful of criminal suspects have refused to comply with police instructions and an even smaller handful of police have responded with excessive deadly force. The media and Democratic politicians have spun these rare occurrences into a fundraising/political campaign and clickbait machine titled Black Lives Matter. 

Until the media follow and report the truth, many Americans will continue to look for presidential candidates willing to call out the liars above all else. 

My entire column-writing career has been built on calling out false media narratives because I know the danger of lies. Have I changed? 

I won the Scripps Howard Journalism Award for Commentary in 2007 primarily on the strength of two columns. 1) The column I wrote stating Don Imus’ insensitive remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team were irrelevant in comparison to the misogyny found in commercial rap music. 2) The longform, reported piece I wrote exposing the false narrative of the Jena Six case. 

Have I changed? The mainstream media changed. I wrote those pieces for the Kansas City Star. Shortly after I left the Star in 2010, the newspaper deleted the pieces from the internet. American newspapers are ashamed of the truth. 

Have I changed since leaving ESPN and The Undefeated project? My critics send me the column I wrote in 2014 “Why Black Folks Can’t Breathe.” They point to it as proof that my criticism of LeBron James’ social activism is dishonest. The piece explores the ramifications of America’s drug war and subsequent mass incarceration of black and brown men

I’m not sure my critics read the column. They certainly didn’t comprehend it. Here are a few excerpts:

*Segregation by incarceration (SBI) has pitted the African-American community vs. the police. Segregation has never been a shadowy, impossible-to-pin-down conspiracy. It’s been an American way of life. The people who opposed the Civil Rights Movement and the end of segregation did not hold a news conference, concede defeat and pledge support for racial equality. They hatched a new strategy.

*Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice — God, rest their souls — are symptoms of a far more insidious crime. At this point, Brown, Garner et al are more media distraction than useful symbols. Capitalism and television can be quite undignified. They routinely transform victims into props, ratings-driving talking points for Bill O’Reilly, Wolf Blitzer, Rachel Maddow and Charles Barkley and megaphones for opportunists masquerading as heirs to Dr. King.

*Dumbed-down, irresponsible Twitter hashtags won’t stop segregation by incarceration. They empower it. They keep the national conversation steered away from the real problem and real solutions. 

You want to curb police brutality? The American media have to prioritize discussing complicated issues in a nuanced, informed and transparent fashion. 

Our republic fails without an informed public. We’re not informed. We’re entertained.

Every theme that I write about today is mentioned in the piece I wrote in 2014 for ESPN. The entire conceit of the column is that the media are misleading the public about what’s really fueling the emotions and actions of black athletes. The athletes don’t understand what’s driving their behavior. That’s not a critique of athletes. Human beings often do not understand what motivates them. We often pay therapists thousands of dollars to help us figure it out.

Journalists are supposed to serve as America’s therapists. We’re derelict in our duties, and our country is failing because of it. 

If you want Jason Whitlock for your TV or radio show or podcast, contact

Written by Jason Whitlock

Jason Whitlock is a longtime sports writer, TV personality, radio host, podcaster and the newest member of the Outkick family.
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  1. The media has become a “Scotty Templeton” utopia and I can’t agree enough that we’re witnessing the main theme of S5 of “The Wire” play out in everyday life (S4 too for that matter when it comes to the schools but that’s another story for another day).

    Another brilliant piece, Jason. It sucks that sitting down and actually READING has unfortunately become a rarity in this world given how people in the Social Media era are quick to believe and parrot a 15 sec video or a 280 character tweet as factual information. Keep bringing that heat (i.e. TRUTH) sir!

  2. Simple solution: Stop watching it.

    Yes, it is that simple.

    Journalism is dead. It’s been dead for nearly 25 years after Clinton passed the telecommunications act and SCOTUS ruled that the media is not obligated to convey truth. It is 100% a profit driven industry and they do whatever generates ratings. That ain’t changing unless telecommunications act is repealed.

    People need to start taking accountability for themselves. Stop blaming the media for lying to you. You have to take it upon yourself to do your own research. Then, the media will no longer frustrate you and you won’t be one of these mindless people walking around with a mask on their face because the media told them to put one on.

    Lets stop blaming other people and put the blame where it lies….in the mirror.

  3. I read a bit of that Deadspin piece on how they thought you were poisonous to the Undefeated, and I found your commentary about creative black journalist working for a black manager interesting. Over the years I’ve evolved as a person, from a liberal with unintentionally low expectations for black people and an unrealistic appreciation for the “gangsta” culture, to a moderate person who tries to evaluate everyone based on their strength of character, striving to not give their race any consideration at all. I think you were very poignant in expressing that some white liberals are incapable of holding black people accountable, and in the worst case scenarios are enabling bad behavior and lifestyle choices that are killing them.

    Dick Gregory once said:
    “I personally would say that the quickest way to wipe out a group of people is to put them on a soul food diet. One of the tragedies is that the very folks in the black community who are most sophisticated in terms of the political realities in this country are nonetheless advocates of “soul food.” They will lay down a heavy rap on genocide in America with regard to black folks, then walk into a soul food restaurant and help the genocide along.”

    I think the same principles can be applied to a lot of things wrong with black AND white cultures in America, but certainly none bigger than resisting arrest and fighting with law enforcement officers.

  4. I think many share the same perspective as Jason. Four years ago, I voted for Hillary. Since then, the media’s perversion of the truth and the democrat’s adoption of those inflexible interpretations of events (or vice versa) has made it impossible for me to vote that way again. Do I love the guy we currently have? No. But truth and reason seem to be out the window on the other side. There is no room for debate or different opinions. I feel like I’m still “down the middle” on most issues, but the media’s one-sidedness has moved the preverbal median to appear conservative on most issues.

    • There are many people who the contemporary left rule to be ‘alt-right’ and all it does is serve to expose just how far-left they are themselves. There’s a funny meme that says something to the effect of “if you think this person is a white supremacist and this one a Nazi, you’re probably far-left”. The two people are Candace Owens, a black woman, and Ben Shapiro, an orthodox Jew. Funny cause it’s true! People are insane these days.

    • I don’t love everything about our President either, but all I had to see was the unprecedented, vicious, unrelenting attacks on him to know he is the right pick for this time. I like to think I’m a strong person, but I doubt I could take day after day of being mischaracterized and attacked with this kind of zeal.

      Have you ever had an argument with your spouse and they tell you this is what you are thinking, and you know that is not what you are thinking, but it doesn’t matter they’ve made up their mind, and it’s so frustrating! I have, and that’s what makes me think I could not go through what our President goes through day after day. Good post TD.

  5. So well written and to the point. I don’t think you’ve changed over time, I know society has. Keep up the consistent, truth-based commentary Jason. So grateful to have your point of view to temper the crap we see everywhere.

  6. Jason, great column. I 100% agree with this statement:

    “Until the media follow and report the truth, many Americans will continue to look for presidential candidates willing to call out the liars above all else.”

    I mean, Liberal Media has stood among violent mobs as buildings burn in the background, and they describe the scene as “mostly peaceful”. Democratic politicians have described Seattle’s “chop zone” as a “summer of love”. Yet despite their ridiculous narrative, they expect you to vote for their candidate, and if you don’t, you’re a “white supremacist”

  7. I am the son of a Hispanic mother and Italian father who grew up in the late 650 and early 70s. I fell on the “wrong side”. Saw it up close. What is happening today is NOT racism, and you explain it perfectly. Even if things go wrong politically in November and Biden’s Hate Party wins, there is a new movement of freedom and equality for all that is trying it’s very best to be color blind taking root. It’s a movement of jot and love, albeit stuck behind a faulty character that the media uses to define all of us. Please keep doing what you are doing, and God Bless America.

  8. I agree with your premise, Jason. The media stopped being about telling the truth and presenting the facts during the Clinton years. Since the telecommunications act, and SCOTUS capitulation on “news” organizations not requiring to tell the truth always, it has caused the population to become dumber as a result. People now go nuts for a TikTok video or a confrontation between black people and the police and turn it into something its not. This causes riots and violent fights between supporters of BLM and the police, which makes for good television, and inflames American’s feelings for opponents of their worldview and political ideology. The media is slowly tearing our country apart, and the Chinese and Russians are loving it.

  9. Jason, with your writing talent, it is pretty obvious to me (and hopefully to most others), that if you had “chased the money”, you’d be one of the richest journalists in the world today. If you had chosen to sell hate, lies, and deception in the manner of Jemele, Rachel Maddow, and Ben Strauss, you easily could have made millions upon millions………..Instead, you chose the path of integrity (And thank God you did! I would hate to have a Whitlock on the side of evil)

  10. Jason, I share your dismay with political corruption and the media’s abandonment of truth……In regards to the coming election, although I am registered as a democrat, I cannot in good conscience vote for a democrat. They have completely abandoned truth. They are completely corrupt. I am not a Trump fan, but I cannot possibly vote for Biden. A vote for Biden is a vote for corruption. Instead, I plan to vote for the Unity2020 ticket (the ticket set in motion by Bret Weinstein). For every other choice on the ballot, I will vote for Republican. And when I say every other choice, I do mean every other choice. If there is a vote for dogcatcher, I am voting Republican over Democrat (Sorry Democrats, but just because you champion fools like Cardi B and Lebron, does not mean I am voting for a party which has so willingly cheered anarchy)

    • You really don’t have to do a whole lot of research to see that the Democratic party on the whole seems to count on folks not paying attention, not being very inquisitive, etc. There are Republicans that do the same, without question, but the levels of hypocrisy and dishonesty we’ve seen this year are just stunning.

      In my opinion, the biggest reason is they know the next President will most likely name several members to the Supreme Court which will solidify one path or another for a good 30 years. We all witnessed the unhinged reaction to Kavanagh, which ironically now, further highlights the hypocrisy of so many on the left.

  11. Right up there with The Wire is/was Duke Lacrosse. I.E. Fantastic Lies. If you go back and look it was cancel culture before cancel culture. The media and the rush to judgement. The national outrage. People (liberal media & democrats) wanted it to be true because it fit their world view. Eerie.

    At least Mike Nifong (D) was disbarred.
    Accountability no longer exists.
    For sure not in 2020.

    • That case shifted dramatically when I man I am honored to know, Attorney Joe Cheshire, came onboard as the last lawyer hired and he put a beating on Nifong and those crooked Durham cops they would never come back from. One of the Durham cops later committed suicide, obviously a tragedy, but the guy was rotten to the core. They knew all along those kids were innocent, and damn near ruined their lives.

        • Must’ve been Dave Evans that he represented cause I think Colin & Reade had been charged. Joe seemed like a gentleman. Soft spoken sincere dude. Know two of the families, LI guy, so it’s always stuck with me and hit home. Clearly shaped my world view of media and politicians. Which is good and bad. But more so depressing. I’d rather be naive and not know when it comes to politics in sports. It’s childish but I wish I didn’t read Jason for years and read Clays book. Cause once I “got it” everything clicked. I see things through that prism and I don’t like that. It’s impossible to undo.

          • I love it, I was just thinking Nifong and those crooked detectives have all earned a special place in hell. Ambition is one thing, but ambition that destroys lives and puts innocent people in a federal prison is evil beyond comprehension. I read an article on Nifong a few years back and he still touts himself as the SJW that was victimized by the racist judicial system. Funny because he put hundreds of black men in prison over his career.

            I’ve always thought that if I see Nifong on the street I might take the assault charge to kick his ass. And I would love to see the fathers of those Duke Lacrosse players get five minutes alone with him. As for Cheshire, he is a great man. I grew up with his son, and I used to do a lot of volunteer ministry work at the local jail, I saw Joe Cheshire there on more than one occasion helping people who could never afford to pay his hourly rate. A truly good man.

  12. Never seen the Wire but read everything you write Jason. Even though you may never have had the freedom you do now you haven’t taken any kind of hard turn. As for the media, it’s just so clear now more than ever that we are on our own. I’m not on the coffee table preaching every day to my kids (and sadly lib wife), but I’m damn sure telling them what I think is right and wrong on a regular basis. Treat people with respect, listen to authority and assholes come in every color.

    • I too struggle with liberal folks in my family, but like you, I keep the discourse civil, remind them that family always trumps politics, and I know that eventually this course will win out. A good tactic is pointing out to your liberal family members, let’s compare how many folks on each side are espousing an open debate on the issues, where we earnestly listen to one another and concede points when applicable. Once they see the reality of that then remind them who supports cancel culture the most, and then point out, what does logic tell you then about which side is more open minded? Then ask them, isn’t the characteristic of being open minded one of the reasons you went left in the first place? So, where is the real deception being produced. Good post sir.

  13. Trump’s election peeled back the drapes and the view is ghastly and harsh. But now that we can see it, we can fight it. Thanks for shining a light on it, Jason. We’re not crazy, as we’ve been told and portrayed. We’re pissed and awake, and that’s fuel for keeping the republic, as envisioned by the Founders, functioning.

    • Biggest disappointment of the whole series was Omar getting smoked by a kid. Arguably the best scene was Bunk and Omar on that park bench.

      “And now all we got is bodies, and predatory motherfuckers like you. And out where that girl fell, I saw kids acting like Omar, calling you by name, glorifying your ass. Makes me sick, motherfucker, how far we done fell.”

  14. Jason I live in Baltimore and I’m a recovering drug attic alcoholic. Who copped dope in the terraces .Being white I would not go in the tower. Rhonda Pearlmam Cedric Reddick should have took the FBI DEAL and went after politicians . People like Avon Barksdale Stringer Bell would be replace in days .The money is what divers it all . Their are big time people involved in the drug trade Bankers Lawyers.What do you think you do with that much cash. Any thing over 10,000 YOU HAVE TO DO PAPER WORK AT THE BANK . In 1992 I was doing 3year bit for involuntary manslaughter .I no for a fact that Black & White man are no worried about getting killed by the cops . They think about being killed by each other it all in the game . In 1993 in jail a black man with bible lead me to Jesus Christ and Christian in recovery God change my life to this day . I totally relate to the Malcolm X story in many ways. WHAT I’M getting at is George Floyd Jacob Blake Rayshard Brooks are dead because the were probably high or drunk .These man were not first time offenders they no the drill .

  15. I went back and read Jason’s 2008 column. I have never understood the disdain for Sarah Palin and I still do not.

    I agree about political corruption helping elect Donald Trump but not media malfeasance. We did not need the media to tell us our borders are not controlled, our national debt is skyrocketing, our schools and VA hospitals are broken or appointed judges are legislating from the bench.

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