“They ruined us,” Garvey told me before putting in his papers. “This was a great unit and it was like they had a plan to ruin it.”

For my part, I had come to feel much the same in my own world, having seen some of the best reporters at my newspaper depart for the New York Times, the Washington Post and other papers—chased by an institutional arrogance that was every bit equal to that of the police department.

Struck, Wooten, Alvarez, Zorzi, Littwin, Thompson, Lippman, Hyman—some of the best reporters the Baltimore Sun had were marginalized, then bought out, shipped out and replaced with twenty-four-year-old acolytes, who, if they did nothing else, would never make the mistake of having an honest argument with newsroom management. In a time of growth, when the chance to truly enhance the institution was at hand, the new regime at the Sun hired about as much talent as they dispatched. And in the end, when the carpetbaggers finally departed, their mythology of heroic renewal intact, they had managed to achieve three Pulitzers in about a dozen years. During the previous dozen, the newspaper’s morning and evening editions achieved exactly the same number.

Listening to Garvey over drinks that day, I came to realize that there was something emblematic here: that in postmodern America, whatever institution you serve or are served by—a police department or a newspaper, a political party or a church, Enron or Worldcom—you will eventually be betrayed.

It seemed very Greek the more I thought about it. The stuff of Aeschylus and Sophocles, except the gods were not Olympian but corporate and institutional. In every sense, ours seems a world in which individual human beings—be they trained detectives or knowledgeable reporters, hardened corner boys or third-generation longshoremen or smuggled eastern European sex workers—are destined to matter less and less.

—David Simon, Homicide