Journalism in the Public Interest


Podcast: David Simon, A.C. Thompson Talk About Fictionalizing a Real Life Investigation


David Simon, the creator of The Wire, talks at the ProPublica event about turning real life into reel life on Sept. 18, 2012, at New York University. (Erin Lee for ProPublica)

On Sept. 18, David Simon and his Treme co-creater/executive producer Eric Overmyer joined our A.C. Thompson and New York University's Joe Pichirallo for a conversation about how they turned Thompson's investigative work into a story line for the new season of the HBO show.

We excerpted the talk for this podcast. The group discussed how Simon and Overmyer first met Thompson over dinner, why they modeled a new cast member after Thompson but didn't use his name for the character, how it's difficult to assign motivation to a real-life person and how Thompson helped the creative duo keep the "L. P. Everett" character honest. They also veered off on riffs about "the copy desk nightmare" and their hardcore/metal musical choices.

want to listen but scared of plot spoilers… or do they avoid that? what If i hit play and they give important stuff away before I have time to hit stop? HOW COULD YOU NOT THINK OF THIS?

Thanks for posting this Podcast. Interesting back story to the L.P. Everett character and the Henry Glover case. I’ve read a lot about that case. The Katrina case I have trouble understanding is the Danzinger Bridge incident. In both cases people in trouble, people in need, were treated atrociously. Horrible! Ugly, vicious and shockingly wrong.

I am a 61 year old African-American female and while I really grateful Mr Simon did this, I am not in the least surprised. The hunting of and abuse of African-Americans by police all over this country is standard operating procedure.

The reporter, AC Thompson, should and needs to come clean about another story he was entrusted with, and responsible for, in 2007: that of a woman, Kathleen Culhane, who went to prison that year, and when her father was dying, sat with Thompson and gave him her story over hours. Thomspson specifically requested a non-investigatory piece, indeed a biolgraphical piece, and Culhane trusted him. She then stood up in court and said out loud herprotest against the state of california and the death penalty.

Thompson had promised to folow through on the story and also madeher promises, including to be in contact with Culhane (who was in prison) about the story. Also, Thompson and Culhane had a mutual agreement/condition before he started in 2007, that he would not ontact her family, given her father’s illness and subsequent death.  Thompson did not respect that mutual agreement, never cntacted Culhane, and instead against agreement contacted Culhane’s mother while her father died.

Thompson then took payment to appear in Davies Opera Hall in SF and discuss Culhane personally in front of a packed opera hall. He did not so much as meet wtih Culhane before hand, although she sought that out.

He exploited this woman - Kathleen Culhane - who had the balls to stand up in court ito speak her mind in a way that Thompson never could. CCulhane did great organizing in prison, and suffered unjustly in ways that Thomspon turned a blind ear towards.

Today, Culhane does grassroots community work on behalf of prisoners that Thompson apparantly cannot bear to acknowledge.

No matter what Thompson does, he carries this burden of Kathleen Culhane, and he owes her and her family - and mot of all the prisoners she has served - an apology both personally andprofessionally. Propublica also shoudl exmine this and rectify what happened not only to her, but in the context of AC Thomspsons reporting. It was a travesty, and it harms her egregiously to this day.

Sorry, want to clarify that Thompson killed Culhane’s story: it never was printed.  He broke his agreement with Culhane to never contact her family, never gave any accounting of the disposition of the story itself, and instead gave a performance in SF’s Davies’ Hall for his wn benefit. His behavior throughout was cowardly, and he never gave Culhane the ethical duty he owed her.  I appreciate the work he’s done inother stories, but he needs to learn to collaborate with those who are his subjects, and show them a modicum of respect. In Culhane’s case, he harmed her intensely, and he knows it. I hope he rectifies his mistake by once and for all writing a true and real accounting of Kathleen Culhane.

Came across this comment late but do want to add—as a journalist in europe I have followed Culhane’s story and am aware of AC Thompson’s work on the story. For me as a journalist, the biggest issue, or question, I have is: why didn’t AC Thompson go deeper into Culhane’s story? There was a lot going on there with the lawyers, and not just those Culhane worked for.  Her own lawyer Stuart Hanlon played a role in what happened. By what happened, I don’t mean the defense of Ms. Culhane, either.  Word is Culhane’s trial file is sitting at the bottom of San Francisco Bay.  Why?  And Why didn’t Thompson look into that and Hanlon’s role?  Could it be because Hanlon is a steady source of info for Thompson, and is quoted repeatedly in disparate AC Thompson stories?  I don’t know, but as time passes, the questions multiply.


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