Tied Together By Deceit,
Torn Apart By Morality
Lucas Smith
n the cold open of Season Five, Detective William
“The Bunk” Moreland says to a fellow detective,
“The bigger the lie, the more they believe” (5.01).
The Wire is full of dishonesty and liars, ranging from
deceptive police detectives to corrupt politicians and all
the way down to counterfeiting dope fiends. In Season
Five, we are introduced to two big lies: Detectives
Jimmy McNulty and Lester Freamon’s fabrication of a
serial killer hunting the homeless, and reporter Scott
Templeton’s deception of The Baltimore Sun and its
readers à la Jayson Blair and The New York Times.
Moral common sense tells us that both McNulty and
Templeton act wrongly in their given situations, but
looking at the broader context makes it seem that the
answer isn’t so clear-cut. In fact, their actions invite the
notion of differing degrees of wrongness: Templeton’s
actions look a lot worse than McNulty’s when
compared side-by-side. Actions express different
motives, intentions, and character traits that are all
relevant in evaluating the situational morality of such
actions. While philosophers such as John Stuart Mill
focus on consequence and those like Immanuel Kant
look at the action’s rational consistency, Aristotle points
to the how and why. In other words, is an action right
if a virtuous person would perform the action in the
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