"Not for Attribution" is the third episode of the fifth season of The Wire. It is the fifty-third episode of the series overall. It premiered on January 20, 2008. The episode was written by Chris Collins and directed by Scott and Joy Kecken.
The title refers to a journalistic expression which means "off the record".
- "They're dead where it doesn't count."
- ―Mike Fletcher
Jimmy McNulty sits in an interrogation room and reviews open cases involving homeless victims. He is still wearing the same shirt as when he strangled the decedent in his last assignment to create the impression of a murder. He notices one picture where the victim has a red ribbon tied around his wrist. In the main office, veteran detectives sleep while the new detective types on a laptop. A veteran admonishes him to type more quietly.
Bunk Moreland arrives in the unit and announces that he is the early relief. Bunk asks what time McNulty left and a veteran tells him that he has been there all night. Bunk asks McNulty what he is thinking and criticises his plan to create the illusion of a serial killer. McNulty drinks from a bottle of whiskey and Bunk takes the bottle and admonishes McNulty as it is now 4 a.m. McNulty explains that he has the case files for all homeless murders in the last five years and that he believes he has enough material to create links to his own manufactured murder. Bunk warns that McNulty could face prison time over his actions. Bunk tries to remind McNulty of his family and responsibilities mentions that he has just bought new lawn furniture for himself and has no plans to go to jail. Bunk mentions that McNulty will be damaging the clearance rate with his scheme and McNulty seizes on the chance to blame the failings of the department on its obsession with statistics. Bunk changes tack and tells McNulty that Stanfield is not worth the risks involved in his plan. McNulty insists that Stanfield does not "get to win" and that only they "get to win." McNulty insists that the vacant house murders are too important to be sidelined because of budget problems.
McNulty claims that he returned to detective work because of promises made about the vacant murder case and that he will see that his superiors deliver on their promises whether they know about it or not. Bunk threatens to reveal McNulty’s plan to their superiors if he does not do so of his own volition. McNulty calls Bunk’s bluff and tells him to do what he has to. Bunk insists that McNulty keep his name out of the case file and tells McNulty that he will not be involved in any way and leaves.
McNulty continues to look at old files and finds a case worked by the late detective Ray Cole. McNulty leaves the interrogation room and visits a drug store to buy red ribbon matching the type in the photograph. He returns to the homicide unit and practices tying the ribbon and defaces it to look dirty then places it in Cole's H-file. Later, McNulty hurriedly types a report about the cases he is falsely linking while Bunk looks on. McNulty leaves a copy of the report on Landsman’s desk and hands another to Bunk. He asks for a working car and Greggs offers him a lift as she needs hers to re-canvass the Junebug scene. As they are about to leave Bunk pulls McNulty aside.
Bunk once again urges McNulty to reconsider his actions. McNulty calls Bunk’s attention to Kima Greggs who is working her triple homicide alone as Crutchfield has been returned to the rotation. Bunk tries to tell McNulty that the two things are not related. McNulty continues to rant and Bunk again warns him about getting caught. McNulty is dismissive of the chances of being caught because of his perception of ineptitude amongst his colleagues. Bunk questions McNulty about the significance of the ribbon and McNulty explains that there was a ribbon on a victim that Frank Barlow was assigned. He reveals that he has also inserted mention of a ribbon into Ray Cole’s case notes. Bunk wonders about the lack of a ribbon in their case and McNulty tells him that he is planning to plant the ribbon on the decedent at the morgue. Bunk is disbelieving and McNulty tells him that their superiors are ignoring a real serial killer (Stanfield) and that they obviously require fabrication. Bunk tells McNulty that he is insane and McNulty continues to drink. Bunk goes to leave but finds himself locked in the interrogation room, likely an allusion to him being stuck with McNulty's problems. He calls Michael Crutchfield who opens the door and asks "did he fuck you?" Bunk responds that McNulty "tried, but mostly he just fucks himself."
McNulty arrives at the morgue and asks where his decedent is, claiming he needs fingerprints to identify him. McNulty buys himself time alone with the body by letting the medical examiner finish his breakfast. McNulty puts on gloves and furtively ties the ribbon to the decedent’s left wrist. McNulty checks that the bruising on the neck and the petechial hemorrhage around the eyes have developed. Later he discusses the autopsy findings with a senior medical examiner and she tells him that the decedent was already near to death before the strangling. McNulty offers the signs of strangulation on the body and tells her that he also has signs of a struggle and witnesses who heard sounds of a struggle. He mentions that the ribbon might relate to other cases and the examiner remarks that her investigator missed the ribbon earlier. McNulty facetiously sympathises that the ribbon was high on the wrist. She announces the cause and manner of death as homicide by strangulation.
McNulty returns to the homicide unit and gleefully reports to Bunk that the medical examiner has stated that someone is killing homeless men. McNulty stands near Detective Ray Barlow and tells Bunk loudly about the red ribbon in his case. Barlow fails to notice the comments.
McNulty continues to belabor the point in front of Barlow even producing the ribbon he inserted into Cole’s file. Barlow phones his wife to discuss wood staining and then prepares to leave. McNulty cannot believe the other detective did not pick up on his hints. McNulty asks Bunk to go for a drink and Bunk declines and tells McNulty to go home and reconsider his actions. McNulty facetiously tells Bunk that he cannot go home while he is working a serial killer case.
McNulty drinks in a bar and flirts with a woman. Later a patrol car catches McNulty having intercourse with the woman in public. McNulty flashes his badge and the officers leave him to his debauchery.
The next day McNulty again mentions the ribbon in front of Barlow and finally gets the response he was seeking. They present the cases to Sergeant Landsman who is not interested. After the meeting, McNulty asks Barlow for the name of the crime reporter at The Sun. McNulty remembers Twigg, but Barlow also suggests Alma Gutierrez, although he is unsure of her surname as she is new. McNulty phones The Sun and arranges to meet Gutierrez. McNulty gives Gutierrez the story and flirts throughout their meeting.
McNulty steals a newspaper from the sidewalk box and is disappointed to find his story buried in the metro section. Landsman comments on the stories insignificance when McNulty returns to the office. Landsman orders McNulty back into the rotation. Bunk asks McNulty if he is finally finished with his scheme.
Bunk brings Lester Freamon to the homicide unit to talk with McNulty about his plan. McNulty explains the details to Freamon and Freamon actually sees potential in it. Freamon tells McNulty that he has to sensationalize the killings with a disturbing motive. Bunk is disgusted that Freamon endorses the idea. Freamon tells Bunk that the dead men will not care about their actions and Bunk leaves. Freamon suggests that the killer needs a nickname and McNulty gleefully concludes that they have to “kill” again.
Deputy Commissioner Stanislaus Valchek meets with Mayor Tommy Carcetti and delivers a copy of the departments crime statistics. Valchek tells Carcetti that crime has risen and suggests that Carcetti now has the evidence he has been waiting for to fire Commissioner Ervin Burrell. Valchek suggests that while he would not be approved as a permanent replacement he could act as interim commissioner while Carcetti finds a suitable African American candidate who will be approved to take the post permanently. Valchek would receive an increased pension as a result. Carcetti ends the meeting and asks for time to consider the suggestion.
Valchek leaves and Norman Wilson tells Carcetti that Council President Nerese Campbell and the politically influential ministers would not accept Valchek even as a temporary commissioner. Wilson asks how Carcetti will respond and Carcetti tells him that with the budget cuts he has imposed and his demands for clean figures, he cannot complain about the crime rate increasing. He tells Wilson that if Burrell takes responsibility for the figures he cannot fire him even with crime increasing.
Commissioner Burrell and Deputy Commissioner William Rawls meet with Carcetti, Wilson, and chief of staff Michael Steintorf. The commissioners deliver a significantly different report about crime rates to Carcetti. Carcetti asks if Burrell is willing to vouch for the figures since they show that crime has not increased despite significant budget cuts. Carcetti reminds the commissioners that he expects clean numbers and Burrell states that Carcetti has been clear on that point. The commissioners leave and Steintorf remarks that Burrell has just ended his career. Steintorf suggests that they leak the real statistics to the paper and hold the altered figures to blackmail Burrell if he will not leave quietly. Wilson wonders who could replace Burrell as Rawls presented the same altered statistics. Carcetti expects Rawls to attempt to shift all the blame onto Burrell by claiming that he warned Burrell about altering the statistics. Wilson worries that the ministers and Campbell will not accept Rawls as commissioner and Carcetti claims that Rawls will be allowable on an acting basis for a few months provided there is an African American candidate in place to take over. Wilson worries that Cedric Daniels has only been Colonel for a year and is too inexperienced for the job. Carcetti insists that Daniels is his choice. Carcetti tells Wilson (an ex-reporter himself) to leak the possibility of Daniels taking over to the newspapers to test the waters. Carcetti takes pleasure in the end of Burrell’s time as commissioner and remarks "This is Baltimore. No one lives forever."
The Baltimore Sun
Reporter Alma Gutierrez is also awake early in the morning in anticipation of her first front page story. She has submitted 35 inches regarding the triple homicide in Junebug’s house. Her partner suggests that they should have home delivery to avoid her having to rise early. She responds that there is no point in paying for the paper when she can get it for free at the office. She visits a drug store to try and buy a copy of the paper but is unsuccessful. Her visit coincides with McNulty buying the red ribbon. Instead she visits the printing press itself.
Gutierrez reports to work disappointed that her story was cut to just 12 inches and placed below the fold. City Desk Editor Gus Haynes apologizes for the way her piece was presented. Haynes explains that the story suffered cuts as it was passed between departments and there was not enough room held for it. As Haynes leaves, Mike Fletcher offers an alternative explanation – that the victims race and class are responsible for the shortened coverage. Gutierrez reveals that she drove to the plant for a copy of the story and Fletcher tells her that she is not the first reporter to do so.
Later, Managing Editor Thomas Klebanow asks the staff to gather round for an announcement. He sends Metro Desk Editor Steven Luxenberg to gather the staff from other sections. Executive Editor James Whiting stands and waits for the staff to assemble. Jeff Price wonders if the paper has been sold again and Roger Twigg mentions their purchase by The LA Times and then the Chicago Tribune company characterizing The Baltimore Sun as a minnow. Price suggests that they might have won a Pulitzer prize and Haynes dismisses the suggestion as it would have made Whiting tumescent prior to his announcement. Twigg does not know the meaning of the word and Price clarifies that it means engorged.
Whiting begins his announcement by talking about the shrinking news hole and decline in advertising revenue and circulation as competitive media continue to arise. Whiting mentions the internet as a free source of news and opinions and tells the staff that to find a balance in the new world gives them hard choices. Whiting mentions the pride that The Sun has in its foreign bureaus and then regretfully announces that the closure of the bureaus has been ordered by the paper's owner. He also announces that reporters will be bought out of their jobs to meet budgetary requirements from the Chicago Tribune company. He concludes by stating that they will have to "do more with less" and hands over to Klebanow to detail the specifics. Whiting returns to his office while Klebanow asks the assembly to hold their questions until he has had a chance to speak. Scott Templeton warns Gutierrez to begin thinking about a new job.
Whiting details the specifics of the buyouts and reminds the staff that the changes will offer some new opportunities and that they have all done excellent work and should be proud of their achievements. He then asks for questions. The reporters are concerned about the number of buyouts and their impact on future contract negotiations. Haynes asks why they are making cuts when the paper remains profitable. Klebanow tells the assembly that no one feels worse about the changes than he does and then asks for the staff to meet with him individually for further discussion.
Klebanow meets with Twigg as Price, Fletcher, Haynes and Templeton look on. Haynes' remarks that Twigg has given twenty years to the paper and deserves better treatment. Price points out that it is more profitable for the ownership to run a bad paper – by cutting back staff and pages to reduce overhead, the revenue is increased. Templeton remarks that if they are lucky, the buyouts will only get rid of dead wood. Twigg leaves the meeting and tells the others that he was offered a choice between accepting the buyout and being reassigned to the copy desk and that he opted for the former. Twigg suggests that he will now have time to work on a novel. Haynes is called in next.
Haynes is surprised to see Whiting in Klebanow's office. Whiting tells Haynes to relax as they need him in the newsroom. Klebanow tells Haynes that he has done excellent work and that they are relying on him to transition the new team. Klebanow tells Haynes that there will still be talent in the newsroom that needs to be developed. Haynes worries about the team that will remain after the cuts and Klebanow reassures him that they plan to retain a solid staff. Whiting repeats his mantra that they will have to "do more with less."
Haynes meets with Norman Wilson in a bar after work. Haynes and Wilson discuss their days working together at the paper and Wilson regretfully tells Haynes that he is now "whoring himself for politicians." Haynes reassures Wilson that he left at the right time as the Chicago ownership is destroying the paper. Wilson feeds Haynes the details of Carcetti’s plans for the police department – William Rawls as interim commissioner with Cedric Daniels as the front-runner to take over permanently. Haynes does not know Daniels. Wilson recounts a few details of his career – he is the chief of detectives, a polished presence with a law degree and brought closure to some high level cases. Wilson has even brought along a photo of Daniels for Haynes to use in the piece. Haynes wonders what the purpose of the leak is and suggests that it is aimed at Campbell and the ministers to see if they will accept Daniels.
The next day Haynes tentatively offers the story to Twigg, who declines it sight unseen with his buyout looming. Haynes gives the photograph to Templeton, explains the details and asks him what he knows about Daniels; Templeton doesn’t recognize him. Twigg reels off a list of Daniels' roles and accomplishments and even some details about his personal life. Haynes returns the photograph to him and asks him if he minds working the story. Templeton is upset to lose the story and tries to reassure Haynes that he would have been able to handle the story. Haynes assigns Templeton to gather react quotes.
Templeton picks up his phone but does not call anyone. Later, he then delivers a suspiciously well-phrased quote to Haynes. When Haynes calls him over to verify his source, Templeton initially protests, but then claims that it came from Nerese Campbell. Templeton tells Haynes that Twigg is not the only talented reporter.
Haynes takes Twigg for a drink after work. They bemoan the fate of their industry and discuss their motivations for entering journalism. Haynes recalls watching his father setting aside time to read the paper and wanting to be a part of something that was clearly important to him. Twigg recalls watching a man on the bus reading the paper and how intelligent it made him look. Twigg quotes Baltimore journalist Henry Mencken, including a line of "forgive fools" and Haynes dismisses their predecessor. Twigg tells Haynes that he forgives him and leaves.
Following the printing of the story Ervin Burrell sits quietly in his office as Rawls tries to contact him. Daniels discusses the story with Pearlman in his office. She is ecstatic while he is concerned about Templeton’s quote, which characterizes him as stabbing Burrell in the back. Daniels meets with his ex-wife Marla to discuss Burrell’s potential reaction to the story. They are both worried that Burrell will reveal evidence of corruption from Daniels’ past. Marla suggests that Burrell will use what he knows about Daniels to try and retain his position as commissioner. Marla suggests that Daniels approach Burrell and promise not to take the commissioner post. Daniels thinks that Burrell might not have any more than assets investigations but Marla reminds him that his past has already cost their marriage, which was a high enough price and that rumor will be enough to prevent him from becoming commissioner.
Detective Leander Sydnor waits with the Grand Jury Chairman and several witnesses in the Clay Davis case as they each give depositions. One witness complains about the time wasted while they wait and the Chairman tells him that they must lay the foundations of their case carefully. Assistant State’s Attorney Rhonda Pearlman calls a witness named Halpert. The disgruntled witness wonders if he can go earlier and the Chairman suggests that he could if he was important enough. Halpert’s testimony involves a lot of financial jargon and some jurors already seem disinterested.
Pearlman later takes a deposition from Clay Davis’ driver Damien Lavelle Price. Pearlman asks Price about the car stop where he was found with Barksdale drug money. She also asks him about two other salaried positions he holds with charities related to Davis. She asks him to explain how he is able to sustain three jobs. He is unable to answer any of her questions. Price later meets with Davis and warns him about the case – Davis is speechless for once.
Davis meets with Tommy Carcetti and Michael Steintorf and tells them that he could smooth over the transitions in the police department for them in exchange for assistance with his case. Steintorf is dismissive as he has not received any complaints about the possibility of promoting Daniels.
Marlo Stanfield and Felicia "Snoop" Pearson visit Little Johnny’s diner, a known hangout of The Greeks. Stanfield delivers a suitcase of cash to Andreas, the counter man, telling him that he was sent by Sergei Malatov and that the money is a gift for Spiros Vondas. Andreas claims not to know Vondas and Stanfield tells Andreas that they will return the next day. When he comes back Vondas refuses to take the money because of its poor condition.
Chris Partlow and Slim Charles wait outside while Stewart introduces Stanfield to a contact. Partlow remarks that the meeting is taking a long time and suggests that it is due to Stewart’s verbose nature. Slim Charles jokes about the contrast between their employers. Inside, Stewart explains that he makes donations to the contact, a pastor, for charitable projects abroad. The projects are slowly progressing and the majority of the money donated is laundered through foreign banks and given back to the contributor as cashier’s checks. The pastor explains that there is a base charge of ten cents on the dollar and any further monies kept depend on the generosity of the donor.
Stanfield returns to the diner and meets with Vondas. Vondas tells Stanfield that everything runs well through Stewart. Stanfield again approaches Stewart for help and Stewart agrees to exchange the money for clean bills. Stewart charges 20 cents on the dollar and Stanfield is disappointed that he will lose $40,000 dollars (inferring that he is offering $200,000 as tribute to Vondas).
Stewart tells Stanfield that he would usually charge extra for exchanging the money within a day but will waive that, again because of their shared interest in the Co-Op. Stanfield accepts the deal. Stewart does not ask what the money is for and remains unaware that Stanfield is trying to usurp his connection to The Greeks. Stanfield asks Stewart to tell the other Co-Op members that he is offering a $50,000 reward for information on Omar Little’s associates. Stewart tries to discourage Stanfield from pursuing Omar but has no affect. After Stanfield leaves, Stewart explains to his nephew Melvin "Cheese" Wagstaff, that he will not give Stanfield any information on Omar because he is happy that he has left Baltimore and would not see him return. Stanfield takes the clean money straight back to Andreas at Little Johnnys and tells him to give it Vondas.
Cheese later meets with Partlow and tells him about Omar’s connection to Butchie despite Stewart’s wishes. Partlow asks if Stewart is aware of Butchie and Cheese insists that it is not relevant. Cheese happily takes Partlow’s money. Meanwhile Stanfield meets with Stewart and collects the details of the bank account he has set up for him. Stanfield worries about leaving his money on someone else's hands and Stewart agrees to organize a passport so he can travel to the Caribbean and withdraw it.
Partlow and Snoop ambush Butchie at his bar, killing one of Butchie’s staff and wounding his bodyguard, Big Guy. They torture Butchie but he refuses to reveal anything about Omar. Eventually Partlow kills Butchie and instructs Big Guy to ensure that word reaches Omar. Outside Snoop worries that their actions will bring Omar’s vengeance and have gained them nothing, Partlow tells her not to question Stanfield’s orders and that they will all have to be cautious.
Following his involvement in the Junebug triple homicide, Michael Lee is socially withdrawn. Duquan "Dukie" Weems urges him to discuss it and Michael briefly relates the story reflecting that everything in his life is serious now. Michael asks Bug about his homework and Dukie tells Michael that school is closed for teacher meetings the following day. Dukie suggests they do something with Bug as he is free for the day. Michael tells Dukie that he has his corner to run and Dukie smiles, having thought of something. Michael asks Dukie what is on his mind and Dukie reveals that the Six Flags amusement park has reopened. Michael considers the possibility.
The next day Michael tries to hail a cab to take them to the park. He is approached by a hack driver and negotiates a $200 fee for a ride. They enjoy their day at the park and even flirt with some girls. However, when they return Michael goes to check on his corner and Monk confronts him about leaving without telling anyone. Monk tells Michael that Partlow has already been informed.
Stanfield travels to the island in the Antilles where his new account is held. He struggles to communicate with the French-speaking cashier. Meanwhile, Omar is enjoying his retirement to a Spanish speaking beach front town with Renaldo when word of Butchie's murder disrupts their idyllic life.