Talking Head Deathmatch

It’s two o’clock on Wednesday afternoon and my brother and I are in his living room eating pizza. I’m on a diet and shouldn’t be carbo-loading, but the smell of pepperoni has overwhelmed my iron will.

“Thanks for watching the kid,” my brother says through a mouthful of crust and cheese. “I appreciate it.”

“No problem,” I reply. My younger sibling pulled an all-nighter at work and asked me to babysit so he could grab some sleep. As I chased my newly mobile nephew around the house, I could hear my brother’s snores sawing though the walls. He was wiped out. Now that he’s awake, he’s hungry.

“Want another slice?” my brother asks.

“No thanks,” I say, virtue reasserting itself. This far and no farther.

“So what’d you think about the swine flu thing?” my brother asks, scooping up another piece. As the baby watches his father eat he emits a squealing sound. I think he wants some.

“I get feverish just thinking about it,” I reply.

“And you flew back from California just as the news was breaking,”

“Yep. Cooped up in an aluminum tube breathing everybody’s recycled air.”


“Three days after I got home I spiked a 102 fever.”


“Scared the shit out of me.”

“I’ll bet.”

“I called my doctor and talked it over with him,” I continue. “Since I didn’t have any other symptoms he told me I must’ve had some other kind of bug.”

“So what happened?”

“A day of bed rest and fluids and I was right as rain.”


“But I was frightened,’ I say. “Movies like 28 Days Later and Outbreak have always freaked me out. And with the media acting like it was Epidemiological Armageddon and all…..”

“Made us think we were all gonna turn into blood sucking zombies,” my brother says.

“Yep,” I say. “Must have brains.”

“I’m pissed off at those guys,” my brother says.


“No, the media. They did a good job scaring people.”

“It’s all about ratings,” I say. “If it bleeds it leads.”

“But they went overboard,” my brother says. “We need to know about this stuff – but not have it in our face 24/7.”

“I went on a news boycott,” I say. “Now I just glance at the Times homepage to make sure we’re not being invaded by Canada. After that I don’t care.”

“Probably a good idea.”

“Remember when there was no 24 hour news?” I ask. “When the station’s would play the national anthem after Carson and then be off the air ’til morning? You got a break from all the world’s craziness.”

“Those days are dead and gone.”

“I think it’d be good to bring them back.”

“Never happen.”

“Then how about a lottery?” I say. “With the winner being the only news outfit allowed to broadcast 24 hours a day?”

“You’re talking billions of dollars here. And lots of people are news junkies.”

“There’d still be the internet.”

“Still won’t work.”

“How about a fight to the death?” I say.


“We take all the talking heads, throw them into a gladiator pit, and the last one standing wins the rights for his or her network to broadcast 24 hours a day.”

“That has possibilities.”

“Talking Head Deathmatch!”

“I like it.”

Who do think would win out?” I ask. “Keith Olbermann is a big guy.”

“I hate to say this,” my brother says. “But I’d put my money on Geraldo.”


“He’s street, man,” my brother says. “Probably gut Olbermann with a switchblade.”

“Hmmm. Glen Beck versus Rachel Maddow?”

“Beck would just start crying. Besides, Maddow could probably kick both our asses.”


“My money’d be on Lou Dobbs,” my brother says.


“His wife packs a gun? He packs a gun.”

“Blow Hannity and Colmes away?”

“In a heartbeat.”

“Watch out for Pat Buchanan though,” I say. “He’d probably show up with a tactical nuke.”

“Then no one would win,” my brother says.

“My point exactly.”


After the pizza’s finished and the diaper changing duties completed I head home – the conversation I had with my brother’s buzzing around my head. Things like mass outbreaks of disease give me the heebie-jeebies. I’ve seen the gravestones of relatives killed by the Spanish Flu of 1918. Families wiped out in mere days. It’s scary stuff and it’s always struck a dark chord in me. And all the hyper-news coverage hasn’t helped.

But I really don’t want media people to start killing each other. And, not to be a hypocrite, I’m also aware that I’ve benefitted from the largesse of that very same media this past year. One of the upsides of all my media coverage was that I got to make a few journalist friends along the way. Because of them I know there are newspeople who are responsible, balanced and fair. But in a medium where fact is often obscured by blowharded opinion, it’s tough to hear the truth amidst all the shrillness.

Sensationalism in the news, however, is an old tradition. Just look at Walter Winchell and William Randolph Hearst. Even Alexander Hamilton got in on the act with the New York Post. But please, when it comes to things like swine flu, give the hysterical, ratings crazed, blame-gaming opinionated bullshit a rest. We’re scared enough.

God, I miss Tim Russert.

66 thoughts on “Talking Head Deathmatch”

  1. JB says:

    Yay, I’m so glad you’re back! We got worried about you!

  2. Marc says:

    No need to worry too much Waiter; when in doubt just wash your hands with soap and hot water and try not to stress about it too much.

    Good to see you back.

  3. Casey says:

    Amen to that! I am sick of hearing about it all day everyday. Even my hospital doesn’t throw it in my face as much as the news sites!!

  4. kcbelles says:

    Welcome back!

  5. Ken says:

    Man, you said it. Tim Russert was a real voice of reason. It’s sad to think that the closest thing we have now is Jon Stewart on a comedy show (don’t get me wrong I LOVE the Daily Showp; it’s just that I’d prefer to have real political news come from the mainstream).

  6. cass says:

    tim russert was awesome good to see your words

  7. Moshizzle says:

    Snort, “Epidemiological Armageddon”. If this thing wasn’t called “swine flu” the media would never have picked it up. It’s not even as bad as the regular flu outside of Mexico.

    Anyway, don’t worry about us Canucks invading you guys. If we do, you’ll have plenty of warning because we’ll have 6 months of parliamentary debates to even requisition funds.

  8. Nik says:

    To be fair to the media…
    I work in local news, and we strive for large stories like swine flu. I feel our station covered it properly, making sure when the information came available to tell our viewers this virus is no deadlier than the seasonal influenza. The problem is, we have to keep our audience updated on developments, and that floods the airwaves. On top of that, we have news directors telling us we should cover the story, and what we should do about it, how to go about it, etc. It’s a balance between informing the audience and getting ratings, which is what ultimately secures our jobs and pays our paychecks. I’ve gotten complaints on the phone and via email saying we are biased in what we do… but we’re not. We try so hard to get both sides of the story for every issue.

  9. Persephone says:

    I love the Talking Head Deathmatch idea very, very much. Where do we go to vote?

    My grandmother and her sisters were orphaned by the Spanish Influenza. I was scared sick when I heard they had managed to recover some of the original virus from some frozen bodies. That scares me so much more than this year’s panic story.

  10. Barmaiden says:

    I’ve given up on television news. I get all my info from the Daily Show. At least that way it’s entertaining while it’s scaring the crap out of me!

  11. newchef says:

    dear god…im sick of hearing about the swine flu…the amount of customers in my restaurant have diminished by about 40% because they believe u can get it by eating pork(which you cannot)and i work in a local BBQ joint. i put up a sign saying tht u cant get it from food nd i get ppl telling me tht the sign is incorrect and some even take it down…i hate stupid people…especially those who constantly use the antibacterial hand soap, that is almost the worst thing to do next to making out with some1 with it.

  12. Ashley says:

    I like the comment from CNN, “Now we’re not trying to freak people out…” Yeah, right. And Biden’s idiotic comments about not going in any enclosed space.

    I heard that statistically, this flu is less severe than regular flu season, which kills thousands of people.

  13. Joe Casabona says:

    I just wrote about the sensationalism of the swine flu by the media in my school’s newspaper (irony?). I’m glad to see I’m not the only person to think so.

  14. jennifer says:

    36,000 people a year die from the regular flu

  15. Jennifer says:

    Amen, amen. Thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. Wish the media would at least get on the bandwagon and start calling the virus what it is, instead of the “old” name. I’m on a news boycott all the time, but I managed to make even MORE of an effort to boycott this sensationalism. Enough already! Every member of my extended family has been ill for the past MONTH now with various congestion, sore throats, aches and fever, courtesy of my nephew’s neighborhood friends, and we’re all still alive! He caught it from his little friends, we all caught it from him … whatever it was…

  16. sarah says:

    Im so glad your back! I just turn the channel, and keep my hands clean. That way I dont get overloaded by T.M.I.

  17. Suzanne says:

    Anderson Cooper would kick all thier asses.

    28 Days? I don’t remember Sandra Bullock contracting any diseases. =0)

  18. Lois says:

    You have to admit, it took everybody’s mind off of the state of the economy for a few weeks.

    Now back to your original crisis, already in progress…

  19. Jess G. says:

    I’m probably not the only one who’s glad that the Hotel California didn’t swallow you up and keep you in that Pacific. Keep writing! We’ll keep reading. Adios, El Mero Mesero.

  20. Tori says:

    Jennifer, the same thing’s been going round in my family. I am SO sick of people asking me if I had swine flu. It’s annoying. Amusing conversation, Steve.

  21. Mike says:

    Psychosymatic! You got a fever because you were worried you got sick on the plane. People have gotten so worried about what makes them sick that they make themselves sick. I also work as a chef and when the media covered the recall on pistachios my best selling fish dish stopped selling even though my waitstaf reassured people that the canned pistachios I was using had been purchased a month earlier in bulk. No one got sick from pistachios! Some people still won’t eat baby spinich!

  22. Sami-Ann says:

    I laughed, because it’s true and this entry reminded me of it.

  23. KenC says:

    The tone & content of the media coverage here in the UK has been way over the top regards the “swine flu”. The first people to be diagnosed here lived in Falkirk roughly 30 miles from where I live. These unfortunates had returned from honeymoon in Mexico with the symptons becoming apparent on the flight back.

    Anyway despite coverage from the media which came across as the next Black Death was on the way the couple recovered after treatment after a week.

    Thankfully things have died down and the media have brought forward medical experts who have been the voice of reason telling people to calm down and providing advise for people genuinly concerned that there was a major pandemic about to hit.

    Had visions of the film “Doomsday” where Scotland was isolated from the rest of the world due to a viral outbreak and within 30 years we had degenerated into tribes of cannabilistic cyber punks!!!!. In the unlikely event of this happening we had reserved an unpopular neighbour for the barbecue and stocked up on marinade ( a terrible gossip & rumour monger but probably a first class main course )

  24. Michelle S. says:

    We’ve had several school closings because of the swine flu here. I (and many other people) think it’s ridiculous but on the other hand, if the schools didn’t do anything other parents would all be in an uproar. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  25. Becs says:

    Better the swine flu than cholera, that’s what I say.

    Welcome back, you’ve been missed.

    Geraldo is sooo not street. Until he got out of college and became Kurt Vonnegut’s son-in-law, everybody called him Gerry.

    Personally, I think they’d all run away sniveling. Except for Christianne Amanpour and maybe Linda Ellerbee, who can kick anybody’s ass anyday. IMHO.

  26. XGamer says:

    Swine flu, c’mon people….it’s the H1N1 virus now…be politically…

    Another item, funny how the media has been all over this for 2100 cases of “infected” people with about 50 deaths worldwide (for approx 6.6 BILLIONS people on the planet), but they are not talking about the 2 million deaths last year related to AIDS !

  27. mccn says:


    I think we have some time if we’re invaded by Canada – you live a few hours’ commute from the border, especially if the Canadians have to squish other Americans to get to you. So we’ll just set up an early-warning system with my friend in Buffalo and you can ignore the Times.

    Happy to help.

  28. Jennlm says:

    I agree with you about Russert. He was such a calm voice of reason. I felt like I could trust him.

  29. K says:

    I was told that about 35,000 people die from the flu virus every year. So far 150 have died from Swine flu. The news puts everything out there, and gets everyone way too freaked out. I guess some people need a break from all the bad economic news eh?
    And ya… I’m sure your brother is worried that we’re going to invade, ha! Actually we already have… ask your Doctors where they are from 😉

  30. Denny says:

    yippeee The waiter has returned!!!!!

  31. Emery from Washington but on Maui says:

    So we’ll all just have to learn how to spell Canada: C eh? n eh? d eh?

  32. Sixycat says:

    “largesse” Great word! Welcome back Kitten missed you!

  33. Clay says:

    36,000 people die by the flu every year in the USA. 43,000 people die each year in car accidents in the USA. As many as 360,000 people die from complications of obesity in the USA every day.

    Swine flu is this year’s media scare story. Remember the shark attack year? Dang I went around thinking (after seeing so many reports) that I could get bitten any day. I live in Atlanta.

    I wonder how many people die in the USA from stupidity alone? Probably more than the swine flu has gotten….

  34. dw says:

    What I hate is the two hour Twitter commercial that is Rick Sanchez on CNN. He should stick to getting out of flooding cars and getting Tased.

  35. ~tb says:

    I miss Tim Russert too. He was my favorite.

  36. kelliebrat says:

    AMEN to that Steve. The media coverage was over the top and bordered on hysteria (chicken little comes to mind). 36,000 people die EVERY year from the regular flu for craps sake. Here in California they cancelled prom at schools where there was ONE student who MIGHT have had it. Hell they dont make kids stay home anymore if they get head lice (now THATS gross).

    Oh and as for the Talking Head Deathmatch, my moneys on Rachel Maddow and Anderson Cooper!

  37. kelliebrat says:

    34.dw wrote on 05/8/09 at 11:08 pm :
    What I hate is the two hour Twitter commercial that is Rick Sanchez on CNN. He should stick to getting out of flooding cars and getting Tased.

    OMG I cant stand that guy. The thought of him being tased again makes me smile

  38. Wineguy says:

    Tim Russert was a good start. Like lawyers all these idiots will hopefully die.

  39. glenda says:

    and now at this day and age of internet technology and social networking sites, it’s so easy for the fear of swine flu to spread globally, quickly. but the boon is, at least it would also be as easy to communicate medical protocols and updates to the general public.

  40. billp salem oregon says:

    Boy you must be writing Gone with the Wind or something. What a gas bag!

  41. John says:

    Hey Steve, good to have you back

  42. AZRealtor says:

    As a mom of a 22 year old nursing student who has spent the last week recovering from swine flu, I can tell you some of what the media reported was spot on. Yes, they totally over hyped it, but this flu is nothing to laugh about either. My daughter ran a high fever for over 5 days, vomiting and all sorts of other nasty stuff. She is a confirmed case. I am a bit concerned that this flu will rear it’s ugly head again in the fall and we all might not be so lucky. Everyone needs to take the proper precautions but we don’t need to live in fear either.

    Waiter, glad you are back and I miss Russert too!

  43. Mike says:

    It’s Mother’s Day! I think you have forgotten your roots. I hope you thanked God, the Fates, and karma for getting you out of a restaurant on this day of days.

  44. nunya says:

    That was funny, thanks, lol

    ” I’ve seen the gravestones of relatives killed by the Spanish Flu of 1918. Families wiped out in mere days”

    Relax, they didn’t have antibiotics then.

    A pork chop once in a while should provide plenty of those, lol

  45. aes says:

    We all miss Tim Russert. What a loss.

  46. Bob Dobbs says:

    The best thing Tim Russert ever did was bring Chuck Todd the political analyst to NBC News from the little political rag he was editing. Chuck knows the political system inside and out and buries stupid, sensational anchorman questions with pure, hard fact.

    Chuck Todd was the only talking head I could bear to listen to during the ’08 election. He was right almost every time, because he actually knew what he was talking about.

  47. 'Tator says:

    Welcome back, Waiter!

    I bet if you asked your brother if he thought you would ever be a published author, he would have told you, “when pigs fly!” So now you go get famous and — wait for it — swine flu! (pun = lowest form of humor)

    I gave up TV news for Lent a couple of years ago and continue to not watch it (unless it’s on in a waiting room I can’t escape). The improvement in my mental outlook has made the practice worth it.

  48. Rose Royce says:

    You missed the history aspect. This is how a lot of past flu started; a few cases, some deaths in the Spring, then it whammies up for the Fall and Winter. If you did catch a mild version (like a lot of anglos) you might have a tad of immunity for the Fall if it doesn’t mutate too much while it makes its rounds. Eating healthy, exercising regularly, cutting out the real diet junk is the best you can do.
    And yes, the media is pitiful for making it worse and it always backfires when they really need to get people to listen (Katrina and other hurricanes for example.) Some of the people watching it are also really hysterical (not as in funny, but ranting and raving.)

  49. Michelle says:

    Wow. I totally forgot about the whole national anthem and NO TV for several hours. I don’t have cable, so I don’t have to deal with it so much, but I can get myself worked up about the piggy flu just reading the AP wire on the Internet. I have enough sense to know that it was hype, but I still had to go on a strict news diet, which after all, is easier than the no pizza kind…

    Anyway, thanks for the reminder. That wasn’t really SO long ago, was it??

  50. 9/11 jokes AREN'T funny says:

    Since we’re listing things were DEAD TIRED of hearing how about BO’s Brown Shirts with their 24/7/365 drone about how “great” he is?

    Or how about Wanda Sykes with her 9/11 joke?…. Real class act that one….

  51. CC says:

    I heard someone said, and I’m paraphrasing, that “40 people die of the swine flue and everyone’s wearing face masks, yet millions have died of AIDS and people still refuse to wear condoms.”

    I think that about sums it up. If you went by the news outlets you’d think this was Ebola or the Plague.

  52. MJ says:

    In the last month I flew across the continent and back, and to DC and back. Washed my hands a lot, used a ton of hand sanitizer (as I always do, I consider all public transit and door handles and knobs to be filthy all the time) and am just fine. But I’ll continue to wash and sanitize, because why not? If I’m not avoiding the flu, then I’m avoiding e-coli or God knows what else. It’s just plain good policy any day.

  53. Food Service Ninja says:

    it was early during the media blitz I was watching the Today show and they had some medical talking head on. She mentioned that people had to realize it was early on in the lifecycle of this bug and because of mthe modern world we were learning of it as the PUBLIC in real time.

    When I noticed there wqas no death rate in the US to speak of I stopped worrying about it killing us all unless it mutated into a more viralent form which sadly could happen for the fall flu season.

    Jeers to the CDC and WHO for using the words PANDEMIC constantly on an outbreak with a very low death rate-when I hear pandemic I associate mass death with it.

  54. Charlotte says:

    Aw, I miss Tim too…

  55. Jenypher says:

    First off, GREAT writing here. I watch for great writers and I’ve already learned a lot from you.

    One point. I’m Canadian. About the invading the US comment.

    What are we going to do? Invade you and spread…kindness?
    And really couldn’t you guys stand to gain a bit of that?

    That is all.

    Keep er movin!

  56. Bill says:

    Then just turn the damn thing off and don’t watch.

  57. janice says:

    Stumbled here. Canadian. Don’t worry about us invading. Seriously. Made me laugh though. Thanks!

  58. Anonymous says:


  59. Editor K says:

    it’s not “straightjacket,” it’s “straitjacket.”

  60. Tirade says:

    I can really picture it… at the end, a blood-splattered knife wielding Geraldo staggers towards Maddow, who is tightly gripping a broken 2×4 with scraped and bloodied knuckles… the audience is at the edge of their seats…

  61. Ana says:

    Kermit the Frog has
    died of Swine Flu. His
    heartwrenching last
    words: “That pig told
    me she was clean!”

  62. Maui says:

    I’m lying in bed with H1N1 right now, actually. It’s not that bad if you have plenty of liquids and cough drops nearby.
    Funny & true story: Paris Hilton was asked if she was nervous about swine flu during an interview. Her response? “I don’t eat pork.”

  63. kitten says:

    The “recycled air” thing said in reference to airplanes has always bothered me. Just to clear things up, the air on airplanes is not recycled. It’s constantly being pumped in from outside, with a few valves situated around the cabin letting old air out. That’s how they maintain cabin pressure, actually — pump in slightly more air than they are letting out. It’s also why firing a gun on a plane wouldn’t result in decompression and everyone getting sucked out into the sky — the valves would just close a bit to compensate for the bullet hole.

    In short, the air on airplanes, while not ideal, is not recycled and is basically as safe as sitting in an office building.

    Otherwise, a fantastic post. 🙂

  64. authentic air jordans says:

    Hey!!I’ll definitely have to check out Sean’s post. And I love the idea of blogging about a failure and how you learned from it. I’ll have to do that one soon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *