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Jewish World Review / June 2, 1998 / 8 Sivan, 5758

Roger Simon

Roger Simon Being a 'talkin'-head' is hard work

WASHINGTON -- The life of a talking head is not an easy one. For instance, you have to decide to get up.

When do I have to be on the show? I am saying to the producer on the phone.

"Sunday morning," she tells me. "Early Sunday morning."

Uh, I am usually busy Sunday mornings, I say.

"You are?" she says in a tone of voice that indicates she believes this about as much as she believes that Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton talked foreign policy in the Oval Office.

Yes, I say firmly. Every Sunday, I build low-cost housing for the poor.

"Too bad," she says. "Because we'd be glad to send a car."

She knows she has hooked me. She knows that I am a neophyte, low-level talking head and am still a sucker for limousines.

A car? I say. With a driver and everything?

"Oh, yes," she says, "a driver is certainly included."

With free Sunday papers? I ask, wondering how much I can milk this for.

"We can arrange that," she says.

"Orange juice?" I ask. "Not from concentrate? Fresh?"

"A car," she says firmly. "A driver. And a paper."

Yeah, OK, I'll do it, I say. Let the poor build their own housing. That way, they can pick out the colors they want.

"Fine," she says. "We will be calling you back to do the pre-interview."

Contrary to what they sound like, talking heads do not go on television and merely talk. Before they are allowed to pollute the public airwaves, they must talk with a producer who makes sure the talking head is a) rational, b) sober and c) awake.

And after just a few minutes' conversation with my pre-interview producer, I demonstrate that I am sober and awake.

The subject for talking heads this Sunday on channel after channel was the same thing: What will the White House do on Monday?

The Supreme Court gave the White House until late Monday to decide whether it will join independent counsel Kenneth Starr in his attempt to expedite his case against Bill Clinton by taking Clinton's executive privilege claims directly to the Supreme Court or follow the slower path of appellate appeals.

(Got that? If not, you haven't been listening to enough talking heads. Talking heads live for this kind of stuff.)

"So all you have to do is tell us what the White House is going to do," the producer says.

You want me to go on TV Sunday and say what the White House is going to do Monday? I say.

"Yes, precisely," he says. "And keep it to a minute-thirty."

I am tempted to say I will not even need one minute and 30 seconds for this.

I am tempted to say: How the hell do I know what the White House will do 24 hours in advance?

I am tempted to say: Why don't we just wait for Monday instead of going on TV and guessing?

I am tempted to say: Gee, the president must have forgotten to tell me what he was going to do after we went out for a few beers on Friday. But let me get him on the phone, and I'll ask him ... you dimwit!

Instead, I say none of those things. Introducing reality into a pre-interview would violate the rules of the Talking Heads Handbook.

So, I say: Well, from the beginning of the Lewinsky investigation, the political operatives in the White House have fought with the president's lawyers about what to disclose and how fast to disclose it. The political operatives are worried about the president's image and would prefer he answer questions about the Lewinsky matter publicly and soon. They also want him to be seen to be cooperating with the machinery of justice. The lawyers, being lawyers, want just the opposite, don't care about his image and want to prevent him from being impeached, indicted or both. So they want him to drag his feet every step of the way. Or they could split the difference and go for some compromise.

"Great, great," the producer says. "Just say that on the air."

I am tempted to say: But I haven't really said anything. But this, too, would violate the Talking Heads Handbook.

So very early on Sunday morning, I do what I never do early on a Sunday morning: I get up. I shower. I shave. And I dress nice from the waist up.

The waist up is all that people ever see of talking heads on television. I am not sure if any talking heads have actually appeared on TV naked from the waist down, but if they have, we would not know it.

So I put on a shirt and tie and sports jacket over blue jeans and running shoes and wait for the limo.

It comes -- it is long and blue, the kind of car a senator or Cabinet member might ride around in -- and I climb into the back seat.

There is a paper waiting for me and no orange juice, as agreed.

As the driver pulls away from the curb, I say to him: So what do you think the White House will do Monday about whether to expedite the executive privilege claim by going directly to the Supreme Court?

"Who cares?" the driver says. "Doesn't change my life."

Which is why I always insist on a driver. It's the only dose of reality you get on the talking-heads circuit.

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5/18/98Roses for Buba
5/12/98: Just who is "Mr. Republican" these days?"
5/7/98:"Why Clinton keeeps "going and going and going""
5/1/98:"Bubba v. Tabacka"
4/29/98:"You may ask, but should they tell?"
4/24/98:"McCurry and the kids from the hood "
4/23/98: "NOW" should change its name to "THEN"
4/20/98: Freedom to be a jerk?
4/14/98: Bill is Hef's kinda guy
4/7/98: South African memories --- and a paradise not yet found
3/24/98: Bill's 12-day safari
3/20/98: Peace for Ireland?
3/18/98: Flat tire? Spare me
3/13/98: Latrell Sprewell's genius
3/10/98: On truth and reality
3/5/98: No, I'm not harrassing Hillary
3/3/98: The Unforgettable Henny Youngman
2/26/98: Grow up, boys!
2/24/98: Go get 'em, Bill!
2/19/98: My 15 minutes
2/17/98: The manic-depressive presidency
2/12/98: Drip, Drip, Drip
2/10/98: Clinton tunes out the networks
2/5/98: The flight of the Beast: America's love-hate relationship with scandal
2/3/98: Speaking Clintonese
1/29/98: What the president has going for him
1/27/98: Judgment call: how Americans view President Clinton
1/22/98: Bimbo eruptions past and present
1/20/98: Feeding the beast: Paula Jones gets the full O.J.
1/15/98: Let's get it over with: it's time to deal with Saddam, already
1/13/98: Sonny Bono is dead, let the good times roll
1/8/98: Carribbean Cheesecake: First couple has cake, eats cake
1/6/98: PO'ed: a suspected druggie jumps through the employment hoops
1/1/98: Cures for that holiday hangover
12/30/97: Buy stuff now
12/25/97: Peace to all squirrelkind
12/23/97: Home for the Holidays: Where John Hinckley, never convicted, will not be
12/18/97: Bill's B-list Bacchanalia: Press and politicos get cozy, to a point
12/16/97: All dressed up... (White House flack Mike McCurry speculates on his next career)

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.