Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Talking heads shout at each other in other countries, too

Two weeks in Central Europe can convince one that America is exporting at some elements of its 21st Century culture that do us no credit.

One is Starbucks’ pumpkin spice latte, with the green and white mermaid signs nearly as ubiquitous in some European cities as in the Pacific Northwest. 

The other is the Talking Head Pivot: the practice of people who appear on news programs under the pretext of adding context to an issue, but who really just shout at each other without paying any attention to the question they have just been asked.

This campaign season the THP shows up every evening on cable news programs and on Sunday morning news “magazines” when a mouth piece for the Trump campaign sits on one side of a news anchor and a mouth piece for the Clinton campaign sits on the other. The anchor could ask about the weather, and within a sentence the first person will pivot to today’s talking points and the other will interrupt with a counterpoint.

During a recent trip, it seemed clear the THP has caught on with 24-hour cable news networks in Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic. I can’t speak Polish, German or Czech so I'm making based on the facial expressions and volume of strident speakers who appeared as I surfed through channels for weather updates. The beauty of the THP is that one can get a feel for the ardor of the speakers without ever knowing what they say.

On their English language counterparts available in hotels and guest homes, the THP was very much in evidence. Two weeks ago, Polish women essentially went on strike over proposed legislation to make that country’s already strict abortion laws draconian. Thousands of women, most dressed in black, refused to go to work, took to the streets and eventually convinced parliament to drop the whole thing.

Having just left Krakow for Prague the day before, we wondered how the protest was going and flipped on English-language Al Jazeera, which showed a few brief shots of demonstrators in the streets before a moderator tried to engage two speakers on a split screen. They talked over each other as they trotted out well-rehearsed talking points for or against the protest. 

Except for some fine points of the legislation in question, it could have been a Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice argument on CNN. It was the classic THP, no matter what one talking head said, the other one would interrupt and pivot to the point they came to the studio to make.

While it is possible to scoff at culinary value of Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes, they have the saving grace of disappearing in a month or so, replaced by a new season's overly sweet caffeinated pick-me-up. The THP is likely here to stay.

For that, Americans should apologize to the rest of the world.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

Follow Jim online: