Killing Them Softly

Meditations on cable news, Cinnabon and other horrors

Illustration: Andew DeGraff

It is late at night when the call comes, well past midnight, but I’ve been waiting for this call for some time, and so I’ve left the phone on the table beside my bed.

Hello? I say. Yes?

Though I haven’t spoken to him in years, I recognize my brother’s voice on the other end of the line.

It’s Mom, he says. She’s dead.

Sometimes it goes like this:

It is late. I am walking down a busy Manhattan street when I hear someone call out my name. I turn, and though I haven’t seen him in years, I recognize my brother’s face. I have been waiting for this meeting for some time.

It’s Mom, he says. She’s dead.

I’ve been thinking about death lately. I’m not sure why. Violent death, specifically. I suspect it might be the change of seasons. The last of the roses have fallen off their stems. The daises have browned and withered. The leaves on the trees, depressed about the approach of winter, jump to their deaths on the forest floor below.

The shorter days.

The longer shadows.

The change of seasons.


Yes, that must be it.

The change of seasons.

It is Saturday, or maybe it is Sunday, and so I am surprised to find an email from my editor in my inbox. I am even more surprised to find it marked “Urgent.”

It’s gone, he writes. Brooklyn.

What do you mean, gone? I reply.

Gone, he responds. Sank. No warning, no one knows why. But it’s gone. Dead. All of them.

I take a moment to process the news.

The publishers? I finally ask.

Dead, he replies.

The agents?

Dead, he replies.

I compose the next email with trembling hands.

The writers? I ask.

It takes him some time to respond, and so I know the answer before I read it:

Dead, he replies.

You know, on second thought, I don’t really think it’s the change of seasons. I like the change of seasons, and it never made me think of death before. Autumn makes me think of sleep, hibernation, dormancy; it makes me think of hot soup and drifting snow and fires crackling in the old wood stove.

Maybe it’s the hunters. It’s already bow-hunting season, and muzzle-loading season is only a few weeks away. I can hear the sounds of gunfire in the hills behind our home, and when I see the deer in the woods, I want to tell them to run, to hunker down, to find an attic they can hide in until the season is over.

The does seem wary.

The fawns seem frightened.


Yes, that must be it.

The hunting season.

The presidential debate wraps up, and MSNBC cuts back to the talking heads in the studio, who begin to chatter their terrible chatter, arguing about who won and who lost, who lied and who lied more, the whole pathetic spectacle of modern democracy at its most juvenile and pornographic. Suddenly, Bill O’Reilly bursts onto the set brandishing a hunting rifle and shoots Chris Matthews in the face. Al Sharpton runs for the door and takes one in the back. Maddow leaps across the table to tackle Bill, but she is too slow; he turns and fires, hitting her in the abdomen and she falls to the floor, dead. Nobody moves. Nobody breathes. Slowly, O’Reilly stands, puts the barrel of the gun in his mouth, and blows his fucking head off.

Honestly, I don’t think it’s due to hunting season. I like the hunting season, because I hate deer. They’re the rural equivalent of subway rats, riddled with ticks and vermin, voracious eaters of everything I plant. I don’t care if Bambi gets shot; I just hope it’s in front of her goddamned mother, the one who destroyed my front beds and chewed up all the hostas.

So what the hell is it, then?

It has been a long day, and on the top floor of Fox News headquarters, Roger Ailes lies on a bed of pillows on the floor, wearing nothing but a small golden crown and a white toga. That woman from Fox and Friends, I can’t recall her name, enters wearing a black leather catsuit and a strap-on dildo, holding a long whip. Roger smiles, and pulls a succulent leg from the barbecued liberal child on the tray beside him. The woman smiles, and cracks her whip; Roger takes a hearty bite from the child’s leg, but it is too much, his frame simply cannot handle it anymore, and he explodes, sending blood and bone and bile in every direction, shattering the windows and killing the Fox and Friends woman and everyone else within a five-block radius.

It is worrying me, this fixation. I can think of almost nothing else. Is it too much caffeine? Not enough caffeine? Too much sugar? Not enough sugar? I try to bury myself in work, but it is no use: my mind keeps drifting to scenes of murder and death. I have a rule about not checking email past 8 p.m., but I am desperate for a distraction from my furious visions of rage and destruction, and so I open my laptop, and there it is.

The answer.

“Horserace!” shout the Yahoo headlines.

“Polls Indicate Tightening Race!”

“What to Look for on Tuesday Night!”

“Fact-Checking the Fact-Checkers!”

It’s not the change of season.

It’s not the hunting season.

It’s the election season.

Frank Luntz takes a bite out of his Cinnabon and turns to the focus group behind him. He opens his mouth to speak—“Muslim,” he is about to say, or maybe it’s “Muslims,” but a chunk of the Cinnabon lodges in his throat, cutting off his air supply. He signals for help, but nobody moves; Luntz turns red, then blue, then falls over on the floor, dead. The focus group sits still for a moment before standing up and running to grab the remaining Cinnabons, trampling his corpse beneath them.

Yeah, that’s it.

It’s the election season.


Killing Them Softly