The song is about the callousness (and callowness) of TV news reporting as well as the tabloidization of all news. Henley sings from the standpoint of a news anchorman who "could have been an actor, but I wound up here", and thus is not a real journalist. The song's theme is that TV news coverage focuses too much on negative and sensationalist news; in particular, deaths, disasters, and scandals, with little regard to the consequences or for what is important ("We all know that crap is king"). The song was inspired by the intrusive press coverage surrounding the deaths of John Belushi and Natalie Wood, and Henley's own arrest in 1980. Lines in the second verse, "Is the head dead yet?", actually comes from journalism lingo, and refers to the major headline story being ready to post or print. If a head is dead, it has already been set and is being printed or created, and it is now too late to make changes to the story.