Yes, he’s grumpy, often way off-base and very easy to parody. But Andy Rooney is also a terrific American writer
By Matt Zoller Seitz
Press Play Contributor
When I hear people running down “60 Minutes” contributor Andy Rooney, who announced his retirement yesterday, I get as grouchy as Rooney did during his weekly pieces.
Granted, the perception of the CBS pundit as a gasbag who overstayed his welcome isn’t unearned. The sun didn’t rise or set based on whatever he said at five minutes to 8 Eastern time each Sunday night, and during the final stretch of Rooney’s tenure — which started in 1978 and will end this Sunday with his sign-off — he didn’t exactly challenge himself to explore new frontiers. He stuck with what worked for him: griping about inflation or recession or political hypocrisy, admitting that he was out-of-touch and not losing any sleep over it, pointing out life’s annoyances and pleasures, opening his letters and packages on the air.
Along the way, Rooney ticked people off, and not always with his 60 Minutes commentaries. His 2007 newspaper column about Latino players’ dominance of baseball (“I know all about Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, but today’s baseball stars are all guys named Rodriguez to me”) got him in trouble, as did his 1990 TV special A Year With Andy Rooney, which included off-the-cuff remarks describing “homosexual unions” on a list of “self-induced ills” that “kill us.” Rooney compounded that last scandal by giving an interview to the Advocate in which he allegedly said, “Most people are born with equal intelligence, but blacks have watered down their genes because the less intelligent ones are the ones that have the most children. They drop out of school early, do drugs and get pregnant.” I say “allegedly” because Rooney strongly denied saying those last couple of lines, and there was no tape of the interview. Was he lying? Maybe. But to my knowledge, he copped to — and apologized for — every other thoughtlessly offensive public comment he made, voluntarily or under CBS duress. “That’s what I do for a living,” he told the New York Times in a story about the baseball flap. “I write columns and have opinions, and some of them are pretty stupid.”
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A critic, journalist and filmmaker, Matt Zoller Seitz is the staff TV columnist for Salon.com and the founder of Press Play.