|Below is a transcript of a recent interview
between Asunder Press Editor Lance Vargas and 60 Minutes columnist
Vargas: While doing an Internet
search on you, words like cantankerous and curdmungeonly
often come up in biographies of you. Does it in anyway affect
you that legitimate biographies use such words to describe
you in light of your other accomplishments?
Rooney: Well, they aren¹t very unfriendly usually.
I think people use them in a perfectly friendly way. The
word 'curmudgeon' is so attached to H.L. Mencken that I
don¹t really think anyone else has the right to use
it or have it used on them.
Vargas: Do you ever weigh the potential controversy
of your essays, on 60 Minutes or otherwise, before you read
them? And if so, is that what you are searching for? To
elicit a response?
Rooney: No, I don¹t set out to be controversial.
The fact is that, for some reason I don¹t understand,
Americans avoid saying what they mean in order to avoid
controversy and it doesn¹t seem very honest to me.
I don¹t see what¹s wrong with speaking what we
feel to be the truth and if it offends people and if everybody
did it, it would be less offensive. I think we should all
be more open than we are.
Vargas: So, its a situation of a lot of people
thinking things but nobody saying them?
Rooney: I do. I think that's absolutely true.
Vargas: 60 Minutes has been virtually untouchable
as far as television journalism goes in the last 20 years,
even leading to a number of copycats. What do you think
separates your show from others like it?
Rooney: It¹s better done and I think they are
less worried about taking on a serious subjects that some
of the other shows would not consider to have enough popular
interest. If the producer at 60 Minutes, Don Hewitt thinks
it¹s a good story, that¹s all that it takes. He
doesn¹t care if, on the surface, it has a popular aspect
or not. ... Nine times out of ten, it turns out to be a
worthwhile story. ... I think they have tackled stories
with more importance. They have dared to be important.
Vargas: Do you think that some of the things
you say might call attention to thoughts an average may
be having in their own head but never talked about?
Rooney: I hope so. I think every writer secretly
hope that what he or she puts down on paper will have some
good effect on the world. That may be pretentious but we
all think that. I like to think that.
Vargas: It seems that, in the last 20 years,
news on television is not what it used to be. Do you agree
with that and if so, what do you think the reason is?
Rooney: Yes and there is a good reason for it and
the reason is money. They are giving people what they want
to hear and not what they need to know. Because they think
it will attract a bigger audience and a bigger audience
means more money.
Vargas: Which would also lead to a certain amount
Rooney: Absolutely. No question about it. They take
all these polls trying to figure out what people want to
hear about. They want to hear about medical aspects so they
always have something medical on the news, whether its significant,
true or relevant or not. People are interested in it so
that's what they are going to do.
Vargas: What would you suggest as an alternative?
Rooney: I would suggest that some real rich guy take
over the networks and say to the news division, 'I¹ll
give you as much money as you want, do a responsible news
show and well make our money off the entertainment part
of it.' That's what I would like.
Vargas: Do you think some of the cable news networks
are responsible for diminishing the quality?
Rooney: Oh yes, no question. I mean, bad follows
bad and once they start doing it and eating away at the
network audience, the network feels obliged to follow along.
Vargas: How do you feel about the crawler that
incessantly presents news to viewers of the cable channels,
seemingly in competition with the anchor?
Rooney: I can't stand that. It seems to be
counterproductive. I can't imagine that people like that.
Vargas: How easy or harder has it gotten in the
last twenty years to come up with new essays?
Rooney: I am in a world filled with ideas. All I
have to do is open my eyes and walk down the street or walk
out my office door. There are more ideas than I could ever
do in ten lifetimes.
Vargas: So the well is always full?
Rooney: I have the feeling that I could write an
800 word newspaper column on anything, on the heads of pens.
If you do a little research and think over any subject on
earth, you can write about it and make it interesting.
Vargas: You yourself have a number of copycats
on the airwaves today as well. These days, we are inundated
with people spouting their opinions about the news rather
than the news itself. Do you feel in anyway responsible
for the rash of "talking heads" that populate
television news these days?
Rooney: Irresponsible for it (laughs). I don't know.
I suppose to some extent it may have happened. I have been
successful and I suppose people may imitate me but I really
think it came about naturally.
Vargas: In the 20 years that you have been on
air at 60 Minutes, how have your personal opinions changed?
Are there any essays that aired or that you wrote that,
in the time since, you may have changed your opinions about
or, if you had the chance would recant?
Rooney: Oh sure, I look back at things and think
that I was an idiot for having said that or thought that
but I dont know, you tend to put those out of your mind.
But sure, I have been wrong a lot.
Vargas: Have you ever considered it to be slightly
egotistical to assume that people will want to read your
opinions in spite of the fact that for more than 20 years
Rooney: Oh I do absolutely. I am constantly humbled
by that thought. If I thought about it too much, its so
true, that I would be tongue-tied or unable to put anything
down. True as it is I try and keep it out of my mind.
Vargas: Tell me a little bit about what some
subjects your new book, "Common Nonsense" will
Rooney: There are a lot of controversial subjects
in the book, I think there are 153 essays in there and quite
of few of them would rile people up.
Vargas: Have you ever been to San Diego before?
Rooney: Oh sure I have been to La Jolla. I love it.
I've stayed in San Diego and at the Del Coronado and stayed
at friends house in La Jolla. I havn¹t talked to my
friend Neil Morgan in about a year. I'd like to see how
he¹s doing out there.
Rooney: Where are you from?
Vargas: Pensacola, Florida. I lived there for
Rooney: Pensacola? Geez. You poor person.