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2/18/3 Q&A: Andy Rooney

Andy Rooney

Below is a transcript of a recent interview between Asunder Press Editor Lance Vargas and 60 Minutes columnist Andy Rooney.

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 of sensationalism?

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?

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 they have?

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 cover.

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 15 years.

Rooney: Pensacola? Geez. You poor person.