The Open Mind
Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Andy Rooney
Title: “More Andy Rooney on Andy Rooney” (Part II)
I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. And this is the second of two programs on Andy Rooney, the funny/cranky CBS essayist each Sunday evening on 60 Minutes with the old curmudgeon himself.
So let me try now to pick up with him where we left off last time. In the first place you must be sick to tears with everyone calling you “the old curmudgeon”.
ROONEY: Yeah, I’m too … you know, I’m not too pleased about being called “funny” either.
ROONEY: I don’t know, it’s such a demeaning word.
ROONEY: Humorist is good … yes. Humorist has a lot more class than anybody who’s funny.
HEFFNER: Should I start over again …
HEFFNER: … using … no … okay … it’s all right. Let’s, let’s say …
ROONEY: Amusing. I’m amusing.
HEFFNER: Okay. Amusing. It’s amended to amusing and humorous. But sometimes I think the amusing aspect of it is a … a shield, a cover … and recently as we said in our other program … you’ve been sort of political. I’ve, I’ve thought that.
ROONEY: But I don’t do it deliberately as a shield. I think it is to a certain extent, but that’s who I am, too. I do not take myself or even the whole world as seriously as a lot of people do. So that if there is something amusing in a serious comment I make about President Bush, I don’t insert it for effect.
HEFFNER: But you know that led us to talking about Liberal Conservative on the air and what the … what the media … you don’t like the word …
ROONEY: Seems like a pretentious word, but I don’t know how to get away from it.
HEFFNER: Well, it covers everything.
HEFFNER: That’s one sure thing. What the political orientation is, in broadcast journalism in particular. And somewhere in something you wrote, and there’s so much of it … you said something about Conservative, Liberal, well you’re not even in the middle of the road, you’re all over the road.
HEFFNER: And I thought that was lovely. And true.
ROONEY: I, I would have to confess …if it’s a confession … that’s a suggestive, pejorative word … but I, I would say I’m more Liberal than Conservative. And no question that I tend to be Liberal. But I have some Conservative opinions, too, so …
HEFFNER: Like what?
ROONEY: Oh, there are some things I’m so Conservative … I wouldn’t even tell you about. [Laughter]
HEFFNER: All right. Okay. All right.
ROONEY: There are certain things that I don’t say on the air on 60 Minutes. I mean I’m an atheist, but I don’t announce that to the public. If I thought there were many people watching this, I wouldn’t say it today. [Laughter]
HEFFNER: Well, Theodore Roosevelt when he talked about Thomas Jefferson and others as being “filthy, little atheists” wasn’t thinking of them in those political terms. You think being an atheist is Liberal notion?
ROONEY: Oh, well yes I do. Meaning open … open to everything. I mean people who are … believe in one religious philosophy are not open to, to inspecting others. I mean a kid who is brought up Muslim or Catholic or Methodist or anything else, pretty much shuts out any other ideas about religion. The average person who is religious has not done a lot of looking around at other religions.
HEFFNER: You think he’s done, or she’s done a lot of looking around?
ROONEY: No. Probably not. But then … now you’re getting into my opinions about people who are, who are seriously religious.
HEFFNER: Have you found that over the years there are more and more things you won’t address yourself to?
HEFFNER: On 60 Minutes?
ROONEY: No. There are very few that I, that I don’t address. Some a matter of tastes, of course. And other than religion I can’t think of anything that I wouldn’t …
HEFFNER: What about the furor over the business of Liberals and Conservatives on the air. What …
ROONEY: Well …
HEFFNER: … the news establishment is like.
ROONEY: Well I don’t think, I don’t … I think anyone who denies that over the years people in the news business have been more Liberal than Conservative is not facing the fact. I mean, yes, they have been more Liberal than Conservative. And there’s nothing wrong with that as long as they keep it out of their reports.
I mean Walter Cronkite was on the CBS Evening News for 17 years or something. And I don’t think people had any idea whether he was a Republican or a Democrat. I mean people just didn’t know what he was. And that is not true today. It’s quite apparent what, what most of the anchormen on any of the major television news broadcasts are.
HEFFNER: Are we talking here about subjectivity and objectivity? Or just letting it all hang out.
ROONEY: I just … very often it seems careless to me. It’s a matter of, of … I mean I use the English language so much, I’m very aware of nuances of words. And you know, it’s sort of heavy-handed, but, but if you refer to Bush’s “cronies” … well, you’re …this is pejorative, you know. They’re his friends. But this is the sort of thing that happens … words slip in that make it apparent where an anchor person stands. And I am so Liberal I stand with them almost always. But I don’t think that it’s right for them to reveal it to the public.
HEFFNER: What is, if anything, being done about that phenomenon? Now, does anybody care? Besides you?
ROONEY: I think … I think they are all honestly reluctant. I don’t think they mean to do it. I don’t think they like to do it. I don’t think they do it as propagandists. I do not think they deliberately say things that are … in … of Liberal … in nature on purpose; to persuade anyone.
HEFFNER: But just as you say “crony” is different from “friend”; certainly they’re well enough aware that the use of the word “crony” carries with it connotations that …
ROONEY: Yes. I think it’s just a mistake they make. I don’t …
HEFFNER: A mistake?
ROONEY: … I really do not think that, that Peter Jennings or Dan Rather or, or Tom Brokaw mean to reveal themselves as either a Liberal or a Conservative. It’s, it’s … when it happens … it’s just something that comes out of them naturally and they don’t mean to do it.
HEFFNER: And the people on the other side? The Conservative people in the media.
ROONEY: They mean to do it. [Laughter]
HEFFNER: That’s the difference.
ROONEY: [Laughter] I guess I do think that.
ROONEY: I, I don’t … I … well, because they, they feel that they have been put-upon by what they see as the Liberal media, the majority of the media, and they’re trying to make up for it.
HEFFNER: You think that they’re right … that they’re correct in their estimation of what the media have been doing in past; and that therefore there’s some need to play “catch-up”?
ROONEY: Na, I don’t think there is. I think, as I have said, I think they’re right in accusing the majority of media people of being Liberal. But, as far as getting back at them … no, that’s dumb thing to do.
HEFFNER: Do you think it’s possible to have a news establishment that and members of it …
ROONEY: Yes. I know your question. Yes, I absolutely do. No question that you can get right down the middle of the line. Yes. I do think that there have been lots of … and most of them are right now … I mean it doesn’t creep in that often and I think they have tried to be fair and absolutely unbiased …and usually that’s, that’s the case. They manage it. And every once in a while there’s an error. It happens too frequently, but it is an error when they do it; and they don’t mean to do it.
HEFFNER: You remember …
ROONEY: They are not propagandists.
HEFFNER: … but then why go over to the people on the other side … on the Right … the Conservative ones and you say they ARE propagandists …
ROONEY: Well, it’s probably …
HEFFNER: … they mean to do it.
ROONEY: Probably because I am Liberal myself. It just seems to me that they have decided that they’ve got to strike back.
HEFFNER: How do you feel about that?
ROONEY: Oh, I think it’s wrong. I mean I am … I am … news is, is holy to me. And I hate to see it contaminated by opinion.
HEFFNER: How, how then can we prevent that contamination?
ROONEY: By being alert to it; by complaining about lit. I think, I think to that extent Bernie Goldberg has provided a service. I mean he is, he has made people alert to the fact that it’s happened and they’ve tried to correct it. They wouldn’t admit that, but I think they have.
HEFFNER: What about something that tries to … and I hate to use the word … enforce the objectivity that you talk about … a News Council again …
ROONEY: Well, I don’t know …
HEFFNER: Where were you on that?
ROONEY: You know … I have had … you know an awful thought I have had … I hesitate to say it even … and I, I suppose there are too many things wrong with it. But news is so important to a democracy in, in providing people with the information they need to have … to vote for who they ought to vote for … that I, I’m not sure that it shouldn’t be removed from commerce; it should be … not be anything associated with making money.
It’s …news should have its money. Years ago the giants in the early days … Bill Paley and Goldenson; Sarnoff thought of news as a loss-leader. It was … they were giving it to the American public because they thought it was the right thing, with providing them with a good news broadcast. In exchange for that they got permission to make millions for themselves on their entertainment shows.
Now news has been taken into the whole thing and it’s … nobody excludes it from, from the profit interest in broadcasting. And might it not be possible …couldn’t we … would somebody like Bill Gates give us a few billions dollars and let us run our news shows without any concern for profit or, or how many people were watching. Just to do the best news broadcast we could possibly do.
And now, the thing I hesitate is that it be run by any government agency. But the fact of the matter is we have other government agencies that we accept that are not run for profit. I mean the … our, our IRS … agents for … tax agents are not getting a percentage of what they get from you and me. Our justice system is not run for profit. Why wouldn’t it be possible to have a news, news operation of the same nature that, that would be as immune to persuasion by, by government as a the judicial system is or the other system?
HEFFNER: Andy why do you offer this apologetically? You’re very hesitant.
ROONEY: Well, because I’m afraid of government. I mean as we all are. It, it opens up the possibility of, of some terrible things. I mean look what has happened in fascist countries. As soon as, as soon as it is … you have one entity called “news”, it is susceptible to being taken over by the wrong people. That’s why it’s dangerous.
HEFFNER: But you’re talking here about an extension of education.
ROONEY: Yes. Well, good point. Education.
HEFFNER: And education … well, there’s a lot of privatization …
ROONEY: Are you saying you like this as an idea?
HEFFNER: I think it’s a terrific idea.
HEFFNER: I think it’s a terrific idea.
HEFFNER: And I’m sorry you haven’t campaigned for it before. It’s so obvious.
HEFFNER: I mean I remember the “good old days” of the loss leaders …
HEFFNER: I remember when the question was each year, “how red was the balance sheet going to be?”
HEFFNER: For CBS News.
HEFFNER: What happened then? It began to make money and then you couldn’t get away from it.
ROONEY: Yeah. To that extent 60 Minutes has been bad for news because it was the biggest money maker CBS ever had.
HEFFNER: Absolutely. So that Don Hewitt has to hang his head in shame.
HEFFNER: Would your colleagues, do you think … would many of your colleagues bite, accept this thought of yours?
ROONEY: I don’t know, I’ve never broached it to them; never mentioned it to them; never had … and I see quite a bit of them, but I have never suggested it to them. They would probably have some rational reason for why it was a bad idea. [Laughter]
HEFFNER: You mean because the dollars wouldn’t be as …
ROONEY: No, because of the potential for government takeover. That’s, that’s the danger.
HEFFNER: Well, of course, again … education … it’s … you know I was always impressed with the notion that when Herbert Hoover was Secretary of Commerce and some one started talking about something called “commercials” on radio, he was horrified by the thought and said, “this great university, it’s the greatest educational opportunity we have …
HEFFNER: … to besmirch it with commercialism? And that was Herbert Hoover. And you’re Andy Rooney.
HEFFNER: So that it’s …
ROONEY: Is that right? I didn’t realize … that’s, that’s interesting.
HEFFNER: Well, stop and think about it.
HEFFNER: It …the British certainly for a long time they gave up at one point and took away the monopoly from Aunty BBC.
ROONEY: Yeah, that’s been a, a disappointment and I don’t know why it didn’t work; it didn’t work. And it … France is a bad example. France, the newspapers are absolutely as free as our newspapers are, but television is dominated by government. And their newspapers are a lot better than their television news.
HEFFNER: Well, you’re not suggesting that we imitate them? From so many of your pieces I think you suggest that we never imitate the French in anything.
ROONEY: [Laughter] I’m amused, I’m amused at being on here … and you pushing my book for me. I’ve been on some television broadcasts and I, I go away, afterwards … geez, I don’t think the people who watch that show can read. Your audience on the other hand can read, but they don’t have any money to buy the books.
HEFFNER: Now, come on. Come on. Come on. Come on. If they didn’t there wouldn’t be anyone around to underwrite the program. You know …
ROONEY: Who underwrites it?
HEFFNER: Oh, a large number of groups ranging from a large commercial entity, Mutual of America … to individuals who over the years have been very, very generous. I mean it’s not a profit center and it couldn’t be. And one of the troubles you point out about news, real news is that it became a profit …
HEFFNER: … center. But I’m, I’m appalled at the fact that you’re so hesitant to, to suggest this. It seems so obvious that it’s the only way out. I mean how could we help but continue to go down the road we’re going now.
ROONEY: Well, the other, other … it would be … the other possibility is that we could get back to a time when the people running the networks were willing to take less money from the news and were willing to … I mean if the right person came along who was in charge of the network or networks, it’s quite possible that he or she would see that it was … the right thing to do would be to provide great news in exchange for their license to make money from the entertainment section. It’s not out of the question that we could get that person again. I like Mel Carmesian at CBS. He doesn’t care much for news, but he’s the kind of a guy, I can imaging him doing that; he’s got enough money.
HEFFNER: Well, now … Don …
ROONEY: Why don’t I talk to Mel?
HEFFNER: Right. Why don’t you do that this afternoon, or tomorrow? Didn’t Don Hewitt, I don’t know whether you were a part of the group of people, who with Don Hewitt, wanted to buy CBS News, or take it over …
ROONEY: Well, he mentioned it years ago, you know. It was a good idea. He wanted to buy both 60 Minutes and CBS News and I don’t know whether they ever took him seriously or not. But he’s a big thinker.
HEFFNER: Don Hewitt.
HEFFNER: Look, there are so many of these books of yours … “Years of Minutes”, what is it three minutes …
ROONEY: At the most.
HEFFNER: … each week. “At the most?”
ROONEY: Yeah, they aren’t … very few of them are more than three minutes. And I have … I did a lot of editing on that because, not only because some of them weren’t good enough, but there are things you say in conversation or talking to the camera that, that don’t come off at all in print, so I did some re-writings and editing.
HEFFNER: Tone them down or?…
ROONEY: No, no, no, no, no. I wouldn’t do that. But there were just things that … I mean no one speaks as he writes and no one writes as he speak. And when your … when you have a book like that … you … it has to be the way books are written and not, not totally the way we speak. I mean we’re so discursive when we speak that you can’t do it in a, in a … in print.
HEFFNER: Okay, so you’ve edited it and that’s why when I read “Years In Minutes”, when I read the minutes ticking by I feel as though I’m listening to you.
ROONEY: I hope so.
HEFFNER: Because you’ve edited them for that.
ROONEY: Look, I often talk to young people about writing. And I say that you, that you cannot write as you speak. But if you’re going to make a, any kind of a decision about which way to go, write more closely to the way you speak than the way you would normally write; it’s just too formal and stiff. Young people something happens to them when they start putting words down on paper, they get, they get “up-tight” about it and it’s usually pretty bad.
ROONEY: The writing is bad, gosh the tools to write with computers are so good; and the stuff young people are writing on them is so bad, it’s so amazing how the technology got ahead of us.
HEFFNER: Now, you started to say … sometime back … that the young people were better educated, know more …
ROONEY: Well I think … and now I’m talking about the people who go into journalism. I think that is true that they are better … generally … they have a broader education than the people that we knew who went into journalism.
HEFFNER: But you can’t be surprised about what young people know or don’t know today, we don’t teach them.
ROONEY: Well, I haven’t been to a college in a long time … I don’t know what they’re teaching them.
HEFFNER: Very little.
HEFFNER: Very little, because they get softer and softer. People don’t want to do the hard stuff. Your friend, Jacques Barzen, who wrote about …let’s see …where was that again, I had just come across it … was it on this book … yeah … Jacques Barzen says about “Years of Minutes” … a book not to be missed by anyone who likes good and occasionally fair writing.” Well one of the best judges of good writing IS Jacques Barzen …
ROONEY: But I wrote all those … you didn’t read the top part. I, I never do book …
HEFFNER: I didn’t.
ROONEY: I never do jacket blurbs for anybody.
HEFFNER: So YOU wrote them all.
ROONEY: I wrote them all. [Laughter]
HEFFNER: “I have written what some friends might have said if I had asked them.”
HEFFNER: Any repercussions?
ROONEY: No … they don’t … most of them are perfectly friendly. I mean I … I get friends … three a week … friends who have written books, who want me to do a jacket blurb, and I just don’t do them. It’s been very embarrassing sometimes, but I do not write jacket blurbs for friends. So when the publisher suggested we have some jacket blurbs, I said, “I can’t do that. I can’t ask my friends to write blurbs for my books, when I wouldn’t do one for theirs.”
HEFFNER: So you wrote them yourself.
ROONEY: [Laughter] I wrote them myself.
HEFFNER: That’s a pretty good way of doing it. I particularly like Bob Schieffers (CHECK SPELLING), “he wouldn’t do a blurb for my book, so I won’t do one for his”.
ROONEY: That’s absolutely true.
HEFFNER: That should have been …
ROONEY: Bob Schieffer is such a good friend and he asked me to do a blurb for his book and I was embarrassed, but I had to tell him “no”.
HEFFNER: Where do you go from here? You’re still a young …
ROONEY: I’m going home …
HEFFNER: You’re still a young …
ROONEY: I’m going home and get something to eat.
HEFFNER: You’re still a young fella.
ROONEY: Yeah. Now I’m going to Greensboro, North Carolina this afternoon. So where do I go from here? I probably go more towards commenting about what’s happening in the world and bottle tops and I’ll continue in that direction, but I’ll still do some bottle tops.
HEFFNER: Some bottle tops. What about CBS? What about 60 Minutes? Your franchise has much more bottle tops than …
ROONEY: Well, if I lose my audience then I’ll … then they wouldn’t want me anymore anyway and I’ll leave. But I don’t think that will happen. I have a …I do have some knowledge of what people will take and what they’re interested in. It’s part of what I know about.
HEFFNER: Do you think they are interested more in public affairs?
ROONEY: I think I can do it so they would be interested in it … yes … I do. And if they aren’t … the hell with them. [Laughter]
HEFFNER: Why do you think you can?
ROONEY: I think people are interested in what’ s happening to their world and I think there’s a broad audience for that sort of thing. I’ll find out. If I do a lot of that and I lose my audience, then I’ll find out I was wrong. But I would be surprised. My ears are fairly up for … my antenna is high for what the public thinks, and I care, to a certain extent, what they want to hear from me. But also I’d rather do what I want to do, than what anybody wants me to do.
HEFFNER: And what you want to do now is comment more …
ROONEY: Well, probably, yeah. But the other stuff interest me, too, I don’t mean to demean bottle tops [laughter], or boxes of cereal, or anything else. It’s fun. I like to do that.
HEFFNER: So what kinds of things can we look forward to?
ROONEY: Well, anything that comes to my mind. I was thinking about …the other day … about things that bother me about … when I’m driving a car … you hear about road rage … and I’m a guy who suffers road rage. Ah, I get mad at people on the road. And I was listing … making a list of the things that make me mad. You know, one of them … it just happened to me again this morning. The guy in front of you who is driving along and he starts to make a turn, right, then he puts his signal on. Well, I know he’s turning right once he starts to turn, damn it. But, you know, I had a list … that sort of thing. Now that’s bottle tops, again. People will be interested in that.
HEFFNER: Andy Rooney, I must tell you, I watch you every Sunday and I can’t imagine that I’m not going to hear many more of the bottle tops, but I’m fascinated by the recent piece on Bush and on what we do to our Presidents and I hope there’s a hell of a lot more of that.
ROONEY: Thank you.
HEFFNER: Thanks for joining me again today. And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time, and if you would like a transcript of today’s program, please send $4.00 in check or money order to The Open Mind, P. O. Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, New York 10150.
Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck.”
N.B. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this transcript. It may not, however, be a verbatim copy of the program.