Andy Rooney: Celebrating Writing

I don’t watch “60 Minutes” much these days. And I’m not quite sure why. It’s still among the best of the TV news and information shows. Maybe it’s because Mike Wallace is no longer turning the Captains of Industry into quivering asshats with his in-your-face style of journalism. But I’m going to watch Sunday as Andy Rooney — who has been a regular on the program since 1978 — gives what might well be his final commentary at the end of the program.

I like Rooney because he is a world-class curmudgeon who is not afraid to be politically incorrect.

But I admire Rooney because he is a great writer. In a world of Tweets and e-mails, in the long run we’re going to miss people who can write. Trust me on this one.

Here’s an online article about Rooney in Forbes, “On Sunday: a few final moments with Andy Rooney:”

On the broadcast they call it “A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney.”

They might better have called it “A Few Choice Words From Andy Rooney.”

Rooney, despite his decades as a “60 Minutes” fixture, is a writer, not a talking head. Words, not vamping for the camera, have been his stock-in-trade since his first “60 Minutes” essay in 1978, just as words were for more than 30 years before that.

But on Sunday’s edition of “60 Minutes,” Rooney will have a few last words. The broadcast will mark his final commentary in his longtime role as weekly pundit. CBS says it will be his 1097th for the program. Tick, tick, tick, tick ….

News that he is stepping down was released abruptly earlier this week. Even so, it wasn’t much of a surprise. Rooney is 92 and surely recognizes this truth: Words may last forever, but not the person who crafts them.

Rooney has been a champion of words on TV ever since he joined CBS in 1949 as a writer for the red-hot “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts.” Within a few years he was also writing for CBS News public-affairs shows such as “The Twentieth Century” and “Calendar.”

A World War II veteran who reported for the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, he came from an ink-on-dead-trees brand of journalism that he never renounced. (During his CBS career, he had a syndicated newspaper column and published 16 books.)

So it was logical that he would join “60 Minutes” with its inception in 1968. After all, the legendary creator of “60 Minutes,” Don Hewitt, is well remembered for insisting that, even on the visual medium of TV, the words should come first and the pictures follow. A decade later, Rooney was 59. At an age when many people might be pondering retirement, he took his seat before the camera to deliver his first “60 Minutes” essay.

Beetle-browed and rumpled, he wasn’t telegenic by traditional standards. Nobody minded, or even noticed. Viewers listened to his words and he caught on.

In one of his 16 books, Rooney opined about the craft of writing. He wrote — and I’m paraphrasing here since I gave the book away several years ago — that writers should wear T-Shirts that proclaimed Writer across the front in bold letters. The point: writers should take pride in what they do because it isn’t easy. Even though others believe it is.

So Sunday let’s celebrate the long and distinguished career of a writer.

And while we’re at it, it might be helpful to take some of his advice about writing: Keep in mind that you’re more interested in what you have to say than anyone else.

I’ll try to remember that.

Have a great weekend.




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