Andy Rooney and the Power of False Reporting

Obituary Reflections: The death of Andy Rooney [4th Nov 2011] should remind us of the power of false reporting.

Andy Rooney, one of America’s best known TV commentators died at the age of 92. He announced his intention of standing down from the “60 Minutes” shows after what he described as “70 years as a writer”.

“My Lucky Life”

In his last regularly scheduled appearance on “60 Minutes,” Andy Rooney commented, “I’ve done a lot of complaining here, but of all the things I’ve complained about, I can’t complain about my life.”

A Cranky Voice

The New York Times described him as The Cranky Voice of CBS noting the tone of bemused frustration in much of his work, which led to censure on grounds of homophobia and racism. His output did carry with it a bluntness which offended.

Racist or victim of false reporting?

The Times article also reviewed the controversy over his alleged racism:

In 1990, CBS News suspended him without pay in response to complaints that he had made remarks offensive to black and gay people. The trigger was a December 1989 special, “A Year With Andy Rooney,” in which he said: “There was some recognition in 1989 of the fact that many of the ills which kill us are self-induced. Too much alcohol, too much food, drugs, homosexual unions, [i.e. sexual relations] cigarettes. They’re all known to lead quite often to premature death.” He later apologized for the statement.

The TriCities News summarised the consequences of the episode:

The Advocate [A Magazine for the Gay Community] interviewed him over his comments [in Feb 1990] and printed remarks attributed to him from the interview, which he vehemently denied making. A torrent of negative publicity followed, after which then-CBS News President David Burke suspended him for three months. The outcry for his return was deafening. Burke reinstated him after only three weeks, saying Rooney was not a man “who holds prejudice in his heart and mind.”

It is not difficult to see that even the remarks he originally made would cause offense. But the dilemma of freedom of expression of opinion rumbles on. The wider corpus of Rooney’s life work and actions largely confirm his own claims that he was a closet liberal and approved of the achievement of Barack Obama in attaining the Presidency as a black American.
Other false reports persisted

The Tri Cities article continued:

Rooney was also mistakenly connected to racism when a politically charged essay highly insensitive to minorities was written in his style and passed off as his on the internet in 2003. Over the next few years, it found its way into the e-mail boxes of untold thousands, causing Rooney to refute it [although] it continued to proliferate, in an Associated Press article a year later.
Many assumed he wrote the [false article] because Rooney’s long time habit of writing or speaking plainly on sensitive topics had often left him open to attacks by activist groups. The racist essay was one of the many false Rooney quotes and essays bouncing around the internet. The racism charge angered and hurt Rooney deeply. He hated racism: As a young soldier in the early 1940s, he had himself arrested in Florida by refusing to leave the seat he had chosen among blacks in the back of an Army bus.

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