Remembering Andy Rooney: A Commitment To Telling The Truth
By George Severini
ANDY ROONEY PASSED away recently. I can’t be certain, but I think if Mr. Rooney had written my first sentence he might have said “died” not “passed away.” He was a pretty direct guy. But “died” sounds a bit abrupt to me, and Mr. Rooney took 92 years to pass away. You probably noticed that I’ve called him Mr. Rooney in print. I never had the chance to meet him, and if he’d have visited the Two River area and I had an opportunity to speak with him, I would have called him Mr. Rooney. He was known to million as the guy who was irritated by foolish products and practices. It irritates me when some telemarketer fools me into believing I’ve just received a phone call from a friend. “Hi, George,” they say. And I say hi back and get caught in a sales call trap. Doesn’t happen when they have an East Indian accent, though. I know the call is probably coming from New Delhi. I don’t have any friends who live in India. Anyway, I would have called Andy, Mr. Rooney. Mr. Rooney might have been recognized by millions as the guy who complained about how hard it was to open a juice pack, but his real commitment was to telling the truth. My main business is not journalism and I don’t have Mr. Rooney’s guts as regarding the truth as I see it. Even as I attempt humorous commentary on everyday life I shy away from comments on politics and religion. Which is exactly why—among other things—I’m not the great journalist Mr. Rooney was. He worked for an industry that knew his stock in trade was blunt free speech. Up to a point. When his employer thought he crossed the line, and when he received tons of angry letters from TV viewers, it suspended him. It might have seemed at first read or first listen that Mr. Rooney was a cynic. I continually re-read the transcripts of his 60 Minute essays and he was a big fan about what’s good in the everyday guy. He seemed like an everyday guy to me. Did you ever notice that the camera angle on him was looking downward and that his office looked cramped and cluttered? Do you think a presidential candidate’s handlers would let him or her be shot that way? Mr. Rooney might not have been a cynic, but he was good at calling out the cynics. I’d like to think if I’d taken him on a tour of TR Land he’d have spotted what I call the “no fishing from bridge” cynicism. The idea that a person is too stupid to know that they might get hit by a car if they fish from a bridge. But that they’ll be plenty smart when it comes to suing the state if they get hit, because the state didn’t protect them by preventing them from bridge-fishing. What a wonderful communicator Mr. Rooney is. I can use the present tense. He’ll continue to keep talking to me in my memory and the books he left. He didn’t leave us in the dark, which more than I can say about the power company, which leaves us in the dark about why we’re in the dark just about every time the wind blows.