March 1, 1990

Rooney's Folly

CYNIC, n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic's eyes to improve his vision.

Ambrose Bierce

It was just a matter of time before CBS "got" Andy Rooney. People like Rooney are walking on banana peels. I have watched him point out to the public that a 2 pound coffee can no longer contains 2 lbs. of coffee. Horrors! He has poked unrelenting fun at corporate America and advertising, which made him lots of powerful enemies.

The CBS brass would be expected to stay on his side as long as the ratings stayed high and the money flowed in. I suspect that what they couldn't abide was Rooney refusing to cross a picket line when the writers were out on strike. That would have also irritated his colleagues on 60 Minutes, because they didn't have the guts to do the same. CBS couldn't very well say "You refused to come to work, so you're fired!" That would have made lots of viewers very very angry. There are many union members who watch 60 Minutes.

So they waited. They knew that they wouldn't have to wait for long. A professional cynic will, sooner or later, make a mistake -- then whammo!

If you're a cynic, you have to be careful about every word. Giving an interview and letting someone else write your words, without your own meticulous editing, is just plain folly. Andy goofed!

If a writer or commentator is saying things that people want to hear, he can be wrong as often as he likes. No one is going to fault him, much less fire him, for making a mistake. But if he make statements about how ridiculous corporate America can be, and has refused to cross a picket line, he's not allowed even one mistake.

Rooney is supposed to have said "I've believed all along that most people are born with equal intelligence, but blacks have watered down their genes because the less intelligent ones are the ones that have the most children. They drop out of school early, do drugs and get pregnant."

Let's assume that what Rooney was quoted as saying was a correct quote; which Rooney denies. That statement just shows that he doesn't know much about genetics or the American Black culture. The statement just isn't true; but it was the conventional wisdom among geneticists 30 years ago, until it was proved wrong. Even though it isn't true, it is not necessarily the statement of a racist. It is more the statement of someone who has been misinformed. If being misinformed about racial and cultural groups other than one's own makes a person a racist, then there aren't more than just a few people, if that many, who aren't racists.

A few months ago, the late great cynic H.L.Mencken was called an anti-Semite and racist on the basis of some of his posthumously-released writings. A reader pointed out, in a letter to the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, that Mencken was anti everything. He was anti-Semitic, anti-Black, anti WASP and anti-People. So was Mark Twain.

Someone asked Twain whether he had any racial prejudice; based, I assume, on his portrait of of the slave Jim in Tom Sawyer. Twain answered "Of course I have no racial prejudice. All that I care to know is that a man is a human being --that is enough for me; he can't be any worse."

I, as a card carrying cynic and curmudgeon, fully expect that, when I publish my first ethnic, racial or sexual preference mistake, my editor will suspend my salary for 3 months. That's one of the hazards of the cynic profession.

I don't like bigotry. But I also don't like the accusation of bigotry used to suppress the truth, or as a means of silencing or coercing someone.

For now, I'm leaving CBS in favor of ABC or NBC and I'm sending CBS a copy of this column. I get pretty mean when big shots abuse their power. I won't fly TWA because the company executives worked over a union-active airline stewardess. That incident was revealed by 60 Minutes.

So, for now, it's goodbye CBS and 60 Minutes. I'll come back when Andy Rooney does.

Us curmudgeons have to stick together!

Note: Andy Rooney was back on the job before too long.

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