Flashback: Andy Rooney Recognized Media’s Liberalism and Espoused It Himself

Saturday, November 5: News this morning that Rooney passed away last night. Below is post put up just before his final 60 Minutes appearance on October 2:

Andy Rooney delivered his final commentary Sunday night at the end of 60 Minutes and while the now 92-year old curmudgeon’s pieces usually dealt with non-serious topics, he should be credited for being able to recognize, unlike many of his prominent peers, that the media are liberal – even conceding his own “liberal bias.” He declared Dan Rather “transparently liberal” and quipped people in the news business “were almost evenly divided” in 2004 – “half of them liked Senator Kerry; the other half hated President Bush.”

Shortly after 9/11 in 2001, he embarrassed himself when he mocked President Bush over a common metaphor. “This is an enemy that thinks its harbors are safe, but they won’t be safe forever,” Bush asserted in a clip Rooney played and then ridiculed: “Well, not too smart either. Afghanistan is landlocked. It doesn’t have a harbor.” (video below)

Two weeks later he apologized, showing letters from viewers who made fun of him: “If you didn't know the meaning of 'safe harbor' you probably thought the 'underground railroad' had tracks”and “if he really thought Bush meant seaports, Andy must think 'wildlife preserves' are breakfast jams.’”

Video of a portion of that initial September 23, 2001 commentary on 60 Minutes followed by the entirety of the one from the October 7, 2001 60 Minutes (bonus, I let the recording keep running so you can get a bit of flavor of the time with Dan Rather promising “the voice and spirit of America still rings loud and clear” as he ran a clip from the rehearsal for the just-cancelled Emmy show):

 

Recognizing liberal media bias. Discussing Bernard Goldberg’s book, Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News, on CNN’s Larry King Live, June 5, 2002:

I thought he [former CBS News correspondent Bernard Goldberg] made some very good points. There is just no question that I, among others, have a liberal bias. I mean, I’m consistently liberal in my opinions. And I think some of the, I think Dan [Rather] is transparently liberal. Now, he may not like to hear me say that. I always agree with him, too, but I think he should be more careful.

Rooney on the November 7, 2004 60 Minutes: “I know a lot of you believe that most people in the news business are liberal. Let me tell you, I know a lot of them, and they were almost evenly divided this time. Half of them liked Senator Kerry; the other half hated President Bush.”

When Dan Rather left CBS News, Rooney scolded him during a phone-in appearance on MSNBC’s Imus in the Morning on June 22, 2006:

“My problem with Dan was always that you knew where he stood politically. And the fact that he stood on my side didn’t have anything to do with it. I thought he was a bad representative of the liberal side because he was so obvious with his opinions. There were just little words he used when he was on the air that made it apparent to everyone that he was a liberal Democrat. And Cronkite, for instance, was just, had just the same liberal Democratic opinions as Dan had, but you would never know it. No one knew it during all the time Cronkite was on the air.”

Then there are those days when he wasn’t a very good prognosticator, insisting on the September 29, 1991 60 Minutes that the Soviet Union would soon come back together:

“Here is what the continental United States would look like without California, New York, Texas, and Florida. Well, it won't happen, of course. Every kid dreams about running away. But if they do, 99 percent of them decide it was a bad idea and come home. My bet is that in a few years half those Soviet states that left the Union will come home.”

That reasoning may be explained by an op-ed, a couple of years earlier, in the June 26, 1989 New York Times defending communism:

“Communism got in with a bad crowd when it was young and never had a fair chance,” Rooney wrote. According to Rooney, “the original communist philosophy may have been wrong, but they didn't plan it as a totalitarian system... Communist governments have been dominated by men, not Marxist ideals.” Rooney explained that the “communist idea of creating a society in which everyone does his best for the good of everyone is appealing and fundamentally a more uplifting idea than capitalism.”

Rooney conceded that “communism's only real weakness seems to be that it doesn't work,” but Rooney had less kind words to say about capitalism: “It seems sad and sort of a spiritual defeat for us all that an economic system based on doing it for No. 1 is more successful than one based on a noble ideal.” Unthreatened by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev's 1956 threat, “We will bury you,” Rooney confidently contended, “Mr. Khrushchev didn't mean anything more evil than that communism would be the winner over capitalism in the competition to do the best for the most people in the world.” Besides, Rooney concluded, “They aren't burying us; we're burying them. But it's no reason to gloat.”

Some of Rooney’s liberal observations over the years:

Likes those who like Bill Clinton:

“I'm surprised at how polarized our country is in relation to President Clinton. A lot of people don't think he's done anything wrong, or if he has that it's anyone's business but his own. And then there are the people who hate Bill Clinton. They've always hated him. Nothing he can ever do will keep them from hating him for the rest of their lives. They call him Slick Willie. You can't talk to these people. I'm glad everyone else is so sure of what they think about Bill Clinton because I don't know what I think. I do know I like the people who like him better than I like the people who hate him.”
-- Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes, January 17, 1999.

Spend more on Amtrak instead of Iraq:

“The United States — our United States — is spending $5 billion, 600 million a month fighting this war in Iraq that we never should have gotten into. We still have 139,000 soldiers in Iraq today. Almost 2,000 Americans have died there. For what? Now we have the hurricanes to pay for. One way our government pays for a lot of things is by borrowing from countries like China. Another way the government is planning to pay for the war and the hurricane damage is by cutting spending for things like Medicare prescriptions, highway construction, farm payments, Amtrak, National Public Radio and loans to graduate students. Do these sound like the things you’d like to cut back on to pay for Iraq? I’ll tell you where we ought to start saving: on our bloated military establishment.”
— Andy Rooney on CBS’s 60 Minutes, October 2, 2005.

Bush’s phone intercepts of terrorists a “disgrace” to Rooney:

CNN’s Larry King: “What do you make of the tapping of phones in the interest of national security?”
CBS’s Andy Rooney: “Well, I think it’s a disgrace, an absolute disgrace. And how the President has convinced himself or how the Vice President has convinced the President that this is a good thing to do, in the interests of American security, it’s a disgrace....Our whole country was built on the idea that we are free from that kind of government. I mean, it is seriously wrong what’s happening in Washington and how they’re forcing it down our throats, I don’t know....That’s not the way to protect ourselves.”
— Exchange on CNN’s Larry King Live, January 6, 2006.

We brought 9/11 on ourselves:

“Some people who hated Americans set out to kill a lot of us and they succeeded [on 9/11]....We’re trying to protect ourselves with more weapons. We have to do it, I guess, but it might be better if we figured out how to behave as a nation in a way that wouldn’t make so many people in the world want to kill us.”
— CBS’s Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes, September 10, 2006. Video below:

 

Moral equivalence: No worse for Iran to have nukes than America:

“I don’t understand why we think it’s okay for us to have a nuclear weapon, but it isn’t okay for some other countries to have any. I don’t think any country should have nuclear weapons. And that includes ours....We’re a little late getting exercised about this. North Korea has always been more of a threat to world peace than Iraq ever was. And if we were going to attack someone three years ago to make the world safer, we should have attacked North Korea, not Iraq.”
— CBS’s Andy Rooney on the October 15, 2006 60 Minutes.

Praises Clinton, derides Reagan, “hard to dislike” Carter, from January of 2007:

Prompted by the death of President Gerald Ford, Andy Rooney, in his commentary at the end of 60 Minutes, ruminated about all the Presidents since FDR and made clear he sees more to admire in Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton than in Ronald Reagan. Rooney praised Ford: “We were lucky to have such a good, normal American to step in to do the job.” On Carter, Rooney characterized him as “smart” and contended “it was hard to dislike Jimmy Carter, even if you were a Republican.” Rooney obviously wasn't a Republican in the late 1970s. “Ronald Reagan was the only movie star ever elected President,” Rooney noted before snidely remarking: “A lot of people thought he was better in the movies than in the White House.” Bill Clinton, however, “might have gone down in history as one of the best Presidents we ever had if it hadn't been for that one unfortunate incident that I don't want to talk about in case there are children watching.”

Hailing Obama:

“The [Gallup] survey said that only 44 percent of us approve of President Obama’s performance. Well, I surveyed nine of my friends, and eight of them said they liked Obama but didn’t trust Gallup polls. As far as I’m concerned, Obama’s doing the best job he knows how, and it’s good enough for me.”
— CBS’s Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes, November 14, 2010.

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center