Anyone who’s worked at a newspaper knows that commentary and criticism share the bottom rung on the ladder of journalism. Sure, there’s prestige in having your own column. So-called real journalists, however, still believe that any schmo can express an opinion, but to report the news takes hard work and talent. If you think high-profile op-ed page whiners like conservative bullyboy Robert Novak or liberal scold Anthony Lewis (or, for that matter, the average TV, movie, or music critic) are held in high regard by the majority of their deadline-pressured colleagues, think again. As P.J. O’Rourke, one of the trio of new commentators on 60 Minutes, recently noted, ”What we do is entertainment.”
It’s amusing, therefore, to see 60 Minutes — which prides itself on its objective, hardball integrity — add three more voices of subjectivity to a show that already boasts the most well-known kvetcher in all of television: commentator Andy Rooney. As someone who makes his living sitting in a corner polishing his opinions, I welcome the sight of Rolling Stone‘s right-wing-dinger O’Rourke, liberal professional Texan Molly Ivins, and cosmopolitan contrarian Stanley Crouch grousing over the airwaves about gay rights, vigilantism, and English as America’s official language.
The new pundits have been on the air since April and have established their broadcast personas. O’Rourke will be familiar to anyone who went to college: He’s the frat boy who’s always sneering at everyone else and bragging to anyone within earshot how much money he’s going to make when he graduates. O’Rourke may start out addressing the topic at hand but soon lapses into his standard anti-’60s, God-love-the-free-market routines; he’s a clever devil who needs to freshen up his act. Ivins is better on camera — more relaxed. She fulfills her designated role, slipping in more left-wing sentiment than you’d hear if C-SPAN hid a camera in Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon’s house. Too bad her opinions are so predictable, and expressed as a series of one-liners.
Easily the best of these Minutes rookies is Crouch. He makes a good TV personality because he looks different (like an intellectual catfish), sounds different (that nasal staccato is ripe for TV’s sincerest form of flattery, a Saturday Night Live parody), and is different (though tagged a neocon in the press, Crouch is really just an extremely articulate proponent of common sense).
Memo to Minutes executive producer Don Hewitt: The format for your new trio is lame. Filmed separately, with no chance for these writers to go after one another face-to-face, they seem cut off — from the arguments they try to start, and from us.
Just as 60 Minutes does, I’ve saved Andy Rooney for last. Maybe it’s because he’s so obviously cheesed off at having his windbag punctured by three interlopers, but Rooney has been both funnier and more pointedly critical over the past few months. His take on the Jackie Onassis auction, which included proposing to auction off the many Super Bowl cushions his old bottom had creased over the years, was wonderfully mean-spirited. His ballyhooed interview with death doctor Jack Kevorkian was bracingly pushy and skeptical.