Andy Rooney should be off the air: Jeff Jarvis on why the controversial ''60 Minutes'' commentator doesn't deserve to be back on our TVs

Andy Rooney should be off the air

In all the fuss and muss about Andy Rooney, I’ve heard no one reveal the real reason he should have been taken off the air — and left off. Even before he made offensive comments about gays or allegedly made them about blacks, there still was one good reason to get rid of him: He’s a twit. He wastes good airwaves and electrons. He’s just plain unbearable.

I can’t believe that Andy Rooney was brought back to 60 Minutes and is being treated like some brave practitioner of free speech, an American Vaclav Havel. Walter Cronkite said of Rooney: ”He is an independent thinker and a courageous social critic Any suggestion that such a rare journalistic voice should be silenced indicates a dangerous weakness in our pluralistic democratic society.” Uncle Walt spent too many years under hot lights. But he’s not alone. Fred Friendly, the former president of CBS News and the self-anointed keeper of Edward R. Murrow’s ghost, also defended Rooney. The folks on 60 Minutes spoke charitably of him. Perhaps the viewers defended him as well; after Rooney was suspended, the ratings took a fall and for the first time in 12 years, 60 Minutes was beaten by an entertainment show, a rerun of America’s Funniest Home Videos.

A Current Affair even took one of those 900-number phone polls about Rooney and, according to UPI, 170,429 people — 96 percent of the people who had nothing better to do than call — said Andy should come back. These people spent $85,214.50 to say that. Facts like that make me want to defect to Canada immediately.

But perhaps I judge Rooney unfairly. Maybe he really is a rare journalistic voice. So I looked up a list of Rooney segments from Journal Graphics, the service that sells transcripts of news shows: Andy empties his pockets. Andy talks about shapes. What auto model numbers mean. Vacuum cleaners. Not shaving. Health clubs. Tools. What viewers send. Stamps. Rooney hates restaurants. Greeting cards. Then I looked at what he has to say about these things. Andy on shapes: ”A book is a good shape. They fit so nicely together on a shelf.” On airline tickets: ”I mean, what is all this stuff, anyway? They have to give you a basket to carry it in.” On ties: ”I got lots of ties. I don’t buy many, but I’ve never thrown one out. I must have 150 ties, but I only wear three or four of them. You probably won’t like them.”

This is worth $85,214.50? This is worth airtime? This is worth defending?

Taking Rooney off the air or bringing him back is not an issue of free speech. It is a matter of taste. If he is a racist or a homophobe, then CBS has a responsibility to take him off for good — not merely suspend him without saying why. But you don’t even have to bother debating those ifs. Rooney is a twit, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s reason enough to get him off the air. So I just can’t believe that they brought him back.

If CBS wanted a real humorist for 60 Minutes they should have hired one — say, Dave Barry. Or if he’s not available, I’d volunteer to make big bucks contemplating the shape of a paper clip or the sound of a burp or the smell of a rose.

But CBS shouldn’t be filling these visible and valuable few minutes each week with harmless ”humor.” Instead, to paraphrase Cronkite’s misplaced words about Rooney, the close of 60 Minutes should be filled with independent thought and courageous social criticism. CBS should have guts enough to give us opinions that are worth our time and consideration. To give us anything less — to give us back Andy Rooney — is to insult our intelligence.

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