In a March 20 column, AP critic Frazier Moore penned an open letter to Rooney, the septuagenarian commentator whose irritable laments are a staple of the Sunday night news program.
"And now, a few words for Andy Rooney: 60 Minutes would be better off without you," the column opened, below a headline that read "Andy Rooney: Giving 60 Minutes A Bad Name."
Rooney's attitude, Moore said, is "chronic fuddy-duddy," and his chief function at 60 Minutes is serving as the "resident crank whose contribution is ending the show on a sour note."
Rooney's weekly spots, Moore added, are "the product of a brazenly closed mind that does a disservice to the rest of the show . . . . "
Rooney, who has been with 60 Minutes for 18 years, took the criticism personally and soon fired back at Moore.
During "A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney" on March 31, Rooney briefly summarized Moore's comments and gave the critic's name and telephone number at the AP. He told viewers to telephone Moore and register their feelings.
"I'll make a deal with you Mr. Moore," Rooney said on the air. "I'll ask viewers whether they think I should get out of here or not."
Rooney supporters rose to the occasion, and by midweek, the AP switchboard received approximately 7,000 calls "overwhelmingly" in support of Rooney, according to AP spokeswoman Tori Smith. In an interview with E&P two days after his on-air response, Rooney laughed about the incident, but maintained that Moore's critique had missed the mark.
"I'm aware that I have to be careful about the old fogey, good-old-days thing," Rooney acknowledged, adding, however, that Moore's comments would have been more reasonable, "if he had said 'well this was a poor piece' or if there was something he could criticize."
Instead, Rooney said, Moore launched a gratuitous attack. The 77-year-old Rooney took particular exception to Moore's characterization of him as being in his "78th year."
"It's not his business to say some of the things he said," Rooney said. "Saying I am in my 78th year is unconscionable and sort of amusing. I mean, really, there was no point in going there.
"It wasn't a very smart shot," Rooney fumed. "He didn't sound like a reasoning, alert, discerning critic. He sounded like someone whose hair was a little too long, writing about someone he didn't like."
Moore maintains that his criticism was directed at the quality of Rooney's 60 Minutes work, not at the journalist personally.
"I'm concerned that the message of the original column was lost or distorted by the time it reached 60 Minutes, and I'm sorry about that," Moore said. "It's my main regret about this entire episode. The piece may have wounded him, but it wasn't meant to attack him. It was meant to reflect on the nature of his work on the show."
Moore does features, interviews, and reviews television shows for AP. He writes about 150 pieces per year, and while some reviews "might have a certain pungent tone to them," he said, he doesn't "turn out a diatribe for each column."
Moore added that he was surprised by the reaction from viewers.
"Most people that I criticize don't have that kind of a platform by which to respond. He's a somewhat unique case. I'm surprised that he spoke up.
"Rooney has made a living of being critical, so I'm surprised that he is so apparently vulnerable when he is criticized," Moore said.
Though Rooney supporters are in the majority, Moore added that "a number of calls" sided with his comments. The response, he said, runs the gamut, "everything from polite to calling me names."
It's not the first time on the defensive for the prickly Rooney. 60 Minutes brass initially suspended him for three months in 1990 after he made derogatory comments about gay men and African Americans.
Rooney was quoted in the Advocate, a gay and lesbian weekly newspaper, as saying, "Blacks have watered down their genes because the less intelligent ones are the ones who have the most children."
Rooney insisted he had been misquoted, and 60 Minutes reinstated him after only three weeks.
?(Rooney has made aliving of being critical, so I'm surprised that he is so apparently vulnerable when he is critized.") [Caption]
?(Frazier Moore, Associated Press writer) [Photo & Caption]
? ("He didn't sound like a reasoning, alert, discerning critic. He sounded like someone whose hair was a little too long, writing about someone he didn't like." ) [Caption]
?(-Andy Rooney, 60 Minutes) [Caption & Photo]
By: DOROTHY GIOBBE ANDY ROONEY OF CBS 60 Minutes fame last week lashed out at an Associated Press television writer who suggested that the acerbic veteran hand in his resignation and retire from the show.