A Life Lived Before Internet Time

I saw this week that longtime 60 Minutes essayist Andy Rooney is retiring, and predictably the comments that appeared on media sites ran the full spectrum of snark to insult. It is as if everyone born in the last 40 years forgets that a long life lived contains more than just what we know as most current about any person.

Andy Rooney is an interesting person and it was in watching him on Ken Burn’s documentary The War that I decided to learn a little about the man. I’ll skip the full bio and focus on two parts of his life that pre-date the curmudgeon character that most people know as Andy Rooney.

Drafted into the Army in 1941, Rooney was one of a handful of journalists who flew on bombing raids with the 8th Air Force in 1943. The losses that these air groups suffered were horrendous, with the early raids seeing as few as 1/3 of the departing aircraft return undamaged or at all. In 1943 when Rooney stepped into a B-24 or B-17 destined for bombing raids over Germany with fighter protection only part of the way, he knew that the odds that he would return unharmed were not in his favor. Later in the war Rooney was one of the first journalists to enter a German concentration camp and write about the experience… a far different writing task than talking for a few minutes about why the dryer eats socks.

Hired in 1949 at CBS, Rooney along with other pioneering radio and television journalists developed a form of broadcast essay that lives on today in news programs, specials, and evening broadcasts. His writings earned him multiple Emmy’s, Writers Guild Awards, and a Peabody award, covering topics as diverse as race, women and war in the 60’s and 70’s.

It’s not that I have become a hardened Andy Rooney fan, in fact I watch so little television that I can’t even tell you what decade I last saw an episode of 60 Minutes in. What does bother me is the callous nature of public commentary from people who distill a persons life, one as long as Rooney’s is, into a few soundbites that caricature the person in the least favorable light. There’s probably a lot to not like about, well, anyone and Rooney has been no stranger to controversy, but is it not enough to just let the man leave the public stage without each and every person feeling they have something worth saying when they actually know only what is most recent about him?