Andy Rooney's Sullied Legacy
As the obituaries come out on commentator Andy Rooney following his death on Friday, some viewers will remember him as 60 Minutes' amusing curmudgeon, others as a bore who long ago ceased to be relevant. LGBT audiences of a certain age, however, will recall his history of homophobic statements — although his attitude has seemed to soften in recent years.
Rooney famously got into a dustup with The Advocate and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation when, on a special broadcast in December 1989, he said the year had brought recognition “of the fact that many of the ills which kill us are self-induced: too much alcohol, too much food, drugs, homosexual unions, cigarettes. They’re all known to lead quite often to premature death.”
GLAAD met with CBS executives about the comment, and Rooney apologized for it. He got into more trouble, though, soon afterward, when he gave an interview to Advocate reporter Chris Bull. After saying he was sorry if he added to prejudice against gays, although he still thought “homosexuality is inherently dangerous,” he turned the conversation to African-Americans. Bull quoted him as saying, “I’ve believed all along that most people are born with equal intelligence, but blacks have watered down their genes because the less intelligent ones are the ones that have the most children. They drop out of school early, do drugs, and get pregnant.” Rooney denied making the racist statements, and Bull had not tape-recorded the interview; CBS nonetheless gave Rooney an unpaid suspension, initially set for three months, but he came back after one.
Rooney was still making antigay comments in 1996, when he recalled the incident to Television Quarterly. “I was ignorant, not malicious,” he said of the remarks about gays. “I didn’t realize that it is not always a matter of choice. But I would still not be a favorite of a lot of gays because I find what they do to each other repugnant.” In a 1999 interview, posted below, for the Archive of American Television, he denied being racist or homophobic, but he did refer to The Advocate as “pornographic.”
In 2004, however, as the fight over marriage equality escalated, Rooney had toned down his rhetoric. Noting that President George W. Bush, then running for his second term, was proposing to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, Rooney said the president would be better advised to address the divorce rate among heterosexuals. “Forget making gay weddings illegal, Mr. President,” he said in his 60 Minutes end-of-show commentary. “If you want to make marriage more stable, make divorce illegal” or “at least make it harder for two people to get married in the first place.” View the commentary at the CBS News website.