A member of the audience at the annual meeting of the Friends of the Eldredge Public Library on June 13 asked Emily Rooney, host of WGBH-TV’s “Beat the Press,” to name a hero or heroine.
After a brief pause she responded, “Andy Rooney.” The standing-room-only crowd in the library’s Forgeron Room applauded.
Emily Rooney, 67, is, of course, the daughter of the famous broadcast journalist Andy Rooney, who died at age 92 in 2011. Beginning in 1978, Rooney concluded CBS’s “60 Minutes” with “A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney.” He was known for what the New York Times called “prickly wit.”
Emily Rooney said her father “believed the news business was a calling” and that he influenced her own career as a broadcast journalist. She often thinks of one of his sayings: “If everyone in the world knew everything about everyone else, we’d all be more understanding.”
“I think that’s true,” she added.
Rooney said she is considering writing a book about her father, whose “voluminous” collection of papers is housed at the University of Texas, Austin.
Rooney has been a part-time resident of Chatham since March 2016. At the library, she gave a 20-minute talk called “The Intersection of the Press and Politics.”
“People ask, ‘what’s going to happen?’” she said. “We’ve never seen anything like this.” She was referring to the relationship between President Donald J. Trump and the national press.
Rooney took a quick historical tour through some presidents since John F. Kennedy, whom the media treated with “a wink and a nod.” As for Lyndon Johnson, “the media didn’t like him.” The press’s relationship with Richard Nixon was “contentious.” Gerald Ford was not taken seriously. As for Jimmy Carter, the media “loved him at first,” and then “it fell apart.” While the media liked George H.W. Bush, the media didn’t like his son, George W. Bush. And then the media had a “love affair” with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
While she said it is true that the media is “largely liberal,” “what’s happening now has nothing to do with party politics.” The press did not initially take Trump seriously even though as a businessman, celebrity, “crank” and candidate, he was hard to ignore. “It was a mistake,” she said. “Most of America was listening to him, then believed him.”
She addressed the issue of “fake news.” While in the ‘70s and ‘80s the media was duped into reporting hoaxes, “that’s different.” Trump now claims the New York Times and Washington Post are purveyors of “fake news.” She cited Sean Hannity on Fox News falsely reporting that a young Democratic National Committee staffer was murdered in retaliation for leaking inside information about the party through WikiLeaks. (Local police believe the young man was killed in a robbery attempt.) CBS followed up with a story about Hannity perpetrating a lie. “I’ve never seen it before,” Rooney said.
Rooney quoted Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz as saying that the media had “way overplayed” the story of the Trump administration’s Russia ties. “This drip, drip, drip and so far nothing has come of it,” she said.
She noted that politics has “seeped into the national press,” and cited former CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley, who took Trump on with such remarks as “today we learn the length of a president’s fuse—28 days.” She also said she disagreed with the way Fox News treated Bill O’Reilly, host of the O’Reilly Factor, who was fired after several women alleged he sexually harassed them and sponsors boycotted his program.
“Bill O’Reilly deserved better treatment,” she said. “He actually put that network on the map.”
And what is going to happen with the ongoing investigations into the Trump administration’s possible ties to Russia?
“I don’t really think anything is going to happen,” Rooney said. She predicts Trump will not be impeached, and nothing illegal will be found. “The biggest thing anybody should think about is what’s going to happen in four years.”
She followed her 20-minute talk with a 20-minute question and answer session. In response to a question from the audience, she said, about Trump’s 2016 campaign, “I thought the coverage was so damaging that no one would vote for him. How wrong could you be?”
As for who might run for president in 2020, she predicted “the usual suspects,” although she did float one name, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.
When asked about the recent trend on college campuses of boycotting right wing speakers, she said she disagrees with conservative commentator Ann Coulter on many issues but does agree with her that she should not have been disinvited from speaking at U.C. Berkeley last April. “When I was in college you wanted to hear the most outrageous people, whether you agreed with them or not,” she said.
Does she have advice to a young person going into journalism? Yes. “It’s still a fun business.” She said she does not “lament” the past when a city had one newspaper and three networks. Today there is an “endless wealth of niches to get into” including digital news and podcasts.
During the business portion of the meeting, Friends President Kerry Brown reported that the Friends now have 470 members and raised $30,000 this year. The group awarded library director Irene Gillies its annual Esprit Award.