Andy Rooney signed off on 60 Minutes last night, you may have heard. So allow us to dig back into the Center for Justice & Democracy archives for a curmudgeonly charming Andy Rooney story, which we’ll preface with part of the interview between Andy and Morley Safer on last night’s show:
Safer: You-- you've gotten tons of mail over the--
Rooney: I get---a lotta mail. I--more mail than---most people.
Safer: Do you answer any of them?
Rooney: Not much, no. I mean, who would wanna answer an idiot who has the bad sense to write me a letter? I mean, it's a certain kind of person who writes and they're not my kind of people, usually.
Safer: Well, they are your kind of people.
Safer: They're the people who are--
Rooney: I suppose. But I-- I-- every once in awhile I answer one. But not very often.
You know, that’s what we thought too. But back in November 2002, we were not very happy with a piece Andy did called “I'm Going To Sue,” which was full of so many inaccuracies and inflamed rhetoric about the civil justice system that he may as well had the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or American Tort Reform Association substituting as guest commentator.
So CJ&D wrote Andy a letter, politely but firmly challenging virtually every statement in his entire piece, figuring it would end up in some intern’s trash bin. But we were very wrong. Andy did read the letter. Not only that, he called CJ&D, said he liked the letter and was going to mention it on the air. And sure enough, on January 13, 2003, he said in a most curmudgeonly endearing way:
ROONEY: (Voiceover) This is from Joanne Doroshow at the Center for Justice & Democracy, whatever that is.
She complains, but it's a good letter.
(Footage of letter)
ROONEY: (Voiceover) 'Your commentary did a disservice to the debates over the importance of the civil justice system.'
Well, maybe it did and maybe it didn't, but next time that woman buys takeout coffee at McDonald's, I'll bet she'll have it with milk.
(Hopefully, he caught Hot Coffee on HBO this summer!)
Meanwhile, not the same can be said for Morley Safer, who also in 2002 did a disgraceful piece about the civil justice system in Mississippi. In a similar letter, CJ&D wrote to Mr. Safer:
It was not enough that the piece simply parrots the outrageous claims of the business and medical communities that Mississippi jurors are rendering large verdicts against negligent drug companies and doctors not because jurors have listened to the evidence in a case (unlike Mr. Safer, I might add), but because they are poor, dumb, uneducated and black (or, in an equally unbelievable allegation, redneck and trying to render “payback for the Civil War.”) But you don’t stop there. You allow an unidentified man to make a completely outlandish, highly inflammatory and unsupported statement that jurors in Mississippi were being paid for their verdicts. So they’re not only poor and dumb, they’re also crooks.
This letter apparently did end up in the 60 Minutes trash heap. But the program was sued over this piece, and incredibly, the person who told Safer that juries were being paid off, "since told local reporters he was joking and thought the cameras were off, according to local reports. 60 Minutes, which has stood by the story, said in its report that it tried to contact several jurors, but none would talk.” Wow, not exactly the kind of response what might expect from the paragon of journalistic integrity that 60 Minutes thinks it is.
It’s a shame because as we also noted in our letter to Safer, “In the 1980s, 60 Minutes engaged in some ground-breaking journalism with correspondent Ed Bradley and producer David Gelber that exposed myths about juries and the civil justice system, which were then and continue to be perpetuated by the insurance industry, drug companies, tobacco companies, medical lobbies and other special interests seeking to limit their liability from lawsuits.”
We never said thanks to Andy Rooney so we'd like to say it now, and under the circumstances, we’re bound to miss him even more.