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Margie saves clay flowerpots. I hate clay flowerpots and, if I think I can get away with it, I throw them out.
She hates the coffee cans, old broken dishes, odd lengths of wood and the a.s.sorted junk I save, and she throws out any of them she thinks I won't notice. Sometimes there's been an undeclared war between us. If I find she's thrown out some of my treasured junk, I retaliate with her flowerpots.
The boxes of scripts are back down in the bas.e.m.e.nt now, right where they were before. Saving them was part sentiment, part the practical thought that I might find a use for them someday, but it was neither of those that brought me to the point of putting them back in the boxes. What did that was something different altogether.
It occurred to me that for twenty years I'd kept them; for twenty years they'd taken up s.p.a.ce; for twenty years they were part of my life. If I threw them out then, all the s.p.a.ce they've taken and all the thoughts I'd had about them in those twenty years would have been for nothing. In that case, I might as well have thrown them out the day I wrote them. This is the kind of thinking that makes a saver. A good saver can always think of a reason not to throw something out.
Being, as I am, a world-cla.s.s saver, don't look for those crutches in my trash can anytime soon, either.
Born To Lose I'm a world-cla.s.s loser.
There are very few people better at losing things than I am. Last night, as I was getting into bed, I thought to myself, "Maybe losing stuff would make an essay." So I scribbled some notes about it on a piece of paper, turned out the lights, and went to sleep.
I cannot find the piece of paper I wrote the notes on about losing things. I got down on my hands and knees and looked under the bed. Nothing. It's not mixed in with the sheets. It's not in my pajama pocket and it isn't on my dresser. I'll find it a week from now.
Over the years, I've lost thousands of things. One reason I lose so much is that I have so much. I am an acquirer of things, a possessor. Once I get something, I keep it . . . unless I lose it, of course. It's hard to find a place to put all of my possessions, so they're just left around. They tend to get lost or, perhaps, covered over by other possessions.
My shoehorn was gone this morning. I had to stand there trying to worm my feet into my shoes without breaking down the backs.
I lose fingernail clippers at a great rate . . . and sungla.s.ses.
If I need a screwdriver, I can only find the one with the Phillips head when I'm dealing with a single-slot screw. And, naturally, vice versa.
Where do all the flashlights I buy go?
Someone gave me a beautiful fountain pen for Christmas. I can't find it. I don't use it; I just don't want to lose it.
At this very moment I cannot find my driver's license. I'm driving 150 miles upstate tomorrow and it's illegal to drive without a license, but I'm going to make the trip anyway.
"I really do have a license," I'll explain to the policeman if I'm arrested for speeding. "I just can't find it."
This goes over big with policemen. I know because I've tried it before.
I have regular places where I look for things I can't find. They're never in those places. We have dozens of little drawers in tables and Born to Lose 103 103 chests around the house, and I always look in those for things I can't find. Nothing. I've looked in those drawers ten thousand times and have yet to find a single missing item in them. I don't know why I persist in looking there.
In the office, Jane is good at finding things but she often doesn't realize I've lost what she finds; so she doesn't tell me she has it. The items are just the same as lost as far as I'm concerned.
Several years ago, I got a small lump of money for one of my books, so I decided to invest in the stock market. Someone knowledgeable about money told me to buy Exxon. I bought Exxon. It did very well, but after the unpleasantness in Alaska, I was embarra.s.sed to be an Exxon stockholder and decided to sell my shares. If I ever ran for office, some reporter would discover that I owned a small amount of Exxon stock and ruin my chances for election by revealing it.
I'd sell the stock in a minute if I could find the stock certificates. The man who sold the stock to me said there was a process I could go through to recover my stock without the certificates. It would cost me about 1 percent of the stock's value. This fellow sent me a letter describing how to go about recovering my investment but I can't find his letter.
The value of an item doesn't seem to have anything to do with my ability to lose it. For example, I lose a lot of things of very little value in the refrigerator. Last Sat.u.r.day, I wanted lunch and remembered I'd put some leftover rice in the refrigerator. I could not find it and everyone else swears they didn't eat it.
Things are even easier to lose in the freezer than in the main part of the refrigerator. If our refrigerator could be preserved for scientists of the year 3000, they'd find a treasure trove of gustatory Americana in there that I've lost.
My idea of heaven would be to die and awaken in a place that has all my lost things.
My Name's Been Stolen Two years ago, someone broke my car window, took some things from the glove compartment and a suitcase I had left on the back seat. Twenty years ago, I had a motorbike stolen from my garage. In the Army, at Fort Bragg, someone went through my footlocker and took $20 I had saved for the day I could get a twenty-four-hour pa.s.s. These were the only brushes with crime I'd had in my life until recently. Now, several thieves have taken something of great value from me-my name.
More than a year ago, people started sending me copies of an e-mail that was appearing on computers all over the country. It was a list of about twenty comments, each one or two sentences long, under my byline. The piece was t.i.tled, "In Praise of Older Women-By Andy Rooney." It was sappy and obviously nothing I might have written, but harmless. While I didn't like the idea of someone using my name as his own, I didn't try to do anything about it.
Several months after I first saw the e-mail, a man named Frank Kaiser wrote asking why I had put my name on something he had written in 2000 for his syndicated column called "Suddenly Senior." I called Frank immediately and he accepted the fact that someone else had taken what he wrote and put my name on it.
There have been two other instances of someone distributing a list of opinions under my name. What would make someone write down a series of personal observations and distribute them using my name as the author? It mystifies me.
About a year ago, I became aware of a more serious theft of my name and it is so hurtful to my reputation that it calls for legal action against the thief. Hundreds of people have written asking if I really wrote the twenty detestable remarks made under my name that have had such wide circulation on the Internet.
The list of remarks begins: "I like big cars, big boats, big motorcycles, big houses and big campfires."
It continues: My Name's Been Stolen 105 105 "I believe the money I make belongs to me and my family, not some governmental stooge with a bad comb-over who wants to give it away to crack addicts for squirting babies."
"Guns do not make you a killer. I think killing makes you a killer."
"I have the right NOT to be tolerant of others because they are weird, different or tick me off."
Some of the remarks, which I will not repeat here, are viciously racist and the spirit of the whole thing is nasty, mean and totally inconsistent with my philosophy of life. It is apparent that the list of comments has been read by hundreds of thousands of Americans, many of whom must believe that it accurately represents opinions of mine that I don't dare express in my writings or on television. It is seriously damaging to my reputation.
The only good thing to come out of this incident is the dozens of letters I've received from people saying they know me well enough to know I didn't write the comments. There must be many more, however, who are ready to believe I did write them.
I have tracked the e-mail back to an address in Tucson and a Web site called CelebrityHypocrites.com, which is owned by by a man named Dave Mason. Mr. Mason lists as his address, 405 East Wetmore Road, No. 117 PMB 520, Tucson, AZ 85705. I was in Tucson recently and foolishly went to that address thinking it might be Mason's home or business. I'd like to know more about Mason, but the address was a commercial mailbox business and I didn't wait around for him to show up so I could confront him. If it is Dave Mason who has stolen my name, I demand that he put out a retraction that reaches as many people as his fraudulent e-mail did. a man named Dave Mason. Mr. Mason lists as his address, 405 East Wetmore Road, No. 117 PMB 520, Tucson, AZ 85705. I was in Tucson recently and foolishly went to that address thinking it might be Mason's home or business. I'd like to know more about Mason, but the address was a commercial mailbox business and I didn't wait around for him to show up so I could confront him. If it is Dave Mason who has stolen my name, I demand that he put out a retraction that reaches as many people as his fraudulent e-mail did.
On Writing There Is No Secret W riters are repeatedly asked to explain where they get their ideas. People want their secret. The truth is there is no secret and writers don't have many new ideas. At least, they don't have many ideas that a comic strip artist would ill.u.s.trate with a light bulb over their heads.
New ideas are one of the most overrated concepts of our time. Most of the important ideas that we live with aren't new at all. If we're grown up, we've had our personal, political, economic, religious, and philosophical ideas for a long time. They evolved out of some experience we had or they came from someone we were exposed to before we were twenty-five. How many of us have changed our opinion about anything important after we were twenty-five because of some new idea?
Like almost everything else that gets popular, new ideas and the concept of creativity have been trivialized. People are pa.s.sing off novelty for invention. Not many products have been improved with a new idea compared to the number whose quality has been diminished by inferior workmanship and the use of inferior materials. The shortage we face in this country is not new ideas, it's quality work.
Much of the progress of the world has come through genuine creativity but we've cheapened the whole concept by treating creativity as if it were a commodity that could be bought and sold by the pound.
Colleges teach courses in "creative writing" as if a course in just plain writing weren't enough. Trying to teach someone to be creative is as silly as a mother trying to teach her child to be a genius.
I don't know where we all got the thought that ideas come in a blinding flash or that we can learn how to be struck with creative new ideas. Not many ideas come that way. The best ideas are the result of the same slow, selective, cognitive process that produces the sum of a column of figures. Anyone who waits to be struck with a good idea has a long wait There Is No Secret 107 107 [image]At his desk, with his beloved Underwood typewriters behind him coming. If I have a deadline for a column or a television script, I sit down at the typewriter and d.a.m.n well decide to have have an idea. There's nothing magical about the process, no flashing lights. an idea. There's nothing magical about the process, no flashing lights.
Creativity is a by-product of hard work. If I never have another really new idea, it won't matter. Enough writers are already exploring the new, the far-out, and the obscure. We don't understand the old ideas yet. I'm satisfied trying to quantify the obvious.
We have our ideas. What we need now are more people who can do something good with them.
It's a Writer Who Makes a Fool of Himself Writing is difficult. That's why there's so little of it that's any good. Writing isn't like mathematics where what you've put down is either right or wrong. No writer ever puts down anything on paper that he knows for certain is good or bad.
When I was in The Albany Academy, I won a writing prize and, because I was not otherwise a good student, it was the academic high point of my years there. Several years later, I came home from college and looked at the things I'd written to win the prize in high school and winced. They were so bad.
In college I was a prolific contributor to the school literary and humor magazine. When I got out of the Army, four years after college, I reread what I'd written in college and couldn't believe I'd ever been so young or written so badly.
In the Army, I was a.s.signed as a reporter to the newspaper, The Stars and Stripes, The Stars and Stripes, and spent three years covering World War II and learning from the great war correspondents like Hal Boyle, Bob Considine, Homer Bigart, d.i.c.k Tregaskis and Ernie Pyle. It seemed to me I was finally growing up as a writer. and spent three years covering World War II and learning from the great war correspondents like Hal Boyle, Bob Considine, Homer Bigart, d.i.c.k Tregaskis and Ernie Pyle. It seemed to me I was finally growing up as a writer.
In several boxes in my bas.e.m.e.nt I have every issue of The Stars and Stripes The Stars and Stripes printed during the time I was on the staff and they contain hundreds of stories I wrote. I like having them as mementos but I'd be embarra.s.sed to have anyone else read them. printed during the time I was on the staff and they contain hundreds of stories I wrote. I like having them as mementos but I'd be embarra.s.sed to have anyone else read them.
All this self-criticism of what I wrote in the past seems like a notunnecessarily modest att.i.tude on my part but lately it has worried me. When do I get good? How come what I wrote last year, last month, last week and even yesterday, doesn't seem quite right, either? How come every day I think that for the first time I'm beginning to get the hang of writing but when I reread it the following day I realize I still have a ways to go? When do I arrive as a writer?
It's a Writer Who Makes a Fool of Himself 109 109 I have finally come to the sad realization that I will never write anything today that looks as good as it should to me tomorrow. It's the writer's albatross.
The syndrome is common among writers and, to some extent, it protects them. If writing wasn't difficult and often even demeaning, more people would be doing it. The compet.i.tion would be greater. In motion pictures, television, newspapers and book publishing, there are hundreds of producers, directors, publishers, editors and salesmen standing around waiting to get what the writer has put down on paper so they can change it, package it and sell it. Producers, directors and editors don't become writers. Writers, seeing where the good life and the money are, become producers, directors and editors. It's so much safer.
It's the writer who makes a fool of himself and reveals how shallow he is by putting every thought he has on paper, where everyone can see it, read it and put it away to read again tomorrow. Those who merely speak their thoughts are safe. The spoken word drifts away and evaporates in the air, never to be held against the speaker.
"You know what I mean?" the speaker asks, as a subst.i.tute for thinking it out and putting it down on paper.
The writer may not think much but he has to know what little he thinks to get it down on paper at all. If someone knows what he's doing, he ought to be able to tell you, and if someone knows what he thinks, he ought to be able to write it down. If he can't, the chances are he doesn't have a thought.
The computer people are trying to make writing easier but they won't succeed. They make computers with writing programs, just as if there was some kind of magic that could help. All a writer needs is something to say, a blank page and an instrument with which to mark words on it. No word processor with a "writing program" will ever help a writer have something to say. No program ever designed will help make writing any better. It may make typing easier, the page neater and the spelling perfect but it won't improve the writing. Writing can't be turned out by machine, doubled, divided, added to and subtracted from, the way numbers can. The English language is more complex than calculus because numbers don't have nuances.
Several years ago someone wrote me asking if I understood how lucky I was to have my opinions printed and read by other people. I said I did appreciate it. I find something ridiculous about it, too. I even try to forget it. If I thought about how many people were going to read what I wrote every time I sat down at my typewriter, I'd freeze. Who is this person so presumptuous as to think anyone gives a d.a.m.n what he has to say?
If writing is difficult, it's also one of the most satisfactory jobs in the world. Before I won that prize in high school, I already knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to be a writer. I wish I was a better one ("were a better one," if you prefer, I don't) but I enjoy being the one I am. If I was forced to choose between appearing on television and writing the words to appear on paper, I wouldn't hesitate for a second. I'd give up television.
Igor Stravinsky, the musician, said, "I experience a sort of terror if I sit down to work and find an infinity of possibilities open to me. No effort is conceivable. I stand on nothing. Endeavor is futile."
Stravinsky said that what he grabbed for on such occasions were the seven notes of the scale. With the limitations they imposed, he could go to work.
A writer needs boundaries too, or he can't get to work. This book isn't a play, a novel or a history. I've set out to write a series of short essays. Within the boundaries of that form, I can go to work.
I hope the essays look okay to me tomorrow.
The Journalist's Code of Ethics To what standards do newsmen and women adhere and how should everyone be made to adhere to them?
It is unlikely that reporters and editors are any more or less honest and ethical than doctors but I envy doctors their Hippocratic Oath, the The Journalist's Code of Ethics 111 111 creed they swear to when they become physicians. It's a little out of date but it has a grandeur to it that is timeless.
"I swear by Apollo, the physician," it begins.
That's not much of a beginning, but it improves even though it needs rewriting.
The Hippocratic Oath asks the young doctor to take care of the physician who taught him as he would take care of his own parents. Most young reporters don't feel all that kindly toward the editors who taught them their profession.
The Hippocratic Oath also asks the young doctor to do only what is right for his patients and to do nothing that is wrong. He promises to give no patient deadly medicine and not to induce an abortion for any pregnant woman.
The young doctor promises not to seduce any males or females and not to reveal any secrets.
If journalists had an oath of their own, it would differ from the doctor's.
The journalist certainly wouldn't start by swearing to Apollo and probably not even to Walter Lippmann or Ed Murrow. The oath should be simple and direct. I was thinking of some things that ought to be in it.
Here are some suggestions for "The Journalist's Code of Ethics": -The word "journalist" is a little pompous and I will only use it on special occasions.
-I am a journalist because I believe that if all the world had all the facts about everything, it would be a better world.
-I understand that the facts and the truth are not always the same. It is my job to report the facts so that others can decide on the truth.
-I will try to tell people what they ought to know and avoid telling them what they want to hear, except when the two coincide, which isn't often.
-I will not do deliberate harm to any persons, except to the extent that the facts harm them and then I will not avoid the facts.
With the 60 Minutes 60 Minutes crew; circa 1983: left to right: Morley Safer, Mike Wallace, Ed Bradley, Harry Reasoner, Dan Rather, Andy Rooney, Don Hewitt (executive producer) crew; circa 1983: left to right: Morley Safer, Mike Wallace, Ed Bradley, Harry Reasoner, Dan Rather, Andy Rooney, Don Hewitt (executive producer) -No gift, including kind words, will be accepted when it is offered for the purpose of influencing my report.
-What I wish were the facts will not influence what investigation leads me to believe them to be.
-I will be suspicious of every self-interested source of information.
-My professional character will be superior to my private character.
-I will not use my profession to help or espouse any cause, nor alter my report for the benefit of any cause, no matter how worthy that cause may appear to be.
-I will not reveal the source of information given to me in confidence.
-I will not drink at lunch.
It needs work but it's a start on an oath for reporters and editors.
A Report on Reporting 113 113 [image]
2007 : front row, left to right: Lesley Stahl, Bob Simon, Morley Safer; back row, left to right: Andy Rooney, Scott Pelley, Katie Couric, Steve Kroft A Report on Reporting A few weeks after I first appeared on 60 Minutes, 60 Minutes, I got a call from a drug company selling aspirin. They asked if I would do a commercial for them because, they said, my voice sounded just right for someone with a headache. I got a call from a drug company selling aspirin. They asked if I would do a commercial for them because, they said, my voice sounded just right for someone with a headache.
This was the first time I ever realized I had a nasal, vaguely unpleasantsounding voice. The money they offered was interesting but I told them I was a journalist and that journalists didn't do commercials.
Although I'd never dream of doing any commercial, I often make a sales pitch for journalism. I like the news business and intend to say good things about American journalism and the reporters and editors who work in it whether for broadcast or print. My desire to tell you how highly I regard reporters and editors is prompted by several negative stories that have appeared in recent years about dishonest reporting. The stories are dismaying to all of us who work in news. We know they reinforce the negative opinion many Americans have of us. We want to be loved and respected.
USA Today announced that, after a thorough investigation by a committee under the leadership of distinguished journalist John Siegenthaler, it had determined that one of announced that, after a thorough investigation by a committee under the leadership of distinguished journalist John Siegenthaler, it had determined that one of USA Today' USA Today's star reporters, Jack Kelley, had invented many of his stories from war zones. He'd also borrowed information from other newspaper reporters and often added quotations he'd invented to make his stories livelier.
USA Today did the wrong thing when it kept Kelley on the job long after some of its own staff members suspected he was a fraud, but did the right thing when it had the matter investigated. I don't recall offhand any other company selling a product that paid to have an investigation conducted of some aspect of its own business and then made public the details of what it did wrong. The report said Kelley's stories had often been dishonest and that the editorial staff had been lax in not finding this out sooner. Half a dozen newspapers recently have fired reporters for dishonest or unethical reporting. did the wrong thing when it kept Kelley on the job long after some of its own staff members suspected he was a fraud, but did the right thing when it had the matter investigated. I don't recall offhand any other company selling a product that paid to have an investigation conducted of some aspect of its own business and then made public the details of what it did wrong. The report said Kelley's stories had often been dishonest and that the editorial staff had been lax in not finding this out sooner. Half a dozen newspapers recently have fired reporters for dishonest or unethical reporting.
While USA Today USA Today has never been a paragon of editorial excellence, it has capably filled the gap left by good local newspapers in towns and small cities across the country that don't pretend to cover national and international events. Many people who buy has never been a paragon of editorial excellence, it has capably filled the gap left by good local newspapers in towns and small cities across the country that don't pretend to cover national and international events. Many people who buy USA Today USA Today buy two newspapers. buy two newspapers.
Believe it or don't, but I can tell you that newspaper or television reporters, working at USA Today USA Today or elsewhere, are more concerned about the ethical standards of their profession than the people in any other business. I don't think car dealers, manufacturers or clothing store operators worry much about the impact of their life's work on fellow Americans. Journalists think of themselves as belonging to an exclusive club and are proud of their membership. or elsewhere, are more concerned about the ethical standards of their profession than the people in any other business. I don't think car dealers, manufacturers or clothing store operators worry much about the impact of their life's work on fellow Americans. Journalists think of themselves as belonging to an exclusive club and are proud of their membership.
The fact that news has become a profitable venture for large corporations has not always been good for people in the business. The disappointing fact is that a large part of the American public reads a newspaper and watches television news more for entertainment than information. This has contributed to the profit-driven companies' tendencies to deal less seriously with the truth in favor of entertainment. The truth is often less interesting than rumor or gossip and our good newspapers are to be congratulated for their imperfect resistance to being entertainers.
I've met hundreds of news people during my sixty years in the business. In World War II, I lived in a press camp with twenty-five and met my first bad apple reporter. He wrote for a news magazine and was ostracized by the others because he regularly put quotes in the mouths of anonymous soldiers he had not interviewed and described events he had not seen.
There's one in every crowd, but what I want to say in this commercial for journalism is this: Reporters are more honest and ethical than the people in any other line of work. It's just very difficult to get the whole truth and tell it accurately.
Big Business T here is no more interesting or important work in the world than being a reporter. That's my opinion, of course, and being at least in part a reporter myself, it's natural I'd think so.
The word "reporter" isn't quite right for the job, though, because it only describes half of it-the half where you tell the reader or the listener what you've learned. The other half of a reporter's work isn't described by that word. That's the part where he or she collects the information before telling everyone about it. That's the hard part.
A good reporter ought to be part detective, part puzzle solver and part writer. A reporter has to find the facts, piece them together so they make sense and then put them down on paper in a manner that makes them clear to everyone else.