TV curmudgeon Andy Rooney has received thousands of letters on antiwar commentaries

Thursday, April 24th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Andy Rooney, who covered World War II and was one of television's few voices to strongly oppose the war in Iraq, says he's chastened by the quick fall of Baghdad but doesn't regret his ``60 Minutes'' commentaries.

Rooney said Thursday he received thousand of letters in response to his antiwar statements.

``I'm in a position of feeling secure enough so that I can say what I think is right and if so many people think it's wrong that I get fired, well, I've got enough to eat,'' the 84-year-old Rooney said.

The commentaries were noteworthy since they were a departure from his good-natured comic riffs _ this Sunday he'll tell about an unfortunate encounter with vanilla Coke _ and because they stood out at a time television was featuring relatively few antiwar voices.

He said on CBS April 6 that he couldn't remember any more unpleasant times.

``I hate everything about this war except that we're winning it,'' he said. ``You can't even be critical, either, without sounding unpatriotic.''

He mocked the idea of the war being a coalition, and said ``the only real good news will be when this terrible time in American history is over.''

A week earlier, Rooney said that ``we didn't shock them and we didn't awe them in Baghdad. The phrase makes us look like foolish braggarts. The president ought to fire whoever wrote that for him.''

Since Osama bin Laden hasn't been caught, Americans were transferring the blame for Sept. 11 to Saddam Hussein, he said.

``I found the commentaries irritating,'' said former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer, who supported the war.

But except for a brief attack by Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly, Rooney's comments attracted little public attention _ even from supporters.

``I don't know why,'' said Peter Hart, a media analyst at the liberal media watchdog Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. ``I don't know if people don't pay attention to him anymore. It was a rare moment for a journalist or commentator to do something like that and it didn't spark much interest or copycat commentary.''

Rooney said he got his share of letters, though.

``Only a handful were `I'm never going to watch ``60 Minutes'' again' letters,'' he said. ``The worst I got were, `I've always liked what you said and watch you every week but I was disappointed.' I get that kind, which is most influential to me. Those that just condemn me, I throw away.''

He's also gotten his share of ``I-told-you-so's'' recently.

``I felt chastened,'' he said. ``I had to think that I was a little wrong. There's no question that it's better without him in there, without Saddam Hussein.''

The question, he said, is how far the United States goes in removing bad guys or going after countries with weapons of mass destruction.

Rooney, a correspondent for Stars & Stripes during World War II, said there was more patriotism in the media back then.

He came under the influence of a pacifist professor before World War II and briefly considered becoming a conscientious objector then. ``It has embarrassed me ever since,'' he said.

``It made me nervous about my opposition to this war,'' he said. ``If I had been so wrong then, might I not be wrong again?''

Bauer said he was impressed that Rooney was willing to admit he was wrong.

``I often disagree with him but I admire the fact that he's a plain talker,'' he said. ``I think more of that will help the debate. I just hope that when we take on the next part of the axis of evil, he'll be on our side.''