By Susan Reimer
CBS COMMENTATOR newspaper columnist Andy Rooney makes what I am sure is a pretty good living as an irascible old curmudgeon, but his trademark crankiness gets him into trouble, too.
In 1990, he was suspended by CBS News for 32 days for inflammatory comments he made about gays to a gay newspaper that, in turn, ended up on a CBS news special.
In 1992 he found himself in hot water for saying that American Indians should lighten up on the topic of sports nicknames such as "Redskins."
In 1997, he angered that group once more by declaring that "so-called Indian casinos are a joke," and denouncing their owners as "sleazeballs."
In 1999, without naming names, he complained that "the most beautiful woman in television news" had had cosmetic surgery and now looked "as if she had been in a minor automobile accident."
And last year, he complained during a television sports show that women sideline reporters have "no business being down there (on the field) trying to make some comment about a football game."
So it was no surprise when he threw a few well-worn brickbats at the French for failing to support the war in Iraq earlier this year.
"You can't beat the French when it comes to food, fashion, wine or perfume, but they lost their license to have an opinion on world affairs years ago," he said on 60 Minutes.
"The French lost World War II to the Germans in about 20 minutes."
And listeners were dismayed by his bleak views after the fall of Baghdad.
"I've lived a long while now and I don't remember any more unpleasant times than these," the 84-year-old Rooney said. "There aren't any good wars, but this one is especially bad."
It seems to me that if someone is paid to be cranky and irritable, it isn't fair to complain that he is too cranky or too irritable. At some point, Andy Rooney becomes a bargain.
But I have often wondered if a grumpy old woman would have the same standing in the news business.
All my irritations at the irritable Andy Rooney fled when an e-mail came to me purporting to quote him on the virtues of the older woman.
Here are just a few of the lovely reasons he gave for liking us so much.
"An older woman knows herself well enough to be assured in who she is, what she is, what she wants and from whom. Few women past the age of 40 give a damn what you think about her or what she's doing.
"Older women are generous with praise, often undeserved. They know what it's like to be unappreciated.
"Older women are forthright and honest. They'll tell you right off you are a jerk if you are acting like one. You don't ever have to wonder where you stand with her.
"Older women are dignified. They seldom have a screaming match with you at the opera or in the middle of an expensive restaurant."
It went on like that for a while, and every word swelled my sense of worth and my admiration for Andy Rooney.
The trouble is, he didn't write it.
"It just bugs me that anybody would put my name on something I didn't write," said Rooney from his New York office. He's been the object of this kind of hoax before, and another, he said, had crossed his desk just this week.
I asked him if he shared the author's affection for older women, and he said, "Not particularly."
"But what makes me maddest of all," he said, irritably, "is when somebody like you likes it."
The tribute to women was actually written by columnist Frank Kaiser of Clearwater, Fla.
"I actually wrote it in 2000," said Kaiser from his home, "but about a year ago, I started seeing it come back to me in e-mails attributed to Andy Rooney."
Kaiser's self-syndicated column is called "Suddenly Senior," and you can find this one, and others, on his Web site: www.suddenlysenior.com
"It didn't bother me too much. That's sort of the nature of the Internet.
"I wrote him and made a joke about it and he called me. You know, he's just as cantankerous on the phone as he is on the air," said the former ad man.
Unfortunately, not every reporter called CBS to check on the authenticity of the Rooney column, and Robert Boyd of the Reno Gazette-Journal wrote April 1 praising Rooney for praising older women, and there is no April Fool's Day punchline.
So on April 2, a disclaimer began to appear at the bottom of Frank Kaiser's column saying that it was not written by Andy Rooney and that Mr. Rooney had called and said that he hoped to get to the bottom of this matter.
I'm just glad I didn't further this Internet hoax, because I know for a fact that Andy Rooney is not amused, and that he isn't all that fond of us women over 40.
Copyright © 2003, The Baltimore Sun
Read Frank's column, "In Praise of Older Women"