A TV News Family Affair: The Rooneys Stick Together in Good Times, and Bad

By Gail Shister Comment


Brian Rooney, his father Andy Rooney and sister Emily Rooney in a LIFE magazine story from the Spring of 1993.

When you mess with one Rooney, you mess with them all.

Ergo, when veteran correspondent Brian Rooney becomes a victim of ABC News’ slash-and-burn cuts, the whole family fumes.

“Maybe ABC is in bigger trouble than we know,” says his father, “60 Minutes” commentator Andy Rooney, 91. “It seems unfair. They should have more concern for their own employees, and find a way to keep the ones who have been there a long while.”

Brian Rooney, 58, an L.A.-based staffer for 22 years, was told last month that his contract, which expires April 30, would not be renewed.

Sister Emily Rooney, dumped by ABC in 1994 after a hiccup as executive producer of Peter Jennings‘ “World News Tonight”, says her kid brother was shafted.

“He’s been a loyal foot soldier, not one of the stars,” opines Rooney, 60, a producer at Boston’s WGBH. “He’s gone into war zones, covered wildfires, flown around the country in rickety airplanes. He’s put himself in harm’s way.

“For him to be given the brush-off like that is stunning.”

For his part, Brian Rooney is trying to choose his words carefully. The Rooneys “are kind of a hard bunch” when it comes to overt displays of emotion, he says, but this time is an exception to the rule.

“I’ve taken it hard,” he says softly. “It’s been emotionally wrenching. When you’re suddenly removed from a job you’ve eaten, breathed and lived for 22 years, it’s like hitting a brick wall at 100 miles an hour.

“I think I earned my job, and was still earning my job even when I was fired. When the job consumes so much of your life and has frequent risks, there is a social contract beyond an employment contract.”

Three of ABC’s six Western correspondents were laid off, including Lisa Fletcher, Rooney’s colleague in the L.A. bureau, and Laura Marquez in San Francisco. Mike Von Fremd (L.A.), Ryan Owens (Dallas) and Neal Karlinsky (Seattle) were spared.

Rooney describes his lameduck status as “a slow death. I’m still here but I’m not here. Events are happening, but I’m not part of them.” He had the option of sitting out the remainder of his contract. He chose to stay at the bureau.

“What a lot of people might not understand about this is that we’ve all been together so long, we’re savoring the last days and weeks we have together,” says Rooney, father of two teenaged girls.

His last “World News” hit was Jan. 12, on Conan O’Brien’s resignation from NBC. Most of Rooney’s work has run on “Nightline” lately; his final piece is being edited. He’s close to locking in a freelance deal with the broadcast, he says.

Rooney is the third in his family to have worked at ABC. In addition to Emily, sister Ellen, 62, a freelance photographer in London, was a film editor there. And if those aren’t enough family ties for you, nephew Justin Fishel is Pentagon producer for Fox News.

Bottom line: Team Rooney is bullish on Brian.

“He’s good. He won’t be out of work forever,’ says father Andy. Adds Emily:

“My brother is talented, funny and handsome as hell. I happen to think he’s hirable.”