It’s time for Louis Rukeyser to shut up, go away and maybe even head to the barber’s for a buzz cut.
There are two potential problems with a sentence like that to start off a column. First, people who like Louis Rukeyser are immediately annoyed. Second, people who don’t know Louis Rukeyser, or who don’t care about him, are immediately bored, and might decide not to read any further.
In the first case, I’ll take the chance. In the second, I’ll ask you to read what follows anyhow, because the Rukeyser case provides a startlingly effective example of what can happen when a TV anchor’s ego breaks through the boundaries of the cranium and takes on the proportions of one of those watermelons that wins a ribbon at the county fair.
Things didn’t start out that way, though. In the beginning, when Maryland Public Television decided to replace Rukeyser as host of the long-running PBS program Wall Street Week, Rukeyser seemed the victim — perhaps of ageism, perhaps simply of a bad management decision. When he blasted MPT management, with a sharp vocabulary and coarse tones, we rooted for him; he was the little guy, almost a Dickens kind of hero, striking back as best he could at forces both larger and more malignant than he. Way to go, Looey! Don’t let the bums get away with it!
But then we tuned into his new show on CNBC, and couldn’t help but notice again what we had noticed many times before but failed to admit to ourselves. How do I say this kindly? I can’t. Louis Rukeyser is one of the biggest stiffs ever to appear on American television. He has a pompous manner, a plastered smile, a phony way of winking at the camera; he seems like a bad actor auditioning for the role of a used car salesman in a low-budget movie.
But even the worst of actors knows to stick to the script. Rukeyser has kept ad-libbing, and although his continuing stream of vituperative comments is meant to disparage his former bosses, what it really does is reveal Rukeyser to be more self-absorbed in real life than Ted Knight was in his role as Ted Baxter on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
Two months have now passed since Rukeyser’s dismissal from Wall Street Week. That is long enough for anyone’s venom to have run its course, at least in public. Yet Rukeyser is still at it. Just a few days ago he said this about his firing: "The whole thing was dumb, deceptive and graceless." He continued: "[Maryland Public Television and PBS] trashed one of their biggest assets. When you need good programs you don’t treat one of your few jewels this way."
What kind of person solemnly and loudly declares himself a jewel? Someone who barely achieves the status of rhinestone on his best days, that’s what kind.
What kind of person soberly and ostentatiously declares himself one of his former employer’s biggest assets? Someone who is, in truth, one of his former employer’s biggest asses, that’s what kind.
Rukeyser went on to call for the resignation of the top executives at PBS, including chief executive Pat Mitchell. Perhaps one day he’ll get a speeding ticket and call for the resignation of President Bush.
Looey, Looey, Looey. You had everybody on your side when you got the axe. Now you’ve got people wondering why MPT waited so long to slip it to you. Pipe down, put a lid on it, zip it up. You’ve still got a TV show; you’ve still got the business community on your side; you’ve still got at least some of your former reputation left. Two months’ worth of bitter denunciations and megalomaniacal self-pitying are enough.
I just hope you’ve been investing your money of late more wisely than you’ve been investing your time.
Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT .