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Thread: Molly Ivins, Columnist, Dies at 62

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    Default Molly Ivins, Columnist, Dies at 62

    February 1, 2007
    Molly Ivins, Columnist, Dies at 62

    Molly Ivins, the liberal newspaper columnist who delighted in skewering politicians and interpreting, and mocking, her Texas culture, died yesterday in Austin. She was 62.

    Ms. Ivins waged a public battle against breast cancer after her diagnosis in 1999. Betsy Moon, her personal assistant, confirmed her death last night. Ms. Ivins died at her home surrounded by family and friends.

    In her syndicated column, which appeared in about 350 newspapers, Ms. Ivins cultivated the voice of a folksy populist who derided those who she thought acted too big for their britches. She was rowdy and profane, but she could filet her opponents with droll precision.

    After Patrick J. Buchanan, as a conservative candidate for president, declared at the 1992 Republican National Convention that the United States was engaged in a cultural war, she said his speech “probably sounded better in the original German.”

    “There are two kinds of humor,” she told People magazine. One was the kind “that makes us chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity,” she said. “The other kind holds people up to public contempt and ridicule. That’s what I do.”

    Hers was a feisty voice that she developed in the early 1970s at The Texas Observer, the muckraking paper that came out every two weeks and that would become her spiritual home for life.

    Her subject was Texas. To her, the Great State, as she called it, was “reactionary, cantankerous and hilarious,” and its Legislature was “reporter heaven.” When the Legislature is set to convene, she warned her readers, “every village is about to lose its idiot.”

    Her Texas upbringing made her something of an expert on the Bush family. She viewed the first President George Bush benignly. (“Real Texans do not use the word ‘summer’ as a verb,” she wrote.)

    But she derided the current President Bush, whom she first knew in high school. She called him Shrub and Dubya. With the Texas journalist Lou Dubose, she wrote two best-selling books about Mr. Bush: “Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush” (2000) and “Bushwhacked” (2003).

    In 2004 she campaigned against Mr. Bush’s re-election, and as the war in Iraq continued, she called for his impeachment. Last month, in her last column, she urged readers to “raise hell” against the war.

    On Wednesday night, President Bush issued a statement that said he “respected her convictions, her passionate belief in the power of words, and her ability to turn a phrase.”

    Mr. Bush added: “Her quick wit and commitment to her beliefs will be missed.”

    Mary Tyler Ivins was born on Aug. 30, 1944, in California and grew up in the affluent Houston neighborhood of River Oaks. Her father, James, a conservative Republican, was general counsel and later president of the Tenneco Corporation, an oil and gas company.

    As a student at private school, Ms. Ivins was tall and big-boned and often felt out of place. “I spent my girlhood as a Clydesdale among thoroughbreds,” she said.

    She developed her liberal views partly from reading The Texas Observer at a friend’s house. Those views led to fierce arguments with her father about civil rights and the Vietnam War.

    “I’ve always had trouble with male authority figures because my father was such a martinet,” she told Texas Monthly.

    After her father developed advanced cancer and shot himself to death in 1998, she wrote, “I believe that all the strength I have comes from learning how to stand up to him.”

    Like her mother, Margot, and a grandmother, Ms. Ivins went to Smith College in Northampton, Mass. She also studied at the Institute of Political Science in Paris and earned a master’s degree at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

    Her first newspaper jobs were at The Houston Chronicle and The Minneapolis Tribune, now The Star Tribune. In 1970, she jumped at the chance to become co-editor of The Texas Observer.

    Covering the Legislature, she found characters whose fatuousness helped focus her calling and define her persona, which her friends saw as populist and her detractors saw as manufactured cornpone. Even her friends marveled at how fast she could drop her Texas voice for what they called her Smith voice. Sometimes she combined them, as in, “The sine qua non, as we say in Amarillo.”

    Ronnie Dugger, the former publisher of The Texas Observer, said the political circus in Texas inspired Ms. Ivins. “It was like somebody snapped the football to her and said, ‘All the rules are off, this is the football field named Texas, and it’s wide open,’ ” Mr. Dugger said.

    In 1976, her writing, which she said was often fueled by “truly impressive amounts of beer,” landed her a job at The New York Times. She cut an unusual figure in The Times newsroom, wearing blue jeans, going barefoot and bringing in her dog, whose name was an expletive.

    While she drew important writing assignments, like covering the Son of Sam killings and Elvis Presley’s death, she sensed she did not fit in and complained that Times editors drained the life from her prose. “Naturally, I was miserable, at five times my previous salary,” she later wrote. “The New York Times is a great newspaper: it is also No Fun.”

    After a stint in Albany, she was transferred to Denver to cover the Rocky Mountain States, where she continued to challenge her editors’ tolerance for prankish writing.

    Covering an annual chicken slaughter in New Mexico in 1980, she used a sexually suggestive phrase, which her editors deleted from the final article. But her effort to use it angered the executive editor, A. M. Rosenthal, who ordered her back to New York and assigned her to City Hall, where she covered routine matters with little flair.
    She quit The Times in 1982 after The Dallas Times Herald offered to make her a columnist. She took the job even though she loathed Dallas, once describing it as the kind of town “that would have rooted for Goliath to beat David.”

    But the newspaper, she said, promised to let her write whatever she wanted. When she declared of a congressman, “If his I.Q. slips any lower, we’ll have to water him twice a day,” many readers were appalled, and several advertisers boycotted the paper. In her defense, her editors rented billboards that read: “Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?” The slogan became the title of the first of her six books.

    After The Times Herald folded in 1991, she wrote for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, until 2001, when her column was syndicated by Creators Syndicate.

    Ms. Ivins, who never married, is survived by a brother, Andy, of London, Tex., and a sister, Sara Ivins Maley, of Albuquerque. One of her closest friends was Ann Richards, the former Texas governor, who died last year. The two shared an irreverence for power and a love of the Texas wilds.
    “Molly is a great raconteur, with a long memory,” Ms. Richards said, “and she’s the best person in the world to take on a camping trip because she’s full of good-ol’-boy stories.”

    Ms. Ivins worked at a breakneck pace, adding television appearances, book tours, lectures and fund-raising to a crammed writing schedule. She also wrote for Esquire, The Atlantic Monthly and The Nation.

    An article about her in 1996 in The Star-Telegram suggested that her work overload might have caused an increase in factual errors in her columns. (She eventually hired a fact-checker.) And in 1995, the writer Florence King accused Ms. Ivins of lifting passages Ms. King had written and using them in 1988 for an article in Mother Jones. Ms. Ivins had credited Ms. King six times in the article but not in two lengthy sentences, and she apologized to Ms. King.

    Ms. Ivins learned she had breast cancer in 1999 and was typically unvarnished in describing her treatments. “First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you,” she wrote. “I have been on blind dates better than that.”

    But she kept writing her columns and kept writing and raising money for The Texas Observer.

    Indeed, rarely has a reporter so embodied the ethos of her publication. On the paper’s 50th anniversary in 2004, she wrote: “This is where you can tell the truth without the bark on it, laugh at anyone who is ridiculous, and go after the bad guys with all the energy you have.”

    Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Molly Ivins: The Whole Plucking Truth

    Molly Ivins' departure from The New York Times long ago came after the paper acted "chicken" and refused to let her use the phrase "gang pluck" in a story. More than a quarter century later, in its obit this week, the paper still refused to use it.

    raw story /

    By Greg Mitchell
    February 3, 2006

    (February 03, 2007) -- When Molly Ivins passed away this week, many obits and loving tributes recalled one of her most famous lines – not because it was her greatest or funniest, but because it helped spark her departure from The New York Times. Of course, we refer to her calling a chicken cleaning event in New Mexico a “gang pluck” back in 1980. Even though there were no swear words involved, the stodgy Times censored the phrase and subsequently pushed her out the door.

    Surely, in swinging 2007, with some of the greyness drained out of the Grey Lady by now, the paper would finally print the phrase in its Ivins obituary? Uh, think again. Didn’t happen. Censored again. The phrase was, still, just too offensive for the Times, which described it this week as “sexually suggestive.”

    Not so everywhere else, of course. Even the Daily News-Record in tiny Harrisonburg, Va., put “gang pluck” in print.

    Then the Times had the nerve to include a link to that deeply offensive July 12, 1980, chicken slaughtering article in its list of nine selected Times articles written by Ivins that it posted online.

    First, here’s how the Los Angeles Times told the story this week – later published in the Times’ sister publication, The Boston Globe: “She chronicled the mistakes and misdeeds of Texas lawmakers for five years until she was hired away by The New York Times in 1976. She covered New York politics, then became the paper's Rocky Mountain bureau chief, but the match of Ms. Ivins and the Grey Lady of journalism was misbegotten from the get-go. The paper flattened and defoliated her colorful prose&hellip.

    “The line that ended her New York Times career came in a story about a community chicken-killing festival. Ms. Ivins called the event a ‘gang pluck,’ a choice of words that caused her to be ‘sort of abruptly recalled like a defective automobile and replaced,’ she told in 2000.”

    The aforementioned Harrisonburg, Va. paper put it this way: “Managing editor Abe Rosenthal also questioned her description of a chicken festival somewhere in Texas as a ‘gang pluck.’”

    The much larger but still conservative Dallas Morning News related: “The grey lady and the red-headed one parted ways after Ms. Ivins covered a New Mexico community chicken festival and wanted to refer to it as ‘a gang pluck.’" Bloomberg News used the phrase, too; so did Time magazine. And, not so surprisingly, the Austin American-Statesman.

    But the phrase was reduced to the following in this week's Times’ obit: "Covering an annual chicken slaughter in New Mexico in 1980, she used a sexually suggestive phrase, which her editors deleted from the final article. But her effort to use it angered the executive editor, A. M. Rosenthal, who ordered her back to New York and assigned her to City Hall, where she covered routine matters with little flair."

    You might say they chickened out.

    Why did this happen? Times obituary editor Bill McDonald told the Village Voice: "We thought that the standard hadn't really changed. It was still a gratuitous remark that we didn't need to repeat, even now."

    The Voice headline was: ‘Plucky Molly Muzzled from the Grave.”

    © 2007 The Nielsen Company

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    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Molly Ivins Archive

    This site ^^^ has links to Molly Ivins' colums from January 2004 up through her final column, published on 01/11/2007:

    Stand Up Against the Surge

    The purpose of this old-fashioned newspaper crusade to stop the war is not to make George W. Bush look like the dumbest president ever. People have done dumber things. What were they thinking when they bought into the Bay of Pigs fiasco? How dumb was the Egypt-Suez war? How massively stupid was the entire war in Vietnam? Even at that, the challenge with this misbegotten adventure is that WE simply cannot let it continue.

    It is not a matter of whether we will lose or we are losing. We have lost. Gen. John P. Abizaid, until recently the senior commander in the Middle East, insists that the answer to our problems there is not military. "You have to internationalize the problem. You have to attack it diplomatically, geo-strategically," he said.

    His assessment is supported by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior American commander in Iraq, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who only recommend releasing forces with a clear definition of the goals for the additional troops.

    Bush's call for a "surge" or "escalation" also goes against the Iraq Study Group. Talk is that the White House has planned to do anything but what the group suggested after months of investigation and proposals based on much broader strategic implications.

    About the only politician out there besides Bush actively calling for a surge is Sen. John McCain. In a recent opinion piece, he wrote: "The presence of additional coalition forces would allow the Iraqi government to do what it cannot accomplish today on its own — impose its rule throughout the country. ... By surging troops and bringing security to Baghdad and other areas, we will give the Iraqis the best possible chance to succeed." But with all due respect to the senator from Arizona, that ship has long since sailed.

    A surge is not acceptable to the people in this country — we have voted overwhelmingly against this war in polls (about 80 percent of the public is against escalation, and a recent Military Times poll shows only 38 percent of active military want more troops sent) and at the polls.

    We know this is wrong. The people understand, the people have the right to make this decision, and the people have the obligation to make sure our will is implemented.

    Congress must work for the people in the resolution of this fiasco. Ted Kennedy's proposal to control the money and tighten oversight is a welcome first step. And if Republicans want to continue to rubber-stamp this administration's idiotic "plans" and go against the will of the people, they should be thrown out as soon as possible, to join their recent colleagues.

    Anyone who wants to talk knowledgably about our Iraq misadventure should pick up Rajiv Chandrasekaran's "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone." It's like reading a horror novel. You just want to put your face down and moan: How could we have let this happen? How could we have been so stupid?

    As The Washington Post's review notes, Chandrasekaran's book "methodically documents the baffling ineptitude that dominated U.S. attempts to influence Iraq's fiendish politics, rebuild the electrical grid, privatize the economy, run the oil industry, recruit expert staff or instill a modicum of normalcy to the lives of Iraqis."

    We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we're for them and trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets to protest Bush's proposed surge. If you can, go to the peace march in Washington on Jan. 27. We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, "Stop it, now!"

    To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at



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    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by lofter1 View Post

    Molly Ivins: The Whole Plucking Truth

    ... Times obituary editor Bill McDonald told the Village Voice: "We thought that the standard hadn't really changed. It was still a gratuitous remark that we didn't need to repeat, even now."

    The Voice headline was: ‘Plucky Molly Muzzled from the Grave.”
    "Plucky" Molly Muzzled From the Grave

    Photo from
    February 2, 2006

    Anyone reading the New York Times' obituary of sharp-witted liberal columnist Molly Ivins yesterday had to wonder just what was the scandalous "sexually suggestive phrase" that got Ivins in so much trouble with the paper's publisher—and still can't make it past the censors a quarter century later:
    "Covering an annual chicken slaughter in New Mexico in 1980, she used a sexually suggestive phrase, which her editors deleted from the final article," writes Katharine Seelye. "But her effort to use it angered the executive editor, A. M. Rosenthal, who ordered her back to New York and assigned her to City Hall, where she covered routine matters with little flair."
    We hope you're sitting down. In his own obit, the Austin American-Statesman's W. Gardner Selby draws aside the curtain of good taste:
    "Covering nine states, she dispatched stories from spots such as Window Rock, Ariz., and Kammera Ranch, S.D., until editors leashed her in New York in mid-1980 after she attempted to enliven an account of an annual chicken slaughter/celebration in Corrales, N.M. by using the words "gang pluck," a descriptive that did not reach print."

    So why, in an article meant to honor the feisty Texan, did the Times repeat its snub, smoothing out the edginess that made her who she was? Wasn't there at least some newsroom debate that maybe, just maybe, the time had come to give a little, if not in honor of a great humorist, then at least out of respect for a modern readership unlikely to be offended by such a harmless pun?

    No, according to obituary editor Bill McDonald. "We thought that the standard hadn't really changed," he said. "It was still a gratuitous remark that we didn't need to repeat, even now."


    The way I heard the story made it even better. Molly was summoned to executive editor Abe Rosenthal's office. He was spluttering with indignation. "You tried to get an allusion to gang **** into the New York Times!" he thundered. To which Molly drawled, in mock admiration, "By God, Abe, nothing gets by you."

    Posted: February 3, 2007 8:44 AM

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    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    © Tim Porter 2001

    Molly Ivins Talks 'Bushisms'

    Morning Edition, October 15, 2002

    Commentator Molly Ivins has her latest collection of 'Bushisms.'
    Since George W. Bush's days as Governor of Texas, Ivins
    has kept track of, and poked fun at, his malapropisms
    and mangled phrases.

    AP Photo / Henny Ray Abrams, File
    In this Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2005 file photo released by
    International Women's Media Foundation, syndicated
    American columnist Molly Ivins holds the
    Lifetime Achievement Award for 2005 she received
    from the International Womens Media Foundation,
    in New York. Best-selling author and columnist Ivins,
    the sharp-witted liberal who skewered the
    political establishment and referred to President Bush
    as "Shrub," died Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2007
    after a long battle with breast cancer. She was 62.

    Mark Perlstein Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
    Molly Ivins (right) shares a laugh with the late Ann Richards,
    former Texas governor, in 1991.

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    Forum Veteran MidtownGuy's Avatar
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    May she rest in peace... She gave me many laughs and so much information over the years. She was one hell of a lady and will be dearly missed.

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