Missing Miss Molly

Photo of Molly Ivins from her page at the Creators Syndicate, for whom she began writing a column in 1992.


Molly Ivins died today. Sigh. Anthony Zurcher, also of Austin, was her editor at the Creator's Sundicate. .Zurcher wrote this anecdote in his tribute today:

For a woman who made a profession of offering her opinion to others, Molly was remarkably humble. She was known for hosting unforgettable parties at her Austin home, which would feature rollicking political discussions, and impromptu poetry recitals and satirical songs. At one such event, I noticed her dining table was littered with various awards and distinguished speaker plaques, put to use as trivets for steaming plates of tamales, chili and fajita meat. When I called this to her attention, Molly matter-of-factly replied, "Well, what else am I going to do with 'em?"

In her next to last syndicated column, "Iraq Exit is Up to Us" published on January 8, Ivins declared herself on an "old-fashioned newspaper campaign" and vowed to use every column she had to "write about this war until we find some way to end it."

Becky O'Malley, editor of the Berkely Daily Planet had proposed a tribute:

And now it really is up to us. While Molly is sick, the rest of us will have to carry her “old-fashioned newspaper campaign” forward.

With that in mind, the Berkeley Daily Planet is hereby launching what we might call the “Molly Ivins Festschrift.” A festschrift is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a volume of writings by different authors presented as a tribute or memorial especially to a scholar.” Academics are wont to create festschrifts on the occasion of a revered colleague’s 60th birthday, for example. Molly’s already 62, but no time like the present to catch up with what we should have done two years ago. And we might call it festschrift if we could reliably remember how to spell or pronounce that German word, but let’s just call it the Molly Ivins Tribute Project.

The idea is that her colleagues in the opinionated part of the journalistic world should take over her campaign while she’s sick, creating a deluge of columns about what’s wrong with Bush’s war and what should be done to set things right. It would be nice if a lot of these columns could be funny, since skewering serious subjects with humor is what Molly does best, but that’s not required.

Here at the Berkeley Daily Planet we’ve set up a special mailbox to receive the offerings, tribute@berkeleydailyplanet.com. We’ll publish them as they come in, at least one every day if possible, in our Internet edition, berkeleydailyplanet.com. We’d like them to be contributed free of copyright, so that any publication, print or online, can take them off the web and re-circulate them to their own readers. The best ones we’ll also run in our Tuesday and Friday printed papers. A good length would be 600-800 words, which would work for most publications. And of course, columnists under contract should just write pieces to run in their regular outlets.

At 10:18 tonight, Austin NBC affiliate KXAN posted its story with a place to add coments.

Molly Ivins was my favorite political columnist. She managed to combine irreverance and humor with a keen understanding of the facts. She's the one responsible for naming George Bush "Shrub." And in her last column for Creative Synidicate on January 11, she came up with the slogan, "We are the deciders" as she wrote about the January 27 March on Washington:

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!"


While I was in Washington on the 27th, I had no idea; I somehow missed the AP blurb on Friday, January 26, that Ivins had been hospitalized in her ongoing battle with cancer which had started in 1999. Caught up in writing about the march, then about the W&M president's travails, and finally working today to fill my taxes, I hadn't read the news from in Austin, which didn't seem so ominous. On Monday, January 29 at 11:31 a.m. , local station KXAN posted this story,

A close friend to Ivins told KXAN that even though the 62-year-old is sick, she still has her sense of humor, laughing and smiling with friends and family, visiting her in the hospital.

Ivins could be released from the hospital later Monday.

KXAN will keep you updated.

I missed Peter Rothberg entry January 30 at 5:00 p.m., "Molly's Pledge."In his blog for The Nation, "Act Now" spreading news of the Berkeley Planet charge.


September 24, 2006 Lisa Sandberg had written for the Houston Chronicle, “While battling politicians, writer is in a battle for her life / Illness hasn't dulled Ivins' wit” (available through E-Library or reprinted without a byline as an AP story on Editor and Publisher) .

At that time, going through her third bout of chemo and radiation, Ivins, Sandberg wrote, had a version of the disease had become "chronic-but-manageable, " although she suffered from constipation, "poor balance, only a few patches of hair on her head and no assurance her breast cancer won't undo her in the end."

Ivins told her, as she had told others,

I'm sorry to say (cancer) can kill you but it doesn't make you a better person.

But despite the treatments, Ivins had returned less than a week before from an 11-day, 227-mile raft trip through the Grand Canyon, a trip which she said reduced her ego "to the size of a grain of sand."

OK, a confession: The raft had a motor.

Second confession: Her loyal assistant, Betsy Moon, had warned the 16 people on the trip that she was "a fragile case." So you might have thought Ivins was the empress of China.

"People would bring me food and drink, and put up my tent," Ivins said.

Then she laughed heartily. She hadn't asked Moon to elicit sympathy, but she wasn't complaining.

"I'm not above using cancer as the world's greatest excuse," she said.

I prefer what people say during your lifetime, so some tidbits via Sandberg:

At a gathering in May, former President Clinton called her a "great journalist," who was "good when she praised me and painfully good when she criticized me."

Her brother Andy Ivins, a lawyer, 56:

"Sometimes her Texan accent can get a lot thicker depending on where she is." Her father, Jim Ivins, a corporate lawyer, argued about her about civil rights, the war in Vietnam, the women's movement. He was was a conservative Republican , which meant, according to Andy , that his sister could have been only one thing: a leftist. "She was going to be anything he wasn't."

Ivins on Bush:

She's fond of saying that calling President Bush "shallow" is like calling a dwarf "short."

On the GOP seizing both houses of the Texas Legislature in 2003:

Well, fellow Texans, they can stick a fork in us, cause we're done.

There are a bunch of good Ivins quotations at Whateveritisimagainstit.

  • Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?
  • Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush (with Lou Dubose)
  • Who Let the Dogs In? Incredible Political Animals I have Known.

Ivins interned at Houston Chronicle while at Smith College,

where she wrote up street closings and bridal news and recalls accidentally marrying off one bride to her father and writing that another had earned a "B.O." degree.

After Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism and working three years at the Minneapolis Tribune, Ivins returned home in 1970 to cover the Texas Legislature, became co-editor of the biweekly left newsmagazine The Texas Observer and was hired away by the New York Times where she was fired six years because, Ivins proudly told Sandberg, the top editor, A.M Rosenthal, didn't feel she showed

"due respect and deference to the great dignity of the New York Times.

Page View Statistics (visitor count no longer available from yahoo.)
January 2007: 9,239
2007 YTD: 9,239
2006 TOTAL: 61,308
Total since 1/1/06: 70,809

UPDATE: 2/1/07

She had been the Rocky Mountain bureau chief until she was summons back to New York by Rosenthal to cover City Hall. As the Harrrisonburg, Virginia Daily News Record, which ran her column editorialized today in "Molly Ivins,"

Her rollicking writing style often got her in trouble with one of her employers – The New York Times. Incandescent lines such as "squawked like a $2 fiddle," was transformed into "like an inexpensive instrument." Managing editor Abe Rosenthal also questioned her description of a chicken festival somewhere in Texas as a "gang pluck."

The "Gray Lady" couldn't hack Molly 27 years later. Here's how the NYT tells it in her obit, "Molly Ivins, Columnist, Dies at 62:"

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.

Wendy M. Grossman (email, website, bio)quotes Media Circus by Howard Kurtz at her Live Journal entry:

The classic Ivins tale involves her story about an all-day community chicken slaughter in a New Mexico town. Ivins couldn't resist describing it as a "gang pluck", knowing full well the phrase would never make it past the copy desk. Ivins was promptly removed as Rocky Mountain bureau chief and ushered into Rosenthal's office.

"He said, 'You used the word gang pluck.' I said, 'I thought it was a good line. 'He said, 'Gang pluck.' I said, 'It was a play on words. He said, 'Gang pluck. Gang pluck sounds like gang fuck. You were trying to make our readers think of the word fuck.' I said, 'Damn, Abe, you are a hard man to fool.'"

UPDATE 2/3/07: Greg Mitchell's take, "The Plucking Truth," in Editor and Publisher

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.