Molly Irvins Dies at 62

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Molly Irvins Dies at 62

Post by Ralph » Wed Jan 31, 2007 11:11 pm

From The New York Times:

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 ideological 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 biweekly 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.

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. Graduating in 1966, 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 move to Austin, where she became 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 quickly she could drop her Texas voice for what they called her Smith voice. Sometimes she combined the two, 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 continued to write her columns and continued to write and raise 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.”

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Post by anasazi » Wed Jan 31, 2007 11:34 pm

She certainly had spit and vinegar. And I will miss reading her columns.

Molly may rest in peace, but I doubt that the good Lord will, now. :wink:
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Re: Molly Irvins Dies at 62

Post by burnitdown » Wed Jan 31, 2007 11:51 pm

Ralph wrote: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.”
Suddenly, I'm glad she's dead.

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Post by miranda » Thu Feb 01, 2007 1:06 am

I'm not. I will miss her. I will miss her wit, keen intelligence, and optimism.

But, burnitdown, I'm not surprised at your gladness over her passing, having clicked on your link and seeing that you evidently hold fascism, and people like Benito Mussolini, in high esteem.
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

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Post by Corlyss_D » Thu Feb 01, 2007 4:00 am

She was funny before she turned her political opposition to Republicans generally and Bush in particular into a mind-numbing crusade.I've missed the funny parts for, oh, about 13 years. The only difference is now the body has gone wherever the sense of humor went.
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