By: Greg Mitchell
When Molly Ivins passed away this week, many obits and loving tributes recalled one of her most famous lines ? not because it was her sharpest or funniest, but because it helped spark her departure from The New York Times. Of course, we refer to her calling a chicken slaughtering festival 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 its story.
Then the Times had the nerve to include a link to that deeply offensive July 12, 1980, chicken article in its list of nine selected articles written by Ivins that it posted online.
First, here?s how the Los Angeles Times told the story this week ? later published by 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?.
?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 Salon.com 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 the Times 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.?