By: E&P Staff
Last November 16, E. J. Dionne of The Washington Post delivered the annual Theodore H. White Lecture at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. The same evening, under the auspices of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, Molly Ivins was awarded the David Nyhan Prize for Political Journalism, named in honor of the famed Boston Globe columnist.
Now the Center has produced a booklet containing Dionne’s lecture, along with the Q and A that followed. But it also holds the transcript of what turned out to be, perhaps, Molly Ivins’ last public remarks away from her native Texas. She succumbed to cancer, which she had been fighting for some time, on January 31, 2007.
Ivins’ comments ranged far and wide, as was her wont, with many addressing the decline of newspapers and her ideas on how to combat that (halting newsroom cuts, for example). But in defending the press, she also highlighted some of its witty attributes, such as odd headlines, leads and police reports.
“I swear to you,” she testified, “if you put out a newspaper and all it said on its front was ‘guaranteed one good laugh a day,’ you would have a successful newspaper.” Then she claimed that she had served for many years as “the daily chuckle editor” at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
The following excerpt proves that Ivins was as funny as ever in her final days.
Now, before I depress everybody horribly, I thought I would talk about newspapers as entities that have important cultural pools, and that need to be kept intact.
One is of course that newspapers keep alive the tradition of collecting news, little gems from the police blotter, and in any small town newspaper you?ll find the police blotter, and it?s really full of interesting things. Well, actually, often not very interesting things, ?Dog heard barking, 6:00 a.m.?
But there are some gems, and the newspaper people are the only people in the world who save them. There was one not long ago from Mill Valley, California: ?Perp arrested, charged with disturbing the peace for playing a ukelele while wearing a penguin costume.?
Now this is the kind of thing that should not be let go.
And just to prove to you that it?s not some crazy out in Mill
Valley, we had one the other day, a small town in South Carolina, the perp was extremely drunk. And he had decided in his drunken state that it would be fun to screw a pumpkin, and so he did. And the police came up to him and said, “sir, are you aware that you?re screwing a pumpkin?”
And he said, “damn, is it midnight already?”
Now, the other thing that you find of course cherished in
newspapers is great leads, great leads written but not printed, great leads written and printed. I?ve always been terribly fond of one that appeared in The Odessa American.
It was a hot summer day in Odessa, which is definitely
redundant, and some local mother rear-ended a sporting goods van, and the back doors popped open on the sporting goods equipment, tennis rackets and stuff spilled all over the street. And for every reporter who has ever written a weather story, I know you will enjoy: “Golf balls the size of hail rained on the streets of Odessa on Tuesday.”
The most famous lead ever written and printed I believe is
from Chicago, and you?re going to have to help me, some of you here, it was the Leopold and Loeb case, and these two students of the University of Chicago had indulged in a thrill killing, and they had not been sentenced to death, but one was in the hoosegow and the other had promptly
And the one who was in the hoosegow was also gay and he had approached a fellow prisoner who was not appreciative of his gesture who shanked him to death. And the lead was, ?Nathan Leopold, a graduate of the University of Chicago, who should have known better, ended his sentence with a proposition Tuesday.?
One I like that was never printed anywhere, and this often
happens in sex ring stories?they usually tend to follow a certain pattern: Sure enough, the New Jersey State Police had uncovered a sex club, a clubhouse that contained whips and boots and spurs and all kinds of interesting
paraphernalia, and this was duly reported. Then, as often happens in these stories, the second day they found a small black book containing the names of those who frequented this interesting establishment, and sure as a buckeye, the names of many people who were prominent in New Jersey society and political circles appeared in this book.
So the second day lead, which went out over the “A” wire but never appeared anywhere was: ?The names of the whipped cream of New Jersey society were found Thursday
in a small black book.?
I think one of the things you should never forget about journalism is when you have done good, when you have nailed some skunk?s hide to the wall, you should sit there and gloat over it a great deal. That?s a big part of the fun. And those Washington journalists who say, “well, yes, I know I caused him to resign, and I really feel bad
about it” — oh, shut up.
There are certain subjects that are guaranteed to set people off — abortion, death penalty, they run in a subject area. I have a collection called my best hate mail, but I have to admit my all time favorite piece of mail is a fan letter and it begins: “Dear Ms. Ivins, you are the favorite writer of all us guys here on cellblock H.”