Recent ‘E&P’ Interview With Ivins: Keep Independent Voices Alive, She Said

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By: E&P Staff

(E&P published the following article about Molly Ivins last November in print and online, written by frequent contributor Barbara Bedway. It was one of her final interviews.)

You’d expect Molly Ivins — syndicated columnist, best-selling author, and veteran eviscerator of the pompous and mendacious — to freely offer her opinions to a reporter, and she does, even suggesting this lede: “Molly Ivins Still Not Dead.”

The third recurrence of the breast cancer she has been battling since 1999 (and which recently claimed her good friend, former Texas Gov. Ann Richards) has left the 62-year-old Ivins with precarious balance, minimal hair, and no illusions about the redemptive quality of life-threatening illness. “I’d hoped to become a better person from confronting my own mortality,” she laughs. “But it hasn’t happened.”

What has happened, and continues to happen, are her two columns a week, syndicated in hundreds of newspapers, wittily skewering Republicans and “Republican-lite” Democrats with her trademark, Texas-size sense of humor, politely referred to as “ribald” in some quarters. (She contends she was fired from The New York Times back in 1982 for, among other things, referring to a community’s annual chicken-killing festival as a “gang pluck.”) Her passion for newspapers, and the good they can do, remains undiminished. As chair of the Texas Observer board, she’s especially intent on helping to keep alive the print media’s small, independent voices.

“We must keep these alive, or you lose an incredibly important part of journalism,” she says. “The Observer breaks a lot of stories, but its real function is to move stories up the food chain. They get picked up by The Washington Post and the New York Times. We broke a big chunk of the Indian casinos stuff on Abramoff, and were the first to do the DeLay stuff.

“That proves it doesn’t take that many horses to get the story; it takes a culture where it’s assumed you get up off your ass and get the story.”

Ivins says she’s “perfectly comfortable” with the idea that newsgathering will move to the Internet. You’ll have still the same problems: Find out whether it’s true, and put it in a package that’s useful. “I think this so-called war or competition between bloggers and the mainstream media is just plain silly,” she adds. “We all need to be supporting one another. I’m fond of many bloggers I read.” She cited Atrios, DailyKos and Talking Points Memo.

She’s tired of being asked if she minds being part of a “dying” industry. “What really pisses me off,” she asserts, “is being part of one that’s committing suicide.” She describes “this most remarkable business plan: Newspaper owners look at one another and say, ‘Our rate of return is slipping a bit; let’s solve that problem by making our product smaller and less helpful and less interesting.'”

Ivins offers them this piece of advice: “Damn fools, wake up and think.”

What may ultimately happen, she believes, is that “we settle into some form of prestige papers, a bit like the British model, where there are papers that cover government and other important subjects, and a popular press that’s all tits and ass.” For now, however, she reads the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Austin daily, “and a lot more online.” The paper she trusts the most is the Los Angeles Times which, she says, makes the recent cuts there so hard to stomach — “depressing,” actually.

Ivins has published six books, four of them best-sellers, including “Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?” The author is working with Lou Dubose on her next book, whose subject — what happened to the Bill of Rights? ? is undeniably a timely one, she feels. “The publisher doesn’t know this yet,” she avows, “but we’re thinking of calling it ‘Chickensnake in the Hen House.’ It’s a story about getting so scared that you hurt yourself.”

On Oct. 7 in Austin, she was roasted at a benefit for the Texas Democracy Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the Observer. The billing for the affair was true to its star: “A Roast? Hell No! It’s a BBQ.”

And how did she react in a column yesterday to the Democrats’ triumph in the midterm elections? “OK, here?s what the D?s have going for them,” she wrote. “New kids. Easy, popular first moves?for example, increasing the minimum wage. Republicans so inept that it?s painful. You want to look at some really, really basic legislation, try fixing the Medicare prescription drug bill. Or the bankruptcy bill. Or new dollar and trade policies.

“Then we get to the real meat of this election. There are all manner of shuffle steps and politically shrewd thing for the D?s to do. But now is not the time to be clever. The Democrats won this election because we are involved in a disastrous war. We know how to do this: Declare victory, and go home.”

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