America lost one of its most incisive political writers—and FAIR one of the supporters we were most proud to have—when Molly Ivins died from breast cancer on January 31 at the age of 62.
Molly got her start in journalism at the complaints department of the Houston Chronicle—which must have been an education—and was editor of the estimable Texas Observer in the 1970s, before being hired away by the New York Times as part of an ill-fated effort to spice up its stodgy writing. (She was famously called on the carpet in 1980 for calling a chicken-killing contest a “gang pluck”—a turn of phrase that the Times still considered too vulgar to include in Molly’s February 1 obituary.)
She became a columnist for the Dallas Times Herald, and when that paper up and died on her, she signed up with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Her column eventually became nationally syndicated, and at the time of her death—her last column ran January 11, opposing Bush’s Iraq surge—she was probably the U.S.’s best-read journalist on the left.
Molly’s first collection of columns was called Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?, and a big part of her ability to state uncomfortable truths was her biting yet big-hearted sense of humor. It seems like many if not most progressives who manage to reach a wide audience through American media are funny—from Michael Moore and Jim Hightower going back to Will Rogers and Mark Twain. And that makes perfect sense, if you consider how we use humor in everyday life to express things that would otherwise be too awkward.
If her many mainstream media admirers couldn’t really admit how radical her work was, that just shows how effective the trick was. She “poked fun at the powerful,” according to the headline of her Washington Post obit (2/1/07)—a description that would be more appropriate for a Rich Little death notice. Molly summed up her attitude in a 1993 Mother Jones column (5-6/93): “So keep fightin’ for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don’t you forget to have fun doin’ it.” It’s hard to imagine hearing a line like that even from Jon Stewart. We miss you, Molly.