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Good Golly, Miss Molly!

Texas journalist Molly Ivins gets a well deserved biography that fills in some blanks.

Book Cover Not to name drop or anything but I had the pleasure of “interviewing” (I don’t call my conversations with writers and the like interviews, but that is not what I am writing about today) Molly Ivins (Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?) a couple of times and those few hours reinforced my appreciation of her feisty humor and even more my respect for her dedication to her calling as a journalist.

It’s a pleasure to note that Bill Minutaglio (First Son: George W. Bush & The Bush Family Dynasty), a journalism professor at the University of Texas, and W. Michael Smith, who worked with Molly as researcher, have written Molly Ivins: A Rebel Life (Public Affairs). It’s a full-bodied biography that delves into the complexities and travails and triumphs of Ivins’s life (she died of breast cancer at the age of 62 in 2006).

In case you are somehow unaware of the late Ms. Ivins, she was a Texas-born journalist whose irreverent and rollicking political commentary ran in over 400 newspapers. Her career began in Minnesota as the police reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune, moving on to co-edit the Texas Observer where she covered the colorful flora and fauna of Texas politics. Ivins did a brief stint at the New York Times where apparently she did not fit in—she was famously admonished by her senior editors (Abe Rosenthal) for writing about a “community chicken-killing festival” in New Mexico and called it a “gang-pluck.”

One wouldn’t think that any bad feeling lingered at the Times, but how else to explain assigning the review of this book to a gossip columnist—seemingly one of really lofty standards?

It is, of course, vexing to read that the author’s of A Rebel Life have failed to be “convincing as the biography of a significant figure in journalism.” And they “fall short of making their case” that she was, variously, “one of the best-known and most influential journalists in American history” and “a Texas Mark Twain.” This, from a journalistic pygmy who deigns to refer to co-author Smith, a well-respected researcher, as “Ivins’s gofer”

Have a look at the attached video, search-engine “Molly Ivins,” and certainly, read this book—no more than this will be needed to place that ill-conceived review in the dust bin of history, where it belongs, and confirm Molly Ivins’s significance and suggest the large empty space in American journalism left by her passing.
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Robert Birnbaum is editor-at-large at Identity Theory. All the sketchy details of his life will be (re)fabricated in his memoir-in-progress, Just Talking: How to Do Things With Words. His weblog can be found here. More by Robert Birnbaum

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