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2007-02-01

Molly Ivins, 1944-2007: Legendary Texas Journalist Dies After Long Bout With Breast Cancer

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The syndicated columnist and best-selling author Molly Ivins passed away last night following a long bout with breast cancer. Her weekly column appeared in over 400 newspapers making her the most widely read progressive columnist in the country. [includes rush transcript]

The syndicated columnist and best-selling author Molly Ivins has died at the age of 62. She passed away last night in her home in Austin, Texas following a long bout with breast cancer. Her weekly column appeared in over 400 newspapers making her the most widely read progressive columnist in the country. The writer Harvey Wasserman wrote this about Molly Ivins: "If Mark Twain has a female counterpart on today’s political and journalistic scene, it is Molly Ivins. She has that miraculous ability to slice and dice an entire raft of political horse-dung with a single simple sentence, laced with wry, seeded with sweetness, and so often utterly cleansing and clarifying.’

Molly Ivins began her career in journalism at the complaint department of the Houston Chronicle. In 1970, she became co-editor of the Texas Observer. In 1976 she joined the New York Times. Six years later she returned to Texas to write. In recent years her work focused on fellow Texan, President Bush. With Lou Dubose she co-authored the books "Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush" and "Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America." Both became national bestsellers. Her most recent book was titled "Who Let the Dogs In? Incredible Political Animals I have Known."

Molly Ivins was first diagnosed with cancer in 1999 and she continued to write despite her failing health. In a moment we will hear Molly Ivins in her own words but first we turn to the late Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas who also died of cancer. I recorded governor Richards after she was introduced by Molly Ivins at a celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of the Texas Observer.

  • Ann Richards.

Now we turn to Molly Ivins in her own words. In July of 2004 she appeared on Democracy Now. I asked her about President Bush and how she has known him since high school.

  • Molly Ivins.

President Bush said in a statement: "Molly Ivins was a Texas original. I respected her convictions, her passionate belief in the power of words, and her ability to turn a phrase. She fought her illness with that same passion. Her quick wit and commitment to her beliefs will be missed."

In her final column Molly Ivins wrote: "We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell… We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, "Stop it, now!"

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The syndicated columnist and bestselling author Molly Ivins has died at the age of 62. She passed away last night in her home in Austin, Texas, following a long bout with breast cancer. Her weekly column appeared in over 400 newspapers, making her the most widely read progressive columnist in the country.

AMY GOODMAN: The writer Harvey Wasserman wrote this about Molly Ivins: "If Mark Twain has a female counterpart on today’s political and journalistic scene, it is Molly Ivins. She has that miraculous ability to slice and dice an entire raft of political horse-dung with a single simple sentence, laced with wry, seeded with sweetness, and so often utterly cleansing and clarifying."

JUAN GONZALEZ: Molly Ivins began her career in journalism at the complaint department of the Houston Chronicle. In 1970, she became co-editor of the Texas Observer. In 1976, she joined the New York Times, and six years later she returned to Texas to write. In recent years, her work focused on fellow Texan, President Bush. With Lou Dubose, she co-authored the books Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush and Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America. Both became national bestsellers. Her most recent book was titled Who Let the Dogs In?: Incredible Political Animals I Have Known.

AMY GOODMAN: Molly Ivins was first diagnosed with cancer in 1999. She continued to write, despite her failing health. In a moment, we’ll hear Molly in her own words. But first, we turn to the late Ann Richards, yes, the former governor of Texas, who also died of cancer. I recorded Governor Richards after she was introduced by Molly Ivins at the celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of the Texas Observer.

ANN RICHARDS: I know it’s been a shock to all of us, but over the last ten or fifteen years our girl Molly Ivins has learned to dress, run a comb through her hair now and then, and give a fairly decent speech. The Observer was never better than when Molly and Kay were writing it. But then, we were all easier to please back then. A truly remarkable woman who goes around America making speeches and telling lies about me. And I welcome her attentions any time. May God bless this woman who has more survivor blood in her veins than anyone I have ever known.

AMY GOODMAN: That is the late Governor Richards. Now we turn to Molly Ivins in her own words. In July 2004, she visited our firehouse studios. I asked her about President Bush and how she has known him since high school.

MOLLY IVINS: We have been slightly acquainted that long, and I must say — I’ve said a million times — I don’t think he’s mean, and I don’t think he’s stupid. He’s sure not the brightest porch light on the block. He’s pretty limited. But he’s very Texan. Unlike his daddy, who clearly is an upper-class elite Eastern WASP, almost a parody of that pattern. W is very Texas-identified. And you see — I see, when I look at him, some very distinct strengths of Texan culture. One is the religiosity, the public display of piety. Anti-intellectualism, very common in Texas. And it’s anti-intellectualism sort of based on the premise that intellectuals are a bunch of people who use long polysyllabic words and double-dome things to make other people feel inferior. In other words, it’s a form of anti-snobism. And machismo, very Texan. You know, macho man stuff. And the other thing, of course, that’s quite remarkable in Texas is provincialism. Provincialism, I think, is a universal characteristic. New Yorkers are just as provincial as anyone else. But in Texas, it tends to be particularly aggravated, and I think that all of that is true of Bush.

AMY GOODMAN: Your new book is called Who Let the Dogs In?: Incredible Political Animals I Have Known. Can you just start by talking about the cover?

MOLLY IVINS: Isn’t it wonderful? A wonderful artist named Steve Brodner drew all — a whole bunch of politicians as various kinds of dogs, and of course they lend themselves to this with just wonderful elan. There’s John Kerry, this long, droopy hound. I mean it’s really quite wonderful.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, the book is a series of your commentaries, columns over the years.

MOLLY IVINS: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: And going back to the beginning, the reign of Ronald Reagan and big George, you take us also back and remind us who George W. Bush’s father is. I think we have a very different perspective on him right now than when he was actually vice president and then president. Can you talk about the difference between the two, father and son presidents?

MOLLY IVINS: Sure. Well, Poppy and W, of course, both suffer from different forms of the same affliction, which is that they can’t speak English. And Poppy was actually, I have to say, much more fun to take notes on than W. Poppy was just courageous. He would launch himself into a sentence. He would go swim through clause after clause, still no subject, still no predicate. At last, he would come to a period in complete exhaustion. And then we would all sit there trying to figure out what he had said. And we couldn’t figure it out, and neither could he.

Now, the thing about W is, when he misspeaks himself, you usually know what he’s trying to say. Unless he’s having a real bad day, you can tell what he meant to say even if he got some of the words a little bit wrong. They’re very, very funny as a father/son pair. The old man is clearly more at home in the world, a man of wider perspective and vision. W, again, is the little more narrow, little more — the Texas provincialism keeps showing. Always reminds me of every guy I’ve ever had dinner with at the Midland Petroleum Club. You know, you come away saying, "Gosh, what a swell bunch of fellows! Thank God they’re not running the world."

AMY GOODMAN: Our guest is Molly Ivins. George W. Bush, you write, has always had a mentor in his different worlds and spheres.

MOLLY IVINS: Yeah. He had a couple in the oil business. He had Richard Rainwater in finance and baseball, a big money guy out of Fort Worth. The late Bob Bullock, our lieutenant governor, was his mentor in Texas government. And it’s clear that Dick Cheney plays that role in Washington for W, the sort of mentor father figure.

AMY GOODMAN: More important than his father?

MOLLY IVINS: Oh, very definitely. I think so. Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about his relationship with Cheney, his relationship, and who is Karl Rove?

MOLLY IVINS: Well, now, I’m not a Washington reporter. I intensely covered Bush when he was governor of Texas, but I am not one to give you the inside, the White House poop, because I don’t have any. The relationship to Rove, I can speak to. I think there’s a mistaken idea that it’s like puppet and puppetmaster. Actually, I think they’re more like twins. I think it’s a really good team. Rove, of course, is an exceptionally good, exceptionally skillful campaign guy, and Bush, himself, W Bush, is really gifted at the political end of politics. He’s always being, as he says, "misunderestimated." He really is interested in and good at the political end of politics.

Where you run into problems with W is that policy just bores the heck out of him. He’s just not interested. He doesn’t like to read about it. He doesn’t like to hear about it. He doesn’t like to go to long meetings. He doesn’t like to read memos. It bores him. And I’m not quite sure why you would go into government if you weren’t interested in it, but there it is. Politics, however, is — and that’s not that unusual, by the way. I want to point out, there are a lot of politicians who enjoy the political end of politics, but they’re not interested in governance. And then, there are some that are really interested in governance and are just terrible at politics.

AMY GOODMAN: George W. Bush, what is his talent, do you think?

MOLLY IVINS: Politics. He’s good at the political end of politics.

AMY GOODMAN: And what did he do for his father before he, himself, became president?

MOLLY IVINS: Well, he was his daddy’s campaign enforcer. In the '88 and ’92 campaigns, he was the guy who, you know, kept everybody in line. It's a little — I mean, you get different takes on Bush at different points in his life. There’s always been a little bit of an extent to which he struck people as a jerk. I mean, you know, he would come through the White House when his daddy was president and stab at people, "Work harder! Work harder!" And, I mean, these were people who were already working fourteen hours a day.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Molly Ivins. Her latest book is called Who Let the Dogs In?: Incredible Political Animals I Have Known. Well, what do you think has driven George W. Bush, once he became president, drove him to invade Iraq? What does he gain from that?

MOLLY IVINS: I think very early on, this was not — I mean, look, no matter whether you like George W. or not, the last thing in the world you would have wished on this poor guy was a major foreign policy crisis in his first year. To say foreign policy was not his forte is to put it mildly. And consequently, he was, to an unusual degree for president, simply dependent on others. And I think what happened very early on, possibly even before he took the oath, is that he was sort of captured by the neoconservative group: Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz — that is, a whole sort of noticeable group there in Washington. And they have wanted to invade Iraq for a long time. It was just real high on their list, and all this was well before September 11th.

AMY GOODMAN: And why did they have more his ear than his own father, who, while he bombed Iraq, led the Persian Gulf War, when there was the opportunity to take out Saddam Hussein, he sided with Saddam Hussein and he pulled the troops out?

MOLLY IVINS: If you read Poppy Bush’s memoir, the passage where he explains why he did not go into Baghdad after Saddam Hussein is just eerily prescient. It’s just amazing to read now. It’s exactly why we shouldn’t have done this. And Poppy had it back then.

AMY GOODMAN: What did he say?

MOLLY IVINS: Oh, for all the reasons you can see. I mean, short easy war, followed by the peace from hell. You’re going to wind up with a hideous waste of a war, and you’re going to leave the American military there like stake posts in the deserts for every terrorist in the Middle East to come after.

AMY GOODMAN: What about this comment that you made, that if anything is going to be resolved in the Middle East, it has to be — you have to begin by resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

MOLLY IVINS: Well, I’m no expert on the Middle East. Good Lord, I’m a Texas political reporter, but how bright do you have to be to see that? That is the origin of the entire — not the entire mess — the entire resentment over there is the Israeli-Palestinian situation. And I am convinced that it’s solvable. It is doable. Bill Clinton came within half an inch of getting them drug to a solution.

AMY GOODMAN: Molly Ivins in 2004. She died last night at her home in Austin. We’ll return to the interview in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We return to Molly Ivins, in her own words. In July 2004, she visited our firehouse studios. I asked her to talk about her bestselling book, Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush.

MOLLY IVINS: Well, Shrub was pretty much a straight political account of George W’s record as governor of Texas. When I started as a political reporter, you were told that there were three rules. One was to look at the record. Two was to look at the record. And three was to look at the record. And then you would see how the fellow would do in the next stage of public life. And I must say, I think it’s a dandy rule. Lou Dubose and I are probably the only people in America who weren’t surprised by George W. Bush as president. Now, the one area, of course, in which there was no track record was foreign policy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting, because Bush just made the comment about John Edwards, about his inexperience.

MOLLY IVINS: Oh, well, of course, Bush had no experience at all, when he started as president, in foreign policy. And the amusing contention, even that he was fluent in Spanish, always sent Lou and I into convulsions. We’d go down in the valley, every time he speaks the same two sentences, and then they cue the mariachis. I was a little surprised that he started governing so hard from the right, given the controversy over the election, given that there was still some question about the legitimacy of his presidency. But it is very clear that they just decided to go for broke from the beginning. And September 11th, a terrible tragedy, and I certainly don’t hold him responsible, but it does seem to me that they used that for their own purposes in invading Iraq, which they wanted to do anyway.

AMY GOODMAN: In one of your most recent columns, you write, "Recently on PBS’s NOW with Bill Moyers, there was a long interview with Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster and message-meister. Luntz recently advised Republicans to explain 'the policy of pre-emption and the war in Iraq' by recommending that 'no speech about…Iraq should begin without a reference to 9-11.'"

MOLLY IVINS: Well that’s it. You keep making that connection, and that’s why something like 70% of the American people thought, when we went into Iraq, that Saddam Hussein was directly linked to 9/11. And the Bush people just made that connection over and over and over and over and over. And it’s phony. I mean, it’s just not there. The interesting thing to me about politics these days — and that Luntz piece reminds me of it — he was explaining how, for example, a Republican candidate would deal with working women. Now, you’re going to be amazed, Amy. But by dint of a shrewd professional questioning in focus groups, Frank Luntz determined that what working mothers need most is more time in their lives. We were all so astonished to hear this. And so, what he suggests is the Republican candidates say to a group, you know, when he’s campaigning, "Now, I’ll bet I know what it is you ladies need most. I bet — I think you need more free time." And the ladies will nod, and they’ll raise their hands and agree, and you’ve bonded with them, and you’ve shown empathy toward their major problem in life.

Well, yeah, you’ve shown empathy toward their major problem in life, but look at the record. The record is, you cut programs to early childhood education, you cut Head Start, you cut after school, you cut K-12, you cut housing vouchers. You’re going to change your overtime. They have done everything they can to make this poor woman’s life more harried and frantic than ever. That’s the record. But what we call politics now and what most political writers write about is the empathy and the bonding and the word choice and the horse rights, and it has nothing to do with what’s really happening to people’s lives.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of the record, we have just heard about the records of George W. Bush, when it comes to his military service, were mistakenly destroyed.

MOLLY IVINS: Oh, I feel so bad for George W. Bush about that. You know, he could have conclusively proved to everybody’s satisfaction that he had finished out his time in the Air National Guard without any question at all. And darn if the records haven’t been destroyed. I know he’s upset. I know he’s upset.

AMY GOODMAN: How does that happen in Texas?

MOLLY IVINS: Darn, I just don’t know. Actually, they were Pentagon records. And I want to point out in concerning the unit of the Texas Air National Guard in which our president served during the war in Vietnam: first of all, Texas was not attacked by the Viet Cong during the entire time; second of all, there’s some, you know, by legend, OK, they called it the "Champagne Unit," and it was full of the sons of rich and important guys, and all that. There were black members of that unit. Now, they all happened to play football for the Dallas Cowboys, but there you are.

AMY GOODMAN: In your book, Shrub: The Short But Happy Political Life of George W. Bush, you talk about Harken, where he really made his mark, whichever way, in the oil world, as being a mini-Enron.

MOLLY IVINS: Yeah. Little tiny Enron. All the same deals. All the same insider selling on information, all the same insider trading, where they’d flip — you know, they would loan money to themselves to buy an asset to make it look better on the books. It was cute.

AMY GOODMAN: As we travel around the country in this Exception to the Rulers tour, honoring media — radio, television, independent bookstores, newspapers that are independent — you hail from the Texas Observer.

MOLLY IVINS: Indeed, I do. And so does Lou Dubose, and so do a number of other fairly distinguished journalists, actually. We’re not, by any means, the best of the bunch. The Texas Observer is a small progressive magazine that is fifty years old this year, and for fifty years, on practically no money at all, it has been raising hell and kicking butt down in Texas. And it is living proof that you don’t need a lot of money and you don’t need a lot of horses. What journalists mostly need to do is get up off their butts and go out and do it. And I am so proud to be associated with the Observer, and I am more and more convinced, as you all are, in the organizations you honor, that as we watch the concentration of ownership of mass media, it’s more and more important to keep these little independent voices alive. I think that’s where the hope of journalism lies.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think of the major corporate news corps these days, whether the networks or the print papers?

MOLLY IVINS: Well, as always, I am optimistic to the point of idiocy. And I think the internet, the technology of the internet, may yet break up this entire pattern of concentration.

AMY GOODMAN: How?

MOLLY IVINS: Well, the internet is really interesting in terms of — and I’m not an expert in this field, so these are ideas I’ve borrowed from other people — if you have, for example, the New York Times, there’s New York Times up here. It’s a source of authority. It goes down to reader, reader, reader. CBS goes down to viewer, viewer, viewer. The internet goes doot-doot-doot — it goes sideways. There’s nothing hierarchical about it. And the best thing about it is also the worst thing about it, which is there are no gatekeepers on the internet. Consequently, there’s a whole lot of bad information on the internet. But I think that sorts itself out over time.

AMY GOODMAN: Molly Ivins, you wrote in a posting on June 10th, "When, in the future, you find yourself wondering, 'Whatever happened to the Constitution?' you will want to go back and look at June 8, 2004. That was the day the attorney general of the United States — a.k.a. 'the nation's top law enforcement officer’ — refused to provide the Senate Judiciary Committee with his department’s memos concerning torture." Take it from there.

MOLLY IVINS: He not only refused to produce his department’s memos concerning torture — what a great moment in our country’s history this is — but refused to give them any reason why he should or shouldn’t. It was the old middle-finger explanation. And the whole question of people high in government, sitting there solemn — and many of them lawyers — solemnly discussing whether or not torture is justified, strikes me as surreal to the point of being almost insane. You know, there’s been a lot of experience with torture in history, Amy. It doesn’t work.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Molly Ivins. She has written many books and many more columns, hundreds and hundreds of them. Her latest book is called Who Let the Dogs In?: Incredible Political Animals I have Known. As you do your writing, as you observe Texas politics gone national — actually, gone global — you had some pretty good predictions a year ago, before the invasion, about what would happen. What about today?

MOLLY IVINS: Well, you can’t win any popularity contests by sitting around saying, "I told you so!"

AMY GOODMAN: But what about today, looking forward?

MOLLY IVINS: Well, I am much too smart to call a political race this far out, and I think anybody who does is a nincompoop. You see all these people on television, these pundits who make big money confidently predicting the outcome of a close race that’s months way. I think they’re fools. Always optimistic to point of idiocy, I think Bush is beatable. I’m not saying he will be beaten, but I think he’s beatable. And I also think it’s — boy, do you talk about a safe position — it’s an event-driven election. It’s going to — the outcome will depend on events, on whether or not Iraq continues to unwind, on whether the economy gets better or worse, if, God forbid, there’s a terrorist attack. I think all of that is the outcome.

AMY GOODMAN: John Kerry, John Edwards, your thoughts?

MOLLY IVINS: Well, of course, John Kerry is a boring stiff. He’s a boring stiff with intelligence. He’s a boring stiff with gravitas. He’s a boring stiff with experience. But he’s still a boring stiff. And adding Edwards to the campaign might have actually made him look stiffer. But I think it’s had the opposite effect. In fact, it’s kind of loosened him up. I’d like to point out that John Kerry has made two jokes in the last week. Now, they were little jokes, but they were still jokes.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve said, you know, Hillary Clinton’s comment that there’s a vast rightwing conspiracy out there, that you actually disagree.

MOLLY IVINS: Totally disagree. There is no conspiracy about it. There’s nothing hidden. It’s all right out there in the open. It always has been. For thirty years now, a bunch of rightwing money has funded think tanks and subsidized publications and intellectuals to sit around and tell us how bad government is. These are the kind of people who always hated taxes, always hated government — same old same-old. And, you know, you look again and again, and you find those same foundations behind one effort after another. And, of course, it has a cumulative effect. I mean, most people think government could screw up a two-car funeral.

AMY GOODMAN: Molly Ivins, on the issue of the media, I wanted to play a clip for you of a news conference yesterday that took place, which is now introducing a film that is coming out this week around the country, a new documentary by filmmaker Robert Greenwald called Outfoxed, which criticizes Rupert Murdoch’s FOX News Channel. They held a news conference, and this is a former CIA operative named Larry Johnson, former FOX News contributor, talking about FOX’s access to the Pentagon. And then I’d like to get your comment.

LARRY JOHNSON: To this day, the Department of Defense — Don Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz — hold regular meetings with the military talking heads, the guys you see that go on FOX, on MSNBC, on CNN. At these meetings, a significant percentage — the most represented network at those meetings is FOX News: the military analysts like Paul Vallely, Tom Mclnerney, and others. And what happens at those meetings is talking points are passed out, recommended points that the military talking heads should make. And if you go back and look at the buildup to war, particularly the messages that Generals Mclerney and General Vallely were presenting, it was consistent with the talking points that they were getting over at Department of Defense. Folks, that’s manipulation of the news.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Larry Johnson, former CIA operative and former FOX News contributor, talking about FOX’s access to the Pentagon. Molly Ivins?

MOLLY IVINS: Well, of course, it is manipulation of the news. And I must say, Amy, and I hate to sound like a Texan, but the first newspaper Murdoch ever bought in this country was the San Antonio Express, and he took it into the gutter, and, interestingly enough, he took its competition into the gutter with him. Newspaper competition, which practically doesn’t exist at all anywhere anymore, is kind of like poker. You can both go high, you can both go low, or you can split the pot. And I think what Murdoch brought to this country was a British sensibility of, there’s the quality press and then there’s the tabloids, and it’s the, you know, tabloid trash. And we didn’t — that’s really not much of a native American tradition.

Our tradition of the popular press actually comes from the two-penny papers of the turn of the century, and if you go back and look at them, there’s an extraordinary tradition underneath the masthead — you know, "the daily jump up and hallelujah" — there’ll be some slogan like, "with the people, against the bosses," "with the masses, against the tyrants." I mean, you know, there’s these sort of fighting word kind of stuff. And you’ll go, "This was a major daily newspaper, taking sides like that?" Well, the whole idea of the popular press in this country was that it stood for the average Joe, Joe Sixpack.

And what Murdoch introduced into this country was the always-effective British combination, which is where you marry T&A — sex, page-three girls or whatever they’re called in Britain, a lot of bosomy bathing beauties — with patriotism, jingoism, flag waving. And it’s a very effective combination. And he’s introduced it here beautifully, and it’s taken hold particularly on television.

AMY GOODMAN: We only have a few seconds left. What advice would you give to young reporters or people who are thinking about going into journalism? Should they bother?

MOLLY IVINS: Oh, absolutely. Get in there and raise hell, people.

AMY GOODMAN: Molly Ivins, speaking on Democracy Now! in July of 2004. She died last night at the age of 62.

JUAN GONZALEZ: President Bush said in a statement, "Molly Ivins was a Texas original. I respected her convictions, her passionate belief in the power of words, and her ability to turn a phrase. She fought her illness with that same passion. Her quick wit and commitment to her beliefs will be missed. Laura and I send our condolences to Molly Ivins’s family and friends."

AMY GOODMAN: But we will end with Molly’s own words. In her final column, Molly Ivins wrote, "We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell… We need people in the streets, banging pots and pans and demanding, 'Stop it, now!'" Molly Ivins, she died last night in Austin, Texas. She was 62 years old.

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