Questioning Authority: Ackmann on Ivins

Journalist and author Martha Ackmann, senior lecturer in gender studies, discusses the passing of beloved columnist Molly Ivins, who broke ground for women in journalism. According to the New York Times, Ivins "delighted in skewering politicians and interpreting, and mocking, her Texas culture." Her syndicated column ran in more than 350 newspapers. Ivins died January 31, 2007 in Austin, Texas.

QA: Why was Molly Ivins so beloved by her readers?

MA: She was like Mark Twain: she paid attention, told the truth, and never let us forget the power of humor. And her love of country--like Twain's--was unassailable. She wrote, "I believe in the Bill of Rights the way some folks believe in the Bible." Democracy was a living ideal to her.

QA: What was her significance as a woman in journalism?

MA: She had an original voice and was not afraid to use it. People always comment on Ivins's humor and it was memorable. But few columnists read budgets or the fine points of policy papers with a more astute eye than Molly Ivins. She also blazed a trail at a time when there were not many women journalists. Abe Rosenthal at the New York Times didn't know quite what to do with her.

QA: What's your favorite Molly Ivins line?

MA: Certainly there were many. The last line of her final column is worth remembering. Writing on the war in Iraq, she said: "Raise hell. Think of something to make the ridiculous look ridiculous. Make our troops know we're for them, and that's why we're trying to get them out of there. Hit the streets. Bang the pots and pans. Demand. 'Stop it, now.' "

QA: Who will replace her?

MA: No one. Her voice was unique. But, I am thankful that we have women columnists who--like Ivins--are not afraid to speak up. Alumna Sheryl McCarthy '69 of Newsday comes to mind. And I know there are first-years in my Women's Public Voices seminar who are already writing with Ivins's same passion and commitment. Who knows where they will end up? I hope there are quite a few "pot bangers" out there.

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