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Bill Moyers | A Tribute to Molly [
I Remember Molly
By Charley James
t r u t h o u t | Guest Contributor
Friday 02 January 2007
It seems like a hundred lifetimes ago now but, sure enough, over in the not-yet-dusty corner of my memory are the razor-sharp etchings of sitting in a bar on the seedy corner of Hennepin Avenue and 9th Street in Minneapolis after work one Saturday night, tossing back a few scotches with Dave Moore, when in flew a very young Molly Ivins.
Well, we were all very young; after all, it was only the mid- or late-1960s. Molly had just graduated from Smith College and was covering the cops for the Minneapolis Tribune, I was in my last year at university and working part-time in the newsroom at WCCO-TV, and Dave was still building his reputation as the Upper Midwest's younger yet equally trustworthy version of Walter Cronkite, just on a smaller stage.
Molly wanted to meet Dave because of "The Bedtime Newz," which aired Saturday nights following a late movie. I helped Dave write the show, so he invited me to tag along. At the time, "The Bedtime Newz" was becoming a cultural icon in Minneapolis. Deciding that no one really wanted to watch another serious report on the day's events at midnight on Saturday, Dave started playing around with the stories and the commercials. The show became a satire/parody/send-up of the news, and this was a full decade before Lorne Michaels and Chevy Chase created the "Saturday Night Update."
A few things still stand tall in my mind about that first encounter with Molly: Her Texas twang - the first time I'd ever heard one for real and not in a Western TV show or movie - and her sharp yet humane, witty observations that later became her hallmark. She drank ferociously, yet never once teetered on the bar stool or stumbled when she politely excused herself to use the john - Molly didn't say "powder room" or any other euphemism that proper ladies were expected to utter in those days. And she was already beginning to hone her irascible view of politics and politicians.
That evening, Molly dazzled and wowed both Dave and me. As the three of us separately drove off in the early morning bitter cold, I knew I wanted to know this woman better.
A week or two later, I called her at the Trib and asked if she wanted to meet for another drink "but at an even seedier place than Mousey's," referring to the joint where Dave and I had met her originally. She accepted. Whether it was for the friendship, the liquor, or the opportunity for a transplanted Texan to savor more of the Twin Cities' low-life, I'll never know, but I began counting the days.
We met at some dive on the edge of downtown, not far from the train yards, where hard-drinking journalists rubbed elbows with union guys, down-and-outers and the decent, hard-working, thoroughly unpretentious Midwestern people Garrison Keillor eventually turned into American folk heroes.
Although Molly covered the cops, during her second or third whiskey she said was much more interested in politics. At the time, Minneapolis's mayor was a liberal Democrat named Art Naftalin. In Minnesota, the party is called the Democratic-Farmer Labor party. Before being elected, he taught political science at the University of Minnesota, a post to which he returned after several terms in office. Somehow, the conversation got around to Naftalin.
"He's a brilliant guy," I remember Molly saying. Having gone to high school with one of Naftalin's sons, I had a special interest. "Got terrific ideas, could really do something for the city. Poor Art's problem is that he's a typical academic who doesn't have a clue how to get anything done."
At one of those late-night drinking soirees, we talked about our careers. I wanted to end up as a correspondent for CBS News, still the tiffany network with Cronkite and a stable of really solid journalists who had been schooled in the Ed Murrow tradition. I assumed Molly would want to land at the New York Times.
"Hell, no," she said. "I want to go back to Texas and cover politics. With LBJ, John Connolly, Ralph Yarborough and a legislature full of cattle ranchers, oil men, honest-to-God bigots and good ol' boys to write about, why would I want to go to New York?"
We continued to meet about once a month. I noticed that Molly was gradually increasing the circle of people who would get together to swap stories. She included cops, people from the DA's office, other reporters and a few gadabouts, and there were always assorted hangers-on who would appear and disappear for no apparent reason. Turns out, she was beginning her lifelong habit of drawing people into her ever-widening circle.
After 10 months of being included in Molly's salon, I accepted a reporting job on the West Coast and moved away. Molly soon returned to Texas, got lured to New York by the Times - which, I suspect, was a mutually-unhappy and cheerless relationship that fortunately ended after a couple of years. We kept in touch with decreasing frequency, eventually losing contact altogether.
Actually, Molly lost contact with me but I didn't with her. I became a regular reader of hers once she turned her attention from Texas politics to focus on George W. Bush - a childhood friend and neighbor in Houston - and other topics of despair. She was what every great journalist needs to be: Honest, truthful, possessing a low tolerance for bullshit and always ready to spit vinegar - tempered by a gracious yet pointed wit.
Bill Moyers summed up Molly best when he paid tribute to her this morning in a piece on the Texas Observer web site. He said he imagines her in Heaven with all of the other great journalists - Lincoln Steffans, Horace Greeley, Johnny Apple and a long list of others. Moyers said he hopes they're having a great time leaning over the marble railing and laughing at people like Tom DeLay down below in Hades.
I hope she is having fun and is building a new circle around her, drinking whiskey and giving Heaven hell.
Charley James grew up in Minneapolis and is a writer now living in Canada.
A Tribute to Molly
By Bill Moyers
The Texas Observer
Thursday 01 February 2007
What a foot-stompin' reunion there must be at this very moment in that great Purgatory of Journalists in the Sky. I can see them now - Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens, Ray Stannard Baker, Upton Sinclair, Henry Demarest Lloyd, Ida B. Wells, David Graham Phillips, George Seldes, I. F. Stone, Walter Karp, Willie Morris - welcoming our darlin' to their bosoms. Oh, my, how she comes trailing clouds of truth-telling glory! Look at her - big-hearted as ever, leaning over the balustrade and reaching down to the tormented of Hades, moistening Tom DeLay's lips, patting down Rick Perry's hair, erasing George W's sandstone scribblings. In the celestial light she glows as irrepressibly and vividly as she did here on Earth, where she made the mighty humble, the wicked ashamed, and the good ol' boys reach for the barrel to hide their forlorn nakedness. And, oh, the stories she must be telling as we speak.
At a PBS meeting a few years ago, she ended her talk with a joke that would have gotten anyone else arrested or excommunicated. But she was carried out on the crowd's shoulders, as right now she is being ushered into the Council of Ink-Stained Immortals, where the only religion is truth. Save some room up there, Molly: You have inspired us earthbound wretches to keep trying to live up to your legacy in the hope of joining you there one day.
Bill Moyers began his journalism career at the age of l6 as a cub reporter for the Marshall News Messenger and over six decades has become one of the most influential journalists in America. Today, he is president of The Schumann Center for Media and Democracy.