Editorial: A Tribute for Molly Ivins

By Becky O'Malley
Tuesday January 30, 2007

The news over the weekend was not good. Molly Ivins, everyone’s favorite smart-mouth columnist, was back in the hospital for the third time, dealing with her raging cancer, which started in her breasts but now has spread throughout her body. Last fall, she was in San Francisco on a panel at a conference of journalism educators, and she didn’t look well then, wan, thin, wearing a bold hat to cover up the loss of most of her hair. Her tongue was as sharp as ever, of course, causing a roomful of ordinarily sincere and cautious academics to shriek with laughter before giving her a standing ovation.  

Since then she’s continued to write as much as she could, devoting an increasing portion of her limited energy to castigating the fools in Washington (and she’s never suffered fools gladly) for continuing the war in Iraq. A sample pronouncement, early this year: “The president of the United States doesn’t have the sense God gave a duck. So it’s up to us. You and me.” In that column she promised that “This will be a regular feature of mine, like an old-fashioned newspaper campaign. Every column, I’ll write about this war until we find some way to end it...every time, we’ll review some factor we should have gotten right.”  

But since then she’s only managed to write one more column. That one ran on Jan. 11 and opposed George Bush’s proposed “surge” escalation of the war.  

In it she said: 

“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.”  

At the Washington peace march on Saturday, which Molly had promoted in her latest column, actor Sean Penn picked up her refrain “We are the deciders” and vamped on it to great effect before an audience of tens of thousands.  

And now it really is up to us. While Molly is sick, the rest of us will have to carry her “old-fashioned newspaper campaign” forward.  

With that in mind, the Berkeley Daily Planet is hereby launching what we might call the “Molly Ivins Festschrift.” A festschrift is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a volume of writings by different authors presented as a tribute or memorial especially to a scholar.” Academics are wont to create festschrifts on the occasion of a revered colleague’s 60th birthday, for example. Molly’s already 62, but no time like the present to catch up with what we should have done two years ago. And we might call it festschrift if we could reliably remember how to spell or pronounce that German word, but let’s just call it the Molly Ivins Tribute Project. 

The idea is that her colleagues in the opinionated part of the journalistic world should take over her campaign while she’s sick, creating a deluge of columns about what’s wrong with Bush’s war and what should be done to set things right. It would be nice if a lot of these columns could be funny, since skewering serious subjects with humor is what Molly does best, but that’s not required.  

Here at the Berkeley Daily Planet we’ve set up a special mailbox to receive the offerings, tribute@berkeleydailyplanet.com. We’ll publish them as they come in, at least one every day if possible, in our Internet edition, berkeleydailyplanet.com. We’d like them to be contributed free of copyright, so that any publication, print or online, can take them off the web and re-circulate them to their own readers. The best ones we’ll also run in our Tuesday and Friday printed papers. A good length would be 600-800 words, which would work for most publications. And of course, columnists under contract should just write pieces to run in their regular outlets.  

Readers, please take on the job of forwarding this call for contributions to any good columnist you read regularly, and to any publications which might circulate the results.  

Just to get started, would-be writers might take a look at Monday’s top story from Iraq, which described a fierce battle in which 200 (or was it 300?) Iraqis were killed. They were variously described, in A.P. reports and by L.A. Times correspondents, as members of a messianic Shiite sect, die-hard survivors of Hussein’s (mostly Sunni or secular) Baath party, tribal fighters dressed in colorful Afghan robes, and more—no one really seems to know who they were or what they were up to. But whoever they were, we seem to have killed a bunch of them—and it’s “we” because though the Iraqi national forces started things off, U.S. helicopters and bombers were called in to finish up when things were not going well. And yes, two or three Americans died too, fighting whoever they were for whatever reason it turned out to be. I’m glad I’m not the person who has to explain to their families why they died.