Sturdy life of the hardworking, hard-living Texas journalist, commentator and bane of Bushes everywhere.
Molly Ivins (1944–2007) grew up privileged in Houston, and she went to the same club as the Bushes, including the one to whom she would later give the devastating nickname Shrub. “People from Houston who knew both families tried to draw parallels between the Bush and Ivins households,” write Minutaglio (Journalism/Univ. of Texas; City on Fire: The Forgotten Disaster That Devastated a Town and Ignited a Landmark Legal Battle, 2003, etc.) and former Ivins researcher Smith. The parallels don’t seem so far-fetched, especially in the upper-class codes that all concerned were expected to keep. Shrub didn’t exactly uphold those codes, and neither did Ivins, who wriggled away from class conventions to become an icon of the old media through an old-fashioned ethic of endless work and serious guzzling. Minutaglio and Smith write with a certain nostalgia for the boozy, smoke-choked, decidedly un-PG newsrooms of old, in which Ivins cut her teeth and began amassing mountains of clips, writing on topics as various as Native American rights, rock concerts and cars. Yet she would not come into her own until the ’80s, when, having worked for the New York Times and many papers in Texas, she took on the Bush family as her special beat and braved Karl Rove’s dirty-tricks machine. (One of them was signing Ivins up for magazine subscriptions and then sending collection agents after her for nonpayment.) The authors dip into the dangerous waters of psychobiography at a couple of points, hazarding guesses on the effect of the death of an early love and pondering the what-ifs of Ivins’s persona. Yet they also offer a solid account of her development as a reporter and writer. The best part, of course, is rereading Ivins’s old zingers, as when she said of a Pat Buchanan speech, “It probably sounded better in the original German.”
Aspiring journalists, read this—and then get to work.