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Molly Ivins: straight shooter

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in Leaders & Managers,Profiles in Leadership

The next time you wonder if you should say what you’re thinking, remember Molly Ivins, the newspaper columnist who made a career doing it.

At The New York Times, the 6-foot Texan didn’t fit in. When she wrote about “a beer gut that belongs in the Smithsonian,” the copy desk changed it to “a protuberant abdomen.” For calling a chicken-killing festival a “gang pluck,” she drew a reprimand.

Ivins fared better after moving to the Dallas and Fort Worth newspapers. Her targets were politicians. When the legislature convened, she noted that “Many a village is missing its idiot.” Of one pol, she said, “If his IQ slips any lower, we’ll have to water him twice a day.” She nicknamed George W. Bush “Shrub.”

In one profile, she wrote, “H. Ross Perot announced yesterday he had purchased the Lord God Almighty.” She said Perot would call her after each ribbing to say things like, “Yew said in yore column my mind is only a half an inch wide. Well, all my friends say … it’s only a quarter of an inch. Har-har-har.” Despite her fondness for Perot, Ivins said he fit the mold of state politicos who thought the only purpose of government was creating a good business climate: “The result is that Texas is Mississippi with good roads. I wouldn’t wish that on the rest of the nation.”

Ivins didn’t spare herself, either. Before dying in 2007 at age 62, she painted her own portrait as “a left-wing, aging-Bohemian journalist who never made a shrewd career move, never dressed for success, never got married, and isn’t even a lesbian, which at least would be interesting.”

Lesson: Say what you believe. It’s a better legacy than silence.

—Adapted from “The sharp-tongued columnist who mocked the mighty,” The Week, and “Lone Star Liberal,” Time.

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